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by Amber Lea Starfire
It’s always a bit awkward for me when I meet someone for the first time and, as I’m shaking her hand, she says, “I read your memoir.” (Hopefully, this statement is followed with, “And I loved it.”) Typically, my mind begins racing, reviewing all the intimate things I’ve shared in my memoir, leaving me feeling vulnerable and a bit exposed. I know nothing about this person, yet she knows everything about me.
Now, I’ve published a second memoir, exposing even more of my life. You might wonder: Why would anyone want to open up to the world like this, in such a public way? We’ve all been taught we are supposed to keep our painful truths secret — even if they might inspire others and change their lives. For some authors, writing their stories involves risking their reputations, their livelihood, or family relationships. Why would anyone send their story into the world anyway?
I believe that in sharing our stories with one another through memoir, we can help each other through this journey of life. Though everyone’s situation is different, we all experience the same kinds of hopes, fears, dreams, and disappointments. When we share the truths of our lives with one another we all benefit, because we feel validated through our shared experiences and we gain community.
Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to be vulnerable.”
I agree. Through the vulnerability of sharing our stories, memoir has the potential to raise awareness, help change destructive family cycles, and heal the past. It brings us together as human beings with shared experiences, challenges, and triumphs.
In order to write memoir, you have to invite readers into the private places of your life — into how you experienced and thought about everything that happened. It’s in this very act of vulnerability that you increase human connection and trust. And healing.
And so, as I wrote Accidental Jesus Freak, and before that Not the Mother I Remember, I had to expose and question the soft underbelly of my life, my internal and external secrets; I had to be honest with myself and my readers, write about my own faults, and take responsibility for my life choices.
For anyone, the memoir-writing process takes courage and a strong belief that sharing your story and your truth is more important than keeping secrets, more important than your sense of vulnerability. Because you have something to say — something you’ve learned through examining your life that can help others.
And in the end, isn’t that what stories are for?
Questions for discussion:
• What do you like most about reading memoir?
• Have you ever thought about writing your memoir? What holds you back, if anything?
With unflinching candor, Amber Starfire chronicles her journey as Linda Carr into the evangelical church culture, where she gives up everything for her husband and their music ministry. But in the process, she loses her most valuable assets: her identity and sense of self-worth. It is only when Linda returns to live with her birth family and faces her complicated relationship with her mother that she finds new purpose and the courage to begin to extricating herself from the limiting beliefs of her past.
Accidental Jesus Freak is the story of one woman, one marriage, and one kind of fundamentalism, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible when we are true to ourselves. Both a cautionary tale and celebration of personal empowerment, Accidental Jesus Freak is a powerful reminder for anyone who seeks to live a life authentic to who they truly are.
By spring we were behind on rent and utility payments and were running out of food. Paul was deep into one of his depressions, so the Beulah Band wasn’t practicing or performing. Without the focus provided by our music and without Paul’s guidance, the commune began to erode at the edges, crumbling into the sea of reality. One by one, people drifted away, most moving back to Portland to take up residence with family or friends. Soon there was just a core of us left: three families, including Paul and Barney’s, two married couples without children, and a few young bachelors.
I remember quite distinctly the day we gave up. The group had exactly $20 remaining in our coffers—not enough to pay any of our bills. Not even enough to buy food for dinner. So, in typical throw-it-to-the-wind fashion, we traipsed up the street to the local Dairy Queen and bought $20 worth of banana splits to share. It felt reckless and fitting to celebrate the demise of our grand communal experiment in this fashion.
I have a polaroid taken that day outside the Dairy Queen. Fourteen adults and five children smile and squint into the sun like one big happy family. Eric and I stand at the back of the group, round-faced in our youth, his hand placed protectively on my arm. I remember feeling both relieved and sad. I was tired of the strain of trying to keep food on the table, tired of the squabbling, the lack of privacy, and feeling shut out by the men. I was ready to live like a normal married couple, just Eric and me on our own. Yet there was a bitter-sweetness to those banana splits.
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Amazon Link for Accidental Jesus Freak: https://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Jesus-Freak-Journey-Fundamentalism/dp/0999444107/
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/accidental-jesus-freak-amber-lea-starfire/1127757981
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