Even though my dad calls me self-obsessed sometimes, I find it hard to write about myself.
Bios are one thing. For a program, I usually just rattle off my degrees, and two or three past projects. No biggie.
But writing for an extended time about yourself, like a paragraph, or a whole page? It’s like…what do you do?
Well, there’s one thing. Who better to write about you than yourself? You’ve been living with yourself for your whole life, and chances are you know yourself pretty well, unless you’re prone to fugue states or have spent most of your life in a coma, in which case you probably wouldn’t be in the position of writing a memoir (The Diving Bell and Butterfly excluded). But there’s also the intense pressure that comes with it; what if you write something that sounds stupid or unimportant in retrospect. What if you write something about yourself that’s just plain wrong, based on an incorrect memory of people/things/events? And how do you write about yourself without being so gosh-darned self-serving?
Here are a few ways to write about yourself.
1. I’m Awesome
You’ve probably accomplished some stuff and probably prevailed over adversity at least once in your life, so write about that. You can write about yourself as a child prodigy. You can write about learning how to play the piano, or how you were captain of the varsity lacrosse team, sang in a choir, won a spelling bee, or had your poem published in a school/local newspaper. These are all things that happened to you, so they’re factual, at least. Transitioning into adulthood, you graduated high school and got a college scholarship? That’s perfect. So many Americans (and people in other countries) do not or cannot do that. You studied abroad in China? Great, there’s a chapter right there – it doesn’t matter that it was on your parents’ dime and you drank a lot while you were there, at least you went on an adventure across the world alone and met new people. You had family, friends, and pets that you adored and adored you? They’ll work as supporting characters, mile markers on your just to becoming the amazing person you are today.
This is problematic, because inevitably, you’ll slip up somewhere and someone will notice. Or, someone reading it will pick out the one detail that you made seem bigger than it was. “So, you were a Boy Scout? Tell me about that,” someone will ask, and you’ll struggle to cover up the fact that you never made Eagle Scout and dropped out after a year and a half because you decided you liked riding your bike around the neighborhood and watching TV better. Also, inevitably, you can come off sounding like an incredible jackass, making everyone else seem inferior. Or that you enjoy tooting your own horn so much that you could join an orchestra.
2. I’ve Suffered a Lot and I’m Stronger Now
Modesty could be the best policy. You were born in a hospital, parents got divorced, didn’t make the basketball team, got the worst part in the play, accidentally broke your great aunt’s glasses at Thanksgiving dinner, and didn’t get your first kiss until you were 21. Or, all those times you had to miss school because of illness, or that you knew some people and they died and that sucked. But through it all, you managed to stick around and you don’t know how but somehow you’re here for a higher purpose.
Billy, don’t be a hero – your life’s not all crap and you know it. It’s like those kids in art class in third grade who were all, “my painting is the worst in the class,” only to make you feel sorry for them and then tell them that it was good. Looking back, I probably should have said, “Yeah, you’re right, your painting does suck, and you’re also not great at other things either.” But then you’d probably get told on and have to spend recess sitting alone in the corner, which isn’t too bad because the other kids are smelly anyway and you can work on your plans for world domination.
And now for something completely different…
3. This is me, total honesty. Just me.
You’ve written a bunch of stuff down, but since it triggers bad memories, or you don’t want people to know, or that is embarrassing or embarrasses someone else or that is boring or that never really happened, or did, but not the way that you recall it. So you erase all that and start with the facts. You were born, on a day ending in Y, in a hospital, you had parents and a sister and a bedroom in a house, took a bus to school, had a bunch of friends, and then went to college or entered the workforce and did stuff. Then you erase all that stuff, because who’d want to read that, and then go back to numbers 1 or 2.
In conclusion, you just can’t win. You either come off sounding like an incredible jackass or that your life is completely morbid or that you’re so normal that you’re mundane or that you hate yourself. One or more of which might be true, but you don’t want people to know that. So now you’re tasked with finding an official biographer, which is probably going to cost you money.
If I ever get around to writing it, my memoir is probably going to be a clusterfumble.
See ya in the Marshalls clearance aisle!