Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir - Introduction Excerpt

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Why Telling Your Story Matters—Sharing Your Mana‘o

There are many reasons to tell the stories of your life, and probably just as many reasons not to. Who would read it? What would other people say? And perhaps the biggest question of all, How or where do I begin?

Telling the story of your life is not an easy task. (If we’re going to do this work, we’re going to be honest, right?) But just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily hard or that you shouldn’t do it at all. Sometimes focus, clarity and a sense of purpose can be enough to get us started.

YOUR MANA‘O—YOUR EXPERIENCE IS LIKE NO OTHER

In Hawaiian, mana‘o means several things—thought, belief, intention, ideas, desire. Your mana‘o emanates from who you are as a person. It is individual and unique.

Ho‘o is a causative prefix. When you add it to the beginning of a word, it changes the word to one of action—it causes someone or something to do or be something. Is it any surprise, then, that ho‘omana‘o means to remember? Remembering is how your book will get written. You don’t need anything else.

No one can write the book that you are going to write. It’s as simple as that. Even if you are not writing about yourself, but of someone close to you or within your community, even an icon or historical figure, what you ultimately end up writing about, and how you end up writing about it, is your decision. You’ll arrive at this decision—and many others—based on your beliefs, perceptions, experiences and personal desires.

You get to claim your life, your experiences, your story. What you put down on the page is up to you. You are the only one who can put the words down in that way.

WHY THIS WORK IS IMPORTANT

Sharing our lives opens us up. It connects us. It helps us (as the writer) to make sense of things, to celebrate moments that might otherwise be lost, to remember what matters most. It helps us (as the reader) to see that we’re not alone, that our lives are both personal and universal, that the human spirit is deeper and more profound than we may remember when we’re trying to pay our bills or care for a sick child or parent. We get to be a part of another person’s experience. We can share the joys, the laughter, the chicken skin coincidences, the sorrow, the grief. We can take what we learn and apply it to our own lives. Then we can turn it around and do the same for others.

There are other reasons, too, all good and wonderful and important in their own way. Wanting to capture the story of tūtū or tūtū kane before they pass or can no longer remember the details of their lives, learning and sharing life-changing events that affected both individuals and a community at large, such as Kapoho (a Big Island town overrun by lava during the 1960 Kīlauea eruption), Kalaupapa (which served as a leprosy settlement from 1873-1969), tsunamis (1946, 1952, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1975) or Pearl Harbor (1941). Other reasons may include preservation of cultural icons, from surfers to paniolo to businessmen and businesswomen, politicians or musicians. Wisdom from kāhuna, of those who hold Hawai‘i in their bodies, minds and spirits. All of these stories are important, and all have their place in history and in our lives. Getting these stories down on paper is one way to ensure that those who come after us will remember, too.

BUT I’M NOT A WRITER

If you know how to write, you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. You may be a terrible speller, suffer at the thought of writing a single paragraph or hate reading anything over two pages, but you are a writer.

And you already possess all the material you need—your memories. While you may want to look for ways to develop and improve your basic skills (such as punctuation, grammar, story structure), the first thing you must work on is your own thoughts, especially the negative ones. This trumps everything else, because tormented, unhappy writers are no fun at all. Don’t sabotage yourself or your abilities. Don’t cut yourself off before you’ve even begun. You need to be your own number one supporter, your own sidekick, your own muse, your own therapist.

As with any art, you need to cultivate a respect for the craft. You need to find the parts that you love. And you need to appreciate and celebrate your own gifts and abilities that are going to support you in writing your memoir.

We’ve all read wonderful and terrible books, seen wonderful and terrible movies. You know that even blockbusters have their critics, too. In short, it’s impossible to please everyone, so don’t even try. This writing path is about you and writing your truth. Let everyone else write their own memoirs. Don’t put yourself down. Be kind. Trust your words. Trust your desire to write. I know you can do it—shouldn’t you, too?

Excerpted from Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story by Darien Gee. © 2014 Gee & Company, LLC