Memoir, Accuracy and Heart-Pounding Apprehension
What with all the hoo-hah about memoir these days, I suppose I should be worried. Allegations are aswirl that various memoirists may have played with the truth in order to craft life histories that beckon, siren-like at various airport snack ‘n’ book purveyors. I’ve followed this with some interest because:
(1.) I love memoirs
(2.) I am about to release one of my own.
Is it accurate? I have asked myself this question at every step along the way and have made every effort to deliver unto the people an accurate, detailed accounting of what it was like to share a room with Madonna Ciccone for 9 months and THEN (more interesting to ME and hopefully SOME OTHERS) what happened after that including marriage, babies, divorce, running a dance company, touring as a backup singer, various boyfriends, an almost epic inability to handle money, a bad back, the loss of a mother, the transcendent, gravelly love of a good blues musician – all tinted by the sickly glow of my surreal and occasionally slimy “career” as a paid Madonna-expert.
And in answer to the question I have asked myself, I say, “Why, yes. Yes, it is accurate.” As accurate as anything can be that was experienced before computers and email. (I’m soooo grateful to have lived my youth back in the ‘70s, when we all looked each other in the eye and danced to vinyl records of Earth Wind and Fire that were not even reissues.)
How do I remember the exact conversation I had with Madonna one night when she manipulated me into letting her wear my scarf because her hair was wet? How do I remember that we ate popcorn and Diet Crème soda and did the crossword puzzle on November 16th, of 1977?
Because I was a crazed, journal-keeping girl and I wrote that shit down.
No, my book, Not About Madonna, (which is – and you’ll have to trust me on this – not about Madonna) would have been impossible to write had I not kept copious notes on every tedious aspect of my life as a dance major at the University of Michigan. Those notes live in my attic in a large cardboard box filled with spiral-bound notebooks that are exceedingly embarrassing to read, but do, occasionally, come in handy.
It should go without saying that memoir, as I understand it, is inherently unreliable in all kinds of ways and I walk willingly into that agreement every time I read one. Telling God’s truth and making something that is actually interesting, with some kind of emotional charge, can be tricky. But I feel pretty good about how I handled it.
I changed some chronology of minor events. I changed some names of people. As for conversations, some I just pretty much remembered. Others, I recreated to the best of my ability, using my brain.
Having addressed the issue of accuracy, I am worried anyway. This is partly because I am the mother of adult children over whom I have no control but also because I am standing at the edge of something uniquely terrifying to a folky little introvert who wants everybody to like her, but sort of from a distance.
See, because of the Madonna angle (and yes, it is an angle, but the perfect angle to offset everything I wanted to say) – because of that, many readers of my book will pick it up with a particular expectation: That it’s a cheap shot at their goddess. That I’m bitter and resentful of her success. That I’m desperate to make contact with Madonna again and somehow get on her payroll. And I could refute this over and over and it wouldn’t matter, because you just can’t change people’s minds when a pop icon is involved.
Last week, in response to the first published news article about my book, there was a post on a remote website about how pathetic it is that someone “who breathed the same air as Madonna” would write a book about her (clearly not having read the title)… And it was a gentle introduction to what, I fear, may be in store for my tender ego.
But I will grow a pair of gigantic, titanium boobies and thrust them out proudly and not let any of that bother me. This is going to be fun!
No, I didn’t have to write this book about my weird life and tie it all together with the undeniable hook of my once-friend. I could have just … not.
But I do believe in doing things that terrify you (except for skydiving; you should never do that, especially if you have a mother).
Which I don’t. So here I go.
Whit Hill is the author of Not About Madonna: My Little Pre-Icon Roommate and Other Memoirs. It will be published in September by Heliotrope Press. She lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee.