Amazing Questions from A High School Student about Memoir Writing:
I visited my former student Tom Borthwick’s high school AP English class in Scranton, PA, and spoke to them about writing. They later read my memoir and wanted to ask me more questions. These are from a lovely young woman who recently lost her father in an alcohol-related car accident:
What resources do you need to write a memoir?
You don’t need anything but your memories. That is what the word memoire means in French: memory. But it’s always good to keep a daily notebook with dates and even times. Keeping track of important events, and taking photographs, or looking through old photographs, helps too.
Did your mother’s friends know about her alcoholism?
This is an incredibly perceptive question. Yes. And no. Many of her friends drank the way she did. Many of them were able to cut back. Many died from complications from alcoholism. In the end, they must have known. But denial is a very, very powerful human condition. I can’t imagine what was going on inside their minds, can only interpret their actions. Several of them maintain to this day that she was absolutely fine. What can I do with that??
Do you think it’s hard to overcome addictions?
I think it’s very hard. The hardest thing is doing it alone, without faith, and without a network of people who understand. Many alcoholics or drug addicts are clinically depressed, or anxious, and they need help stopping. I think the drugs and alcohol are a way that people self-medicate to ease the psychological pain they feel. The hardest thing is accepting defeat, realizing one is addicted, then making the decision to stop.
Do you think an addictive personality is genetic?
Yes, I definitely do. The gene that causes addiction may remain dormant, however. It depends on environmental issues. If a child is raised in an alcoholic home, with active alcoholics, chances are, the gene will be “fired,” or “lit.” If a child, however, is raised in a home with sober alcoholics, and learns coping skills, maybe s/he will have a chance at a normal life. My daughter is growing up in a sober home, and we won’t know for a while whether or not her genetic predisposition will affect her reaction to alcohol. At least she’s armed with the knowledge that she may not react well to alcohol. And she hopefully will have the emotional coping skills she’ll need to get through conflict and pain without the need to self-medicate.
Do you have any regrets regarding your mother?
Wow. What a perceptive, adult question. The only thing I regret is that I was not better able to handle my own anger and resentment toward her. I was not able to fully incorporate the notion that she was sick. I blamed her for her own alcoholism, for her inability to take responsibility for her actions. I blamed her for hurting my daughter. If I had been less emotionally involved, I would have been able to handle the situation better.
Did you have any friends or boyfriends to lean on when your father died?
Yes, I did. I had some truly wonderful friends who are friends still. I had Lee, who was my best friend since third grade. I had Lawrence, who died recently of a brain tumor. I also had Joanne, who has been my friend since my freshman year of college. I had my brother, who was devastated himself, but he was like a pillar to lean on. I did have a boyfriend, but he was less able to help, because my pain and shock over losing my dad affected my ability to be emotionally available and open to him. So he reacted badly. Our relationship ended badly. I think when we’re in that kind of pain, so young, it is very hard to have an emotional commitment at that level. Better to wait a while.