An author must have an “elevator pitch,” meaning a statement in response to “What’s your book about?” It should take the time needed for a 2-3 floor elevator trip to deliver. This is a tall order, but a worthy exercise for any author. I envy authors whose books are about an escape from prison, the battle of such-and-such, or a particular queen in a long-past century. A memoir is about the author’s life but the general public is not interested in other people’s lives. Imagine yourself yawning at a dinner table where one person commandeers the conversation by telling about her life. As a college professor, whose classes were writing essays about their thoughts and experiences, I learned that even the very young have suffered loss, despair, and delight; everybody has a story worth listening to.
Memoirists should keep in mind that readers will not be interested in anyone’s life story unless they can be brought to mull over an aspect of their own life, so I ruled out “It’s about my life,” before ever saying it. It was more “It’s the story of my husband Terry, our happy marriage, and his suicide.” This is the plot line, but not really what the book is “about.” The book is about secrets. Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “Everyone has a public life, a private life, and a secret life.” Others can know freely about your public life, a few people, maybe only one or two, know about your private life, but who knows your secret life? Since everyone has a secret life, saying that the book is about “Our secret lives” would be dull. This is a subject that, by definition, forbids discussion. The book moves beyond secret lives to wondering how much of one’s secret should be shared, how much of the burden shared? To what extent are we all “our brother’s keeper? ”
My pitch must convey the nature of the secret or secrets involved. The book is about the twisting of one person’s nature by gender dysphoria and also about the grinding inevitability of suicide in some people. At what point is that person required to confess the gender dysphoria and the haunting nature of suicidal thoughts? Would a simple one-time confession, “I’ve had suicidal thoughts since I was a teenager” be a sufficient lifting of one’s responsibility to be honest? Or should he share these thoughts as they flit in and out of his mind? “Honey, I’m feeling suicidal tonight,” would scare the living daylights out of a partner. Perhaps the brilliant energies of new romance obliterate those thoughts and feelings, perhaps for years. Perhaps the person having them thinks they have disappeared forever, so why burden his partner with them? Gender dysphoria resides in the deepest, least accessible caves of human nature. A gay man, or a man who questions his sexual identity, can have a functioning sex life with his wife, as many such men did in the days when heterosexual marriage was the only way to have children and a family. The sexual mismatch may recede in the joys and pleasures of family life, only to reappear later. In her book, She’s Not There, Jennifer Finney Boylan says that she thought her dysphoria would disappear if she truly fell in love. As a man, he did truly fall in love, but the suffering came back and she is now a woman. What is the right thing to do in such a circumstance? Is there a “right thing?” Divulging such a secret can destroy a marriage, or a life. If Garcia Marquez is correct and every reader has a secret life, readers can do their part in the practice of literature and come to their own conclusions about the nature of one’s duty to tell the truth, assuming the person knows what that truth is.
I expect that I’ll awaken one morning with the perfect elevator pitch fully formed, and I have to wait patiently for it to appear. For the moment, I’ll say something like, “It’s about my happy marriage to my husband Terry. He carried within him heavy secrets that caused his suicide, as surely, suddenly, and inevitably as if his heart had burst.”