“The one book that all of us would approach with greatest interest, that no human in history would be able to resist opening, would be a book of anecdotes about ourselves as told by other people. The appeal of such a book would lie not in some sort of grotesque human vanity, but in our wish to be something definite, a desire at least as great as our urge to be free.”
– Graham Harman, Guerilla Metaphysics.
In the Shinto tradition of Japan, the kami-no-michi say that there are as many versions of you as there are rooms you walk into. The rooms you frequent are the most familiar parts of yourself. If those rooms could talk, you might guess what they’d say, but you’re dying to know what’s said in unvisited rooms behind locked doors of perception for which others hold the key. It’s not because you’re vain or overly self-conscious (even if you are), but because you appreciate the value of self-understanding.
Memoirs unlock doors. A book about you narrated by other people—whether you commissioned it yourself or were humbly flattered and surprised to receive it as gift—welcomes you home into rooms you barely knew existed.
Everybody wants to know how the world sees them. It’s only human. Like multifaceted jewels, our life stories reflect different aspects of ourselves depending on where the light is coming from. In other words, the story of your life as narrated by your spouse is not quite the same we heard from your kids and lifelong friends. Their scatter-brained anecdotes reveal an astonishingly eccentric personality, but it all makes perfect sense in light of everything else we know and love about you. Different facets of the same jewel.
You “contain multitudes,” but despite your many personas, revealed by interviewing those who know you best, your story still holds up. You have a certain underlying essence that nobody alone can quite describe, but as we interweave their isolated anecdotes about you, an intricate pattern emerges. You’re quite a piece of work.
Like an echo chamber with padded walls, the daily business of life returns us to the same familiar rooms where superficial social rituals only confirm what we think we know about ourselves. But your memoir has unlocked the door and offered access to many rooms, of your own and others’ design, where you can make yourself at home.
As you restore these hidden rooms, you don’t want to read generic DIY manuals telling you how to live, and you don’t need to study the lives of rock stars, presidents, and saints to find the answers you seek. More valuable sometimes than any sacred text is a book about you created by others, which sheds light on your life as well as theirs. It doesn’t mean you’re blasphemous or narcissistic. It means you’re planning ahead to furnish rooms where your future selves will thrive for generations.