Becoming a Character

For me writing memoir isn’t easy, although I do enjoy certain aspects of it, like the research. I get satisfaction from finding out some new fact, or confirming some hypothetical line of thought. Despite this, the fun of research doesn’t quite compensate for the fact that the actual process of writing can be quite tricky. One of the areas I struggle with is writing myself as a character. Then I came upon “An Exercise: Turning Yourself into a Character” an article written by Lee Kofman. It was exactly what I needed.

The sentence which first caught my eye and held my attention was this: “The most important thing is not to shy away from putting on the paper all those things we often hide in social interactions.” This is something I find difficult. Just the thought of exposing those things in myself which I hide away, is enough to make me feel nauseous. I’m only slightly reassured a little later when Kofman explains “We need to craft our ‘I’ with great care, as if we were fictional characters.” I’m breathing slightly easier now, but my heart is still beating quickly and my palms still fell a little damp.

However, I’m willing to see if the exercises Kofman suggests are enough to build my confidence in reinventing myself as a character in my own memoir. She suggests six steps, not all of which I shall list here, as you should read her article yourself. The first and the last were the ones I found the most challenging.

Step 1: “Write a list of your most unique skills and interests.”

I wish I had even one unique skill, let alone a list of them! I don’t collect anything, I don’t make anything, I’m not a contortionist, I can barely keep two house plants alive. I’m not a photographer or an artist or a chef. I don’t feel it is a unique skill, but I can read quickly. So, what would I consider my unique interests? It is an easier question for me to answer. I’m interested in the history of my family and the history of the world in which they lived. I’m interested in books, especially memoir, autobiography and the stories of strong females. I’m interested in keeping myself healthy with diet, exercise, mindfulness, meditation and reducing the stress in my life. I’m interested in renovations, interior decoration, fashion, art and music. I’m interested in spirituality and the history of religion.

Step 6: “Write a list of your secret desires, those that can stop your breath just thinking about them, yet are too uncomfortable to admit.”

Now that is going to be difficult! What do I desire, which of those desires could be termed secret and which of them stop my breath when I think of it? The more I think about this question, the more I realise how uninteresting I must be. The only desire I have right now, and it is no secret, is to retire to some place where I can look at the ocean and write. I wish I had a dark desire. I wish I could think of anything else except running away from the life I’m now living. But any secret desires I might have had years ago, have been long forgotten, buried under the strain of a stressful job and a mindless routine.

But for now, I must complete Steps 2 – 5.

Alex

Alex de Fircks is a writer of memoir and short fiction. She blogs about family, moments in time, memories and travel. Alex is passionate about history, genealogy and family stories.

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