A few years ago, I began working on my autobiography. Last year, during the November NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) I added another 50,000 words. Okay, I can feel my Nanowrimo friends cringing – I know that makes me a “Nano Rebel” because an autobiography is not a novel – but 50,000 words are…well, 50,000 words!
My autobiography was approaching a sizable mass, but it read more like a chronology of my life – snore. In an effort to learn how best to tell my story, I read Tristine Rainer’s book, Your Life as Story – Discovering the New Autobiography and Writing Memoir as Literature. I was intrigued by the idea of writing a memoir as literature – a memoir that reads like a novel.
Several writing exercises and prompts are outlined in Rainer’s book, but for me, the most revealing was the challenge to write your life story as a fairy tale. She challenges her reader to engage imagination with memory. She references Joseph Campbell’s, The Power of Myth, in his words,
“This I believe is the great Western truth: that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give a gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and the fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else’s.”
The fairy tale challenge rules limit the exercise to two pages – good, I can do that, I thought. The purpose of the exercise is to help reveal the themes within your life. Your choice in fairy tale genre is the first big thematic hint. I chose Cinderella – don’t laugh! My choice in the fairy tale was vindicated when the author confessed to choosing Cinderella too. But your story need not be limited to fairy tales of the past – make up your own if you want.
I am sharing my fairy tale below for those who may be interested. The revelations in my fairy tale are now the themes woven throughout my memoir. My autobiography outline was a great source of information, but my memoir, if done well, will be a work of literature.
My Life as Fairy Tale: The Pewter Prince
Once upon a time in a southern kingdom, a young princess was born. Three minutes after her birth her twin sister arrived. Although a twin, the princess was declared the elder.
As a young girl, the princess was shy and stayed close to her twin and the Queen Mother. She watched the world through her young eyes but did not venture into the crowds or the busy streets of her father’s kingdom. She found her comfort within the walls of the family castle.
Within a few years, the princess became the elder of four siblings. As the eldest daughter, she was directed by the King to watch over her brothers and sisters and lead by example. In awe of the King and wishing to please, she ordered her siblings about, requiring them to line up for their daily lessons. She read them fairy tales and taught them all the things she knew and made up the rest with her vivid imagination. The King smiled at this and told the young princess that one day she would make a fine Queen. Her siblings scoffed, rolled their eyes and declared her simply “bossy”. But the young princess waved them off and dreamed of the day she would meet her prince, a smart, handsome man like her father. Only then, she believed, would she have her happily ever after, just like in the fairy tales.
As the princess grew into a young woman she reluctantly ventured out into her father’s kingdom. Little by little her shyness waned, her curiosity grew, and she traveled amongst the people and explored the streets of the kingdom. Over time, she became curious about the world and longed for adventures beyond the walls of her father’s land. And so, upon coming of age, she and her twin requested permission from the King to travel to other lands. Their wish was granted and together the princess and her twin left the safety of the castle to begin their great adventure – each in search of their happily ever after.
The adventure into the new world proved both frightening and exhilarating. For a time, the princess and her twin traveled together throughout the Southern territories. Then one day, the princess turned toward the north and her twin toward the west. At that moment, they embraced as tears poured from their eyes. The time had come to part ways. The separation was difficult, for this was the first time the princess was truly out in the world on her own.
The Northern territories were filled with great monuments, history and powerful men and women. The princess felt small and lonely until she met a handsome, smart prince who swept her off her feet and stole her heart. They were married in a small ceremony, much to the dismay of the Queen Mother and King. The young royals traveled the seas to explore far-off lands. In a foreign land the princess gave birth to a young prince, a future heir, and for a short time, life was good.
Then one day, her prince said he no longer wished to travel the lands with her and sent her and the young prince back to her father’s kingdom. The princess was devastated and heartbroken. She held her young prince close as tears fell from her eyes. Day after day she wept. Until one day, there were no tears left to flow. She could see more clearly now and her heart began to heal. And as her heart healed it opened once again and she lifted her head, pulled back her shoulders, adjusted her crown and proclaimed,
“I shall be the ruler of my own kingdom for I am the queen of my own destiny and capable of caring for myself and my young prince.”
And so it was declared. And so she believed. Through her belief came the power to create for herself and her young prince a new life and a new kingdom. On the walls of her new kingdom she had the following inscribed in stone:
“Upon entering this Kingdom let it be known: This is a magical place. It is safe here, and joy and happiness abound, however, no one is going to save you. No one is responsible for your happiness. You must save yourself and find your own happiness. The power lies within you.”
The Queen Mother, having seen her eldest daughter grow strong and capable did what any Queen Mother would do at such a time. She reached for her daughter’s hand and placed within it a small family heirloom, a pewter prince. She whispered in her daughter’s ear, “You will find your prince, he is out there somewhere waiting for you.”
Because you see, even Queen Mothers still believe in fairy tales.
The beginning of happily ever after…