Why Everyone Should Write a Memoir

Write a Memoir

If you haven’t heard (and I can’t image why you wouldn’t have heard, what with all of my sharing about it on social media), I recently sold my memoir, Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression, to Dey Street Books. The publishing house is an imprint of William Morrow, which is a division of HarperCollins. The book will be published late 2016 or early 2017.

Aside from reveling in all the hoopla, slaps on the back, and drunken evenings of celebration, I’ve learned something so astonishing through the process of committing my story to paper, and I want to share it with you.

In May of this year, when I approached my agent, Joy Tutela, and told her I wanted to put aside writing The Leite’s Culinaria Cookbook and would rather write a memoir, she paused on the phone and asked, “Why?” I explained to her that I was incredibly overwhelmed and touched by the number of deeply emotional comments and emails I received in response to my blog post Bipolar Disorder and Julia Child, My Therapist. Both publicly and privately, people poured out their hearts to me about manic depression: in themselves, their families, their friends. I heard stories of folks who, like me, had gone undiagnosed for decades. People told me, through sobs, of loved ones who had killed themselves because the pain was too much. Others expressed gratitude because the post helped them convince a loved one to go a doctor. I was floored. I didn’t expect this kind of reaction.

That’s when I knew I had to write my story. My whole story.

So for the past six months, I’ve been hunched over my computer writing memories of growing up in Fall River and, later, Swansea, Massachusetts, in a food-obsessed, immigrant Portuguese family. And while food is the theme that stitches the narrative together, also woven into that story are two topics that have tortured me most of my life: bipolar disorder and homosexuality.

As I wrote stories of sitting around dinner tables piled high with food and surrounded by my zany family, periods of black emotional distress, my hysterical and bumbling first sexual encounters with other boys, going to and dropping out of college three times, intrusive suicidal feeling and thoughts, terrifying high and lows of manic depression, and, eventually, the joy of falling in love with The One, I saw the whole of my life. With all of it laid out in front of me in the draft of my book proposal, I understood that this is my reality.

At some point this summer I was crushed when I told my mother one of my fondest memories of early childhood–playing beauty parlor with her while we scarfed down a whole loaf of Sunbeam bread that she’d toasted, buttered, and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon–and she had no recollection of it. She even asked if, perhaps, I had imagined it. But then I remembered all of the memories my niece, Callie, has of our time together that I simply don’t recall. To a child, whose life isn’t yet crammed with decades of experiences, certain memories can take up more emotional real estate because there’s little competition. So it’s no surprise that my wonderful night with my mother would burn bright in my memory, and to her it was just another Saturday night. Or Thursday. Or Tuesday. Hell, there are memories that The One has recounted–some as recent as this year–that I simply can’t recall. Too much overcrowding in my head.

I came to see that these memories–whether remembered by others or not–are the foundation upon which I’ve made thousands and thousands of decisions throughout the years. These stories, these people, these triumphs and failures are what have made me who I am. And the greatest gift of this experience was that I came to feel–in the unshakable center of my being–that regardless of whether I sold the book or not, I matter.

I matter.

I encourage all of you, writers and non-writers alike, to go to your computers or open a blank journal or dictate into your iPhones and record your stories. Find the breadth of your life. Discover the importance of you. Learn that you matter. You matter.

Now, if you’ll forgive me, I have a memoir to write.

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Comments

  1. Hi David, this is the first time that I am reading this blog. I just found your page today, i commented in one that spoke of writing memoirs. I had no idea that you suffered from bipolar disorder, as do i. I just wanted to thank you for your encouragement, I believe I matter. I believe my story can touch and help many. There are so many things I want to do in this second chance of life that the Lord blessed me with. Keep on being awesome, you are an inspiration to those of us who are just getting their start. I wish you all of GOD’S best!

    1. Welcome, Allison. Thank you for your kind words. I wish you much success with your second chance–I certainly understand how deeply grateful we can feel when given such a chance. March on, head high!

  2. David, that is wonderful news! Of course, the writing itself has already done its work in you, but it will be interesting to see what the experience of having the book out there and being read will do for you. One of the things that makes life so interesting is seeing the growth that unfolds from our actions.

    1. Thanks, Jean. Well, the writing is very much in the early stages. I sold the proposal, which is the idea for the book. Now is the hard part!! The book won’t come out for about two years.

  3. Every time a hand reaches out
    To help another….that is Christmas
    Every time someone puts anger aside
    And strives for understanding
    That is Christmas

    Every time people forget their differences
    And realize their love for each other
    That is Christmas

    May this Christmas bring us
    Closer to the spirit of human understanding
    Closer to the blessing of peace!

    “Merry Christmas” everyone and the best in 2015.

    Thanks for all the recipes.

    Patricia

  4. Do you know why you’re what my grandma would call “good people,” David? Because you don’t think telling a truth requires extraordinary courage in a culture where many people think telling the truth is either terrifying or optional.

    There is a wonderful book called Storycatcher by Christina Baldwin. In it, she refers to oral (and written) storytelling as fundamental to being human and integral to society on all levels because everyone has a unique and important voice with which to pass on their experiences.

    1. Why, thank you, Renee. I truly don’t think telling the truth is optional. Of course, this will be my version of the truth, how I see it. And neither do I see it as brave. It just is.

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