Life's moments still matter to Trafford author Jakiela
Memoirs were once a person's “whole life story from birth to almost death, or birth to fame,” according to Lori Jakiela.
But the Trafford native, who has now penned three memoirs, including the recently published “Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe” (Atticus Books, $14.95), says that the genre has evolved.
“Now, at least in American literature, we think of memoir as moments in a life,” Jakiela says. “Moments that are transforming, moments that are things you want to unpack because they make up who you are. So you isolate them.” The new memoir follows “Miss New York Has Everything” (2006) and “The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious” (2013). Jakiela, who still lives in Trafford, teaches in the writing programs at the University of Pittsburgh — Greensburg and Chatham University.
Certain themes emerge in each book. “Miss New York” introduced readers to a flight attendant from a small town who grew up with loving, if sometimes difficult, adoptive parents. “The Bridge” delineated Jakiela's transition to a writing career, her marriage and the birth of her children. The theme running through “Belief” focuses on Jakiela's search for her birth family.
Jakiela's work, however, does not adhere to linear constraints. There is overlap in her books, and being able to jump back and forth in time is one of the genre's attractions.
“I think the interesting thing about memoir — and what I tried to play with in this one — is the idea that time really doesn't have a lot of meaning in our life, or at least in my life,” Jakiela says. “The past is always there. Haven Kimmell (author of the memoir ‘A Girl Named Zippy') talks about this acorn self: You always are everything that you always were. It's always present. Whatever happens to you when you're writing memoir, you can move through time in interesting ways.”
What a memoirist can't do is write everything that happens in a life. For one, the details of most lives aren't interesting. But there's also a matter of the people who are part of the writer's life. In “Belief,“ Jakiela writes about meeting a brother and two sisters she never knew she had. She made contact with her birth mother via letters.
Her brother asked not to be included in her books, but Jakiela could promise only that she would always be careful about what she wrote.
“It's a huge degree of difficulty, in some ways, for my brother, who I love and don't want to hurt,” she says.
“When you're an adopted person, you are like the biggest secret in the world. You're not allowed to talk about things, you're not allowed to say things, and certainly with my birth mother, who I don't know beyond the correspondence she would send me, I was this massive secret,” Jakiela says.
“I think one of the things writers do in general is we don't like silence and secrets. We want to go there and figure out what that means that people don't want us to go there. ... There was no way to not go there.”
While memoir, on the surface, might seem most prone to causing ill feelings, Jakiela thinks novelists and even poets face the same conundrum. Because most fiction or poetry is based on at least a kernel of truth, there's always a risk of offending or hurting someone.
“With memoir, you take down that veil, and you can protect people by leaving out names or changing identifying characteristics,” Jakiela says. “But people see themselves. It's a rough business, and I think, as writers, everybody learns how to live with themselves, hoping that if you tell a true story, the heart of it comes through.”
Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.