How to write about your life

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Agents contact me on a regular basis to ask me if I want to do a book about my life.

I say no.

I say no because I have no idea how to do a book about my life. I'm sure I have no idea because I already have had a six-figure book deal to write about my life that I'm not delivering on, and the editor has dumped me. (Read: Phone calls to collect on the large advance I've already spent.) So my qualifications to tell you advice about how to write about one’s life are questionable. But whatever; I have never stood on ceremony over qualifications.

Maybe the problem is that my life story needs a redemptive moment. This is what my agent-who-is-no-longer-my-agent tells me. And this is a warning to any agent who thinks they might want to be my agent: My past agent dumped me because (even though I did deliver on my first book deal) I am terrible at writing book proposals and I am terrible at following publishing industry rules. And her number one rule is that if you write about your life there must be a redemptive moment because people like that. “That's what sells,” is my not-my-agent's way of saying “That's what people like to read.”

So, okay. I try to see that. I mean, I've read plenty of memoirs – Girl, Interrupted, Smashed, Darkness Visible—all good books. All very redemptive at the end, for sure. But I've also read Anna Karenina. Well, I haven't, but I'm able to spoil the ending for you right now anyway (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want the spoiler). She gets hit by a train. I think she kills herself.

That seems redemptive to me. I mean, at least she doesn't have to wake up to her same problems every day.

I have told this to my not-agent. She said that people do not want to read about my fascination with suicide. It's true. I am fascinated by suicide: Why don't more people kill themselves? Life is very hard. And there is no sane reason to believe it will, at some point, get easier. So why do we keep going? I don't know. This fascinates me.

(Here is a great book of suicide letters. And here's a tidbit for all you productivity gurus: People in their 20's who kill themselves write suicide notes about how much they love the people who will be most hurt by the suicide: their parents, a boyfriend maybe. People in their 30's and 40's write suicide notes that are informational to-do lists: Where the cat food is, when the kid's homework is due, how to find the keys to the safety deposit box.

Both types of letters are great examples of how people have totally lost perspective when they kill themselves. This baffles me, since I also feel that we have totally lost our perspective by choosing to not kill ourselves.)

Okay. So I told my not-my-agent that my proposal for a memoir is redemptive because the reader will see that I did not kill myself before I got to the date of the national book tour.

That did not work for her.

So I said my book is redemptive because I had an insane childhood and look, now I'm not living on the street.

My agent told me that my life is too precarious for my surviving childhood to be redemptive. She told me I could write about keeping my marriage together even though we both have Aspergers Syndrome, but before I could write the proposal (and convince my ex that this would be okay to write) we divorced.

What about writing about the divorce?

She said divorce is not redemptive. I'm pretty sure that's when she told me to get a new agent.

Okay. So back to me telling you how to write about yourself. I say, forget about redemption. It's false. I read The Glass Castle, and I think it's nice Jeanette Wallis got out of her hell-hole family, but really, I want to know what her fights with her husband are like on her zillion-dollar Hamptons estate.

I think you should write the truth. Be real. If you obsess about redemption instead of the truth, you'll be like me, writing nothing, because life is not redemptive. Life isn't like that. Just write your own messy life, and let it spill out.

But, wait. Here's the problem with that. Your life is boring. I'm sorry to tell you this. But actually all our lives are boring. Which is another strike against obsessing over redemption: it doesn't make your life interesting, but good writing always makes life interesting.

So you need to tell something true to make people want to read, but you need to be interesting doing it.

Do you want to know what interesting is? How many articles and stories and blog posts have you read about getting fired? Six million, right? Everyone wants to tell their story. Most suck. But here's a great one: The CEO of Sun wrote a tweet to announce his resignation. It's interesting because of the media he chose, it's interesting because of the timing, and it's interesting because it's a haiku:

Financial crisis/Stalled too many customers/CEO no more

The bar is high if you want to be interesting. What can you do? Here’s what I do:

1. Assume you are not all that interesting. The reader does not want a peek into your life. Not enough people care. Do you know how I know? Because porn is boring. Sure, if you're using it for masturbation, it's interesting, because then it's giving you something. But if not, what are you doing watching? Who cares about someone else's sex life? And you can be sure that the peek into your life is never going to be as interesting as a porn movie. So forget writing a blog post merely to give someone a peek.

2. Cut fifteen percent of everything you write. Because no one is so interesting that they can't cut words.

3. Write to give the reader something they want. I try to focus on this with every post I write. But in fact, this is advice about how to do anything in your life: Help people as much as you can. Give people what they need, and if you focus on that, the rest will fall into place. This is true of how to network, how to parent, how to manage people and also how to write about your life.

So really, the world is full of ways to give to each other, and we're all just looking for the best way. And this, in the end, is probably why we don't kill ourselves.

140 replies
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  1. Kat Wilder
    Kat Wilder says:

    Most people don’t know what they want, although they think they do. And, even when you tell someone you care about the truth (well, as you see it), they get all pissed off. People tend to like to live in denial and delusions. I do, too, sometimes – it’s easier! And, then you don’t have to kill yourself.

    PT, you do give very interesting advice; if nothing else, you make people think. But, what also makes you interesting is your honesty about your life. Advice aside, most of us feel comforted by, “Oh, wow, that’s what I’m going through, too.”

