I was skeptical. This year I decided to teach memoir for the first time. I wondered if it would work.
I begin every new project the same way: I take a fresh file folder (a promise of good to come) and label it with a Sharpie pen. I soon discovered that if you label an empty folder with the word memoir, it is no longer empty. Suddenly, memory is engaged: sea air, spring grass, wet autumn leaves, mossy trees, and the smell of ocean sand are wafting from the card stock.
Before we ever pick up a pen, a scent or taste has picked up a story waiting to be relived and told. In that way, memoir starts without us. Maybe that is why recipes are so often laced with memoir: “A favorite at family birthday dinners…”
Writing and cooking work the same way. Molly O’Neil and Amanda Hessar and Laurie Colwin and Claudia Roden and Elizabeth David and M.F.K Fisher and Julia Child are stellar members of the Culinary Writer’s Clubhouse. One by one they have stepped forth from the pages of books, whisk and word choice in hand, to befriend me in the kitchen. In the alchemy of verb and adverb they’ve taught me to match caper and tomato; orange and chocolate; vanilla and sweet potato; mint and lemon; cheese and olive; peach and blackberry; coconut and curry.
I knew these writers were my mentors at the stove, but now I see that they also mentor my understanding of memoir. Much of what I pass on about writing and language I’ve learned from these, my kitchen friends.
There are moments, like spices, that are too bitter to stand alone, but whose tartness adds zest when gently folded into the redeeming mix of unfolding story. We sort through details, like lentils, sorting out inedible pebble from nourishing bean.
We stir. We fold. We whisk. Sweet and sour moments mix with those which are flavorful and finespun. We write and taste as we go. Our story takes shape moment by moment, — and moment by moment I learn something new: memoir writing is perfect for eight and nine year olds.
I was skeptical about teaching memoir, but I now see the power of it. As children write their lives, they love their lives.
I watch it and savor it.