By the Wind Grieved

By the Wind Grieved
“O lost, And by the wind grieved, Ghost, Come back again.” Thomas Wolfe

Monday, August 26, 2013

Trust, Confidences and the Voyeuristic Nature of Ghostwriting a Memoir

Illustration by Lisa Yount
About two months ago I had a vivid dream in which my client appeared. I woke up from it feeling embarassed, as if I had been presumptuous about our relationship and had overstepped some sort of professional boundary. I cringed to think what he would make of my dreaming about him.

It was a pleasant dream. It took place in a house. In the beginning of the dream it was my house. At the end of the dream it was his house. Was the house the book we were writing together?

I wondered why I had dreamed about the man. Had I subconsciously invited him in? If I had, what did that mean? Did I want some sort of deeper acceptance from him? After listening to his stories for eight months, did I want him to somehow reciprocate and travel a while in my land? 

The thought of his playing a part in my subconscious theater was all very disconcerting.

Around the time this happened I had been thinking about the voyeuristic nature of memoir writing for hire. Not in a sexual sense, but in the sense of the original French connotation of “one who looks.” I am one who looks. I am one for whom the doors to a private space have been opened, one who has been invited in to take note, to record, to extract meaning from memory. As such, I am privy to stories reserved for family and close friends. 

The kind of intimacy that comes from hearing another’s life stories, week after week, is one aspect of memoir writing for hire that I had not anticipated. It has been an oversight, too, not to consider the privilege it is to be granted such access to a life. No matter how professional and detached I make the interview process, I am still being allowed into this man’s life and psyche, being allowed to ask questions about his feelings toward his parents, his reaction to the deaths of loved ones, his thoughts on marriage, professional battles, love and family and sickness. 

I feel a grave responsibility about this status as listener, witness to memory, and scribe. 

Back to the dream. Now I have an interpretation. If the house in the dream is at once mine and my client’s, I am not a voyeur looking in from the outside, but a confidante. A confidant is one who is trusted. But not only do I feel I have gained my client's trust by creating a comfortable space in which he can explore his memories, I feel that I have grown to trust  him, myself and the process. That we were both comfortable in the dream house; that the ownership of the house was fluid, seems a healthy omen for what lies ahead when it comes to getting the book published. 

Any other interpretations are welcome.

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