Before and After the Shutter Clicked: Memoir is Therapy


Love is an unreliable lens through which to look at a person. The same can be said of vacation. The viewer is left with a romantic memory of an experience, bereft of all its glaring imperfections.

Memoir writing has caused me to confront my romantic notions of Ireland and to be brutally honest with myself. I look at the pictures I took during both of my trips and think of some of them – that was such a good day. I wish I could go back there and relive that moment. But then I put pen to paper and I remember that a photo just represents one moment, and it is suspended in a perfect grace in which the before and after are unknown and irrelevant.

I now question the past – before and after the shutter clicked. How happy was I really? Why, when I returned from vacation, did I feel like one of the crumbling ruins scattered across the Irish countryside? Why did I allow myself to travel so far for love only to lose it? Maybe I was looking for something I never really had in the first place; was my experience really as perfect as I remembered? Finding answers to those questions can make for some great writing. However, the process is painful to the writer.

Memoir can be summed up in an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.” I am in a perpetual state of Ireland. I don’t want to be, but in order to write about it, I have to continuously think about it and examine every last detail and all of my actions. And I fall in love with the same person, over and over again with the sad knowledge that my heart gets broken. Who, except for a writer, would voluntarily subject themselves to so much pain?

Some people pay for therapists; I write. And through the therapy of memoir I discovered the error of my thinking:  Ireland hurt me because I held onto the microscopic pixels of memory like they were living things.

As I write my first book The Parting Glass, I am learning to be thankful for my Irish experiences and the opportunity to learn from the past instead of wallow in it. I love that I can now view my photo albums with the full color spectrum of reality.

6 Replies to “Before and After the Shutter Clicked: Memoir is Therapy”

  1. Memoir takes us to so many places.When I look at photographs It’s like the power of scent. I can put myself into that place and time. Thank you for giving me something to think over and good luck with writing your book.

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