Guest Blog: ​Yi Shun Lai

Yi Shun Lai is the author of Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu. She will be teaching a memoir writing workshop at the library on Tuesday, July 12th at 7pm. Participants will engage in writing exercises that will deepen
their understanding of memoir and personal essay, and learn how to ultimately
craft their own work. We asked her to write a guest blog for us
about why she thinks memoirs are important and why she teaches.

I once had a student in a writing workshop ask me why I was doing this. "Doing what?' I asked, predictably. "You know, this," he said, gesturing around the classroom, taking in everything--the Powerpoint, the notes on the board, my name and e-mail address writ large on the screen. "Oh," I said, "This? I'm doing it because I like people. And also, I need to pass on what I know."

He had a point: The class I was teaching, about careers in publishing, had nothing to do with my novel, which had just debuted. And I was a long way from home, in Seoul, Korea, teaching on behalf of the U.S. Embassy. But that last part--needing to pass on what I know--is at the heart, I think, of why any of us is interested in writing.

Memoir, in particular, holds a peculiar charm for both writers and readers alike. In writing a memoir, we do one of, and maybe even all, of the following:

We tell the truth

Really? You might be asking. Aren't memoirs slippery pieces of truth? And I will answer, yes, to each of those things. Because even though memoir is at best a reconstruction of what really happened that day, the story we are telling as writers is the truth as it happened to us. It is what we remember and what we experienced, and so, it is true on, at the very least, an emotional level. That is valid.

We build bridges

We read to feel connected to someone else. We read to feel less alone. Even if we are reading to be entertained, well, that's a form of being connected, as well. Still, when we read, and we get a sense of recognition from whatever we're reading, well, that's valuable. To both writer and reader.

We honor our pasts

"I wish I'd asked dad/ mom/ grandma about..." is one of the saddest things ever (I cribbed that, by the way, from celebrated writer William Zinsser). It's true. Those who came before us are bearers of so much more than just family history. They are individuals with very real memories and reactions to what they witnessed and experienced, and if they're family, their experiences likely
contributed to our own reactions and memories. Writing these things out is a
fine road to better understanding of our histories, but also, of ourselves.

We remember the little stuff

[Spoiler alert for my session on July 12th!] Life comprises the little things. I'm sure you've heard that said before, but you'd be surprised how much of why we write and read comes down to fractions of time that shift and shape the way we perceive our worlds. When we write or read memoir, we look for those little bits that make up...well, everything about who we are. We hang on to those. They're the parts that allow us to relate to other people. Ultimately, it's why we tell stories.

Do you have a hankering to write a memoir? I hope you make a start, today. Tomorrow, even. Or tonight. But soon. Because your memories--your experience, your life--is worth noting down. Each of us is unique, and so each of us has a unique lens on our life, even if what we've experienced might feel the same as others' experiences.

If you want to begin telling your story, register for Yi Shun’s workshop here.