The Interior Quest: Memoir, Lens of Personal Destiny
This paper explores the role of memoir writing in reexamining and finding meaning and purpose in lives that might otherwise be deprived of a key source of personal fulfillment, the sense of achieving individual destiny. It argues that the writing of memoir requires narrative flow, craft, and creative awareness—all produced by a quality of attention that can be transformative in itself. This reflective and artistic distance is a key factor in the phenomenology of human self-perception. In the writing of memoir, life material is restructured, reframed, and perceived afresh. For some, memoir has a creative potential that can be seen as self-directed destiny. Several outstanding memoirs are considered here. Russell Baker’s Growing Up credits the ambitions of his mother, combined with his fascination with people’s Depression era stories, to his rise through the newspaper ranks to national status as a columnist. A contrast is shown in Frank McCourt’s memoir trilogy—Angela’s Ashes, ’Tis, and Teacher Man—in which a childhood of extreme poverty, working class obscurity, and an entire teaching career passes before the author is able to write lucidly about the struggles that made him into a late-life hero to those who devote their lives to a vital, mostly thankless profession. Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase climbs to a realization that, though failing to find the God of her original quest, she has by unexpected means fulfilled a spiritual destiny through a lifelong study of world religions. The paper concludes with a reflection on Amy Tan’s key assertion, in her memoir The Opposite of Fate, that by writing one can create a better destiny than what seems to be fated. Her approach is poignantly verified in the case of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a life-affirming memoir composed when all the author had left was his awareness, imagination, and the control of one blinking eye. It is a triumph of attention as the creative catalyst of human destiny.
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