Memoir and Madness: Marion Roach Smith

by midlifecrisisqueen on January 2, 2014

A recent study revealed that the number one thing that baby boomers want to do is write memoir.  It’s not that each of us has lived such interesting lives, but we seem to understand that writing memoir, whether in book, blog, or letter form, is an excellent portal to self-examination.

Marion Roach SmithI recently began reading a short but great book about writing memoir: The Memoir Project:    A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith. 

I thoroughly enjoy reading and re-reading this book, because it isn’t just about how to write, but more about how we live our lives.  Not surprisingly, it is also very well-written. I enjoy Marion’s writing so much, I decided to read her first attempt at memoir, Another Name for Madness from 1985.

As it turns out, Marion Roach Smith was one of the first writers to tell others about living with Alzheimer’s in the early 1980s, first through her New York Times Magazine article, which she turned into a book. 

Here she educates others about the daily experience of watching her own mother disappear into oblivion, beginning around age 50.  Marion was only in her mid-twenties as she dealt with the loss of her mother day-by- day over a number of years. 

After publishing her NYT article, she received hundreds of letters and phone calls, most of which began with the phrase: “I’ve never told anyone this…” about the shame, sadness, embarrassment, denial, and pure exhaustion involved in providing long-term care for victims of Alzheimer’s disease. 

I had no idea how little we knew about this irreversible descent into madness back in the 1980s.  I had no idea what this terrible disease can do to a family, and how it can ruin the finances of just about anyone. Read this book to gain an understanding of this experience from the inside out.

I have read that Alzheimer’s disease is increasing with the boomer generation.  If this is true, we are all in for a rough ride…


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen D. Austin January 2, 2014 at 8:56 am

Thanks for the recommendation! I enjoy reading memoirs, and I focused on cognition challenges in aging during my grad work in gerontology. This sounds like a perfect intersection of these interests.

Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) January 2, 2014 at 3:49 pm

I’m reading the Memoir Project this month as part of my New Year reading. Good idea to read her memoir as well.

midlifecrisisqueen January 2, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Yes, I’m thinking about writing a memoir or two and I know I need help improving my writing. I like lots of her suggestions, like choose a focus for your piece and then use your story to illustrate your point. Universality is so important in writing… LLC

Carol Graham January 4, 2014 at 12:48 am

After 10 therapeutic years of writing, rewriting and rewriting again, I launched my memoir a few months ago. Then I entered the world of social networking. I think I had it backwards because if I had all the tools that social media offers, writing my memoir would have been a lot easier. But, I was very pleased to see that common sense played a huge part in that challenge and I did a few things right as a result. I wrote it as a compelling, mystery novel.
My initial goal was to encourage women who were hurting and felt hopeless, that you can overcome the insurmountable. Keeping that goal before me helped me get through all the pain of dredging up the past and using it to empathize with those going through something similar. Thank you for saying you enjoy memoirs, as I do. Truth can certainly be stranger than fiction!

midlifecrisisqueen January 4, 2014 at 7:25 am

Hello Carol:
Thanks for reading my blog. I have been writing here since 2007 with the exact same goal as yours, except I also include men in that battle “to encourage those who are hurting and feel hopeless, that you can overcome the insurmountable.”
In response to your quote about the truth being stranger than fiction, a quote from Tom Clancy: “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

Marion Roach Smith January 31, 2014 at 7:15 am

Oh, how absolutely lovely to find this here.
Many thanks, Midlife Crisis Queen (Love the name. Love it). I am deeply grateful for the mention, the kind words, but most of all for the connection to another fine writer.
Hoping your work goes well.
Please stay in touch.

midlifecrisisqueen January 31, 2014 at 7:52 am

Dear Marion:
You must know, you have made my day with your kind comment and encouragement! I find writing to be so therapeutic, and apparently my readers also receive some benefit from my new profession.
Thanks for taking the time to appreciate my site. That makes it all worthwhile! :)
– Laura Lee

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