Sunday, March 20, 2016

Memoir Writing: The Effects of Self-Disclosure on My Friends by Ronald Wendling

I have already done some blogging about the self-disclosures I make in my memoir Unsuitable Treasure: An Ex-Jesuit MakesPeace with the Past and about their effects on me and on my family.  I’d now like to discuss something of what my friends have had to say about the book.
Oddly, if my experience is at all typical, the closer the memoirist’s friends are to him, the more muted and indirect their responses tend to be. In at least two cases, where the friends in question are devoutly Catholic, I think their comparative silence has to do with their unrest about the story of anyone who abandoned his studies for the Catholic priesthood. These friends may begin by assuming that a memoir like mine must be excessively critical of the religion they share with the writer. Once they read further, however, they probably come to realize the truth of what my title indicates—that my intellectual and spiritual training by the Jesuits, while “unsuitable” to me, remains a part of my life that I still “treasure.”
One notable exception to the slightly uncomfortable responses of some of my closest friends was the longtime academic colleague who enthusiastically praised my memoir for its “veracity.” By that he meant that I avoid the suspiciously inflated grandeur of some books like mine that take religion seriously. He mentioned specifically the mixture of anger and tenderness in my portrait of my mother, which steers clear of the hushed Mother’s Day reverence that our culture seems to insist on when we come to the delicate subject of our relationship with our mothers.
          One almost embarrassingly kind reaction came from a classmate I hardly knew when we were in high school together. Of course he knew nothing at that time of the alcoholism and dysfunction in my family, but when he discovered that background in my book, he found himself admiring the man I have since become. Quite a different response came from a friend I made more recently who, when it came to my broken family, could not quite see what all the fuss was about.  “Alcoholism aside,” he remarked, “weren’t all our families up to their ears in abusive messes like those that afflicted yours?”
          Finally there was the welcome reaction of the friends and neighbors in the condominium near Philadelphia where my wife and I have been living for the past eight years, and especially from my women readers there. More comfortable with self-disclosure than most men, a surprising number of these women had no hesitation whatever in saying that they had families with troubles amazingly similar to mine, addiction included. However there was one highly accomplished gentleman, an early reader of the book, who spoke up immediately about how closely he identified with the alcohol issue I grew up with.
The recent photo of me at the beginning of this post was taken at Montserrat (the serrated mountains) where Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, intensified his conversion from soldiering and courting the ladies to a life of Christian service. Montserrat remains a must-see tourist attraction for visitors to Barcelona, Spain.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Enjoyed you post and what you have heard about your book.

Ronald Wendling said...

Thank you, Marilyn. I appreciate your comment.