  2. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    Good post. I disagree with your editor about the redemptive moment: train wrecks are fascinating in and of themselves, because of the sheer power and totality of the disaster. So if your life is a train wreck, write about your train wreck. (And I don’t think your life IS a train-wreck, by the way. Yours is a typically dysfunctional life, and that is why you have so much trouble writing a book about it. You don’t see the uniqueness in your typical-ness.)

    A book about your life would be supremely interesting if you focused on Asperger’s and how it has affected each phase of your life. You’d then appeal to multiple audiences. Think about it. And deliver on that promise. You’ll feel better if you do.

    Oh, and you missed another — and to this editor, crucial — reason that Sun’s CEO’s resignation tweet is interesting: It’s haiku.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh yeah. I totally forgot to say haiku. And that was my whole point in putting the twitter there in the first place. Thanks for reminding me. I added it. I love that it’s never too late to edit a blog post :)


  3. Eduard @ Ideas With A Kick
    Eduard @ Ideas With A Kick says:

    Very solid advice Penelope,

    I’ve always been the kind to write about my ideas and my beliefs, rather than my life. And maybe sustain them with personal experiences. I think there are a lot of ways to write about your life without actually writing a book about it. This is what blogging from the personal perspective is about for me.


  4. Dale
    Dale says:

    Write about your youth, what stopped you from completely going off the deep end, and why you journey on. It’s what keeps me coming back for more.


  5. Mneiae
    Mneiae says:

    I think that you should definitely write that book. I don’t care what you’ve been told audiences want to read about! There is a definite audience for a story about your life.

  6. JillPR
    JillPR says:

    As someone who has both struggled with depression and is very logical, it has also puzzled me that more people don’t kill themselves. Maybe we’re addicted to the story of our own lives, and we don’t want to end it before the big reveal.

    Also, I’m in my 20s and I laughed to read a summary of a suicide note I have written too many times. We all think we’re so different, don’t we?

    • Anthea
      Anthea says:

      In evolutionary terms, an individual that commits suicide before reproducing removes whatever genetic traits may have contributed to their inclination to destroy themselves from the gene pool.

      On the other hand, an individual with a strong drive towards self-preservation and reproduction is more likely to survive and pass on whatever genetic traits contribute to those inclinations to the next generation.

      Of course, the situation is not purely genetic, but you can see where evolutionary pressures would favor self-preservation over self-destruction. In some ways, we don’t kill ourselves because we’re the descendants of people who didn’t kill themselves (or at least not before they could reproduce.)

      • Maureen Sharib
        Maureen Sharib says:

        Have you ever wondered if the memories of those who preceded us are somehow encoded into our own (like our genetic DNA)? I suspect they are. Somewhere. Somehow. The mind is the final frontier.

  7. Maureen Sharib
    Maureen Sharib says:

    This is really, really good writing advice. Penelope, this is what interests me about your writing:
    when you talk frankly about the reactions of others to you)
    Your kids, your boyfrined’s, your co-workers, your ex-husband’s, your mother’s, your father’s, your father’s wife… THAT stuff. How you manage personal relationships. What it’s like to live in your skin.
    That’s redemption for some.

  8. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    I have been waiting for your book!!! I love your writing and think your life is way more interesting than anyone else I know. I think you need to do a Heather Armstrong and have a reality show instead of a book–I’d much rather watch your life than hers.

    Here’s my question: what if you do have a life that’s actually interesting enough that it would sell books–but you don’t want to wreck your current life by doing the book about the old, crazy life in your real name. Will publishers let you publish under a fake name? Or is the whole point that it’s real so they want to see the real writer?

  9. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    Depression is a fascinating subject. Why don’t more people kill themselves? Because the way we all experience life has far more to do with our inner life state than what’s actually happening to us, and even horribly depressed people still want to be happy–they’ve just lost the hope they can be. The desire to kill oneself requires the incredibly powerful survival instinct be completely overpowered by despair. I suppose the relatively low incidence of depression (compared to how many people live of planet Earth) is a testament to how strong that survival instinct is, as well as to the power of hope that things will improve. Ultimately, I think the true cause of depression (or most common cause) is a lack of belief in one’s ability to become happy.

    • Thom@Forex Trading Systems
      Thom@Forex Trading Systems says:

      Alex: “Depression is a fascinating subject. Why don’t more people kill themselves?”

      Speaking from experience, it was the realization that ending this particular mind-state/personality view at this particular time and place was not going to be any kind of lasting solution to fixing the ultimate reality that needed fixing.

      I knew my mind was “ill” (so to speak), and that I needed to fix that first before taking any rash decisions about ending a life. In other words, whatever was troubling me here, was not going to go away just because I ended this life. I needed to get to the root of the problem (which is eventually what I did).

      It takes being honest with oneself and being able to see clearly what is happening, without deluding oneself any further, in order to overcome depression. And then it takes hard work at being able to get over and see through all the negative self-talk that goes through the mind of a depressed individual. This may mean working with someone you trust who can help you over this hurdle.

  10. Adriana
    Adriana says:

    “Give people what they need, and if you focus on that, the rest will fall into place. This is true of how to network, how to parent, how to manage people and also how to write about your life.”

    Great message. I understand how it applies for parenting and management, but networking is a hurdle for me. I need to carry around this advice while I work on my networking skills. How do you get to a point with professional networking where other people want to hear your suggestions and input?

    • JB
      JB says:

      My thought on networking is that too many people who fear it approach it the wrong way. Don’t think of it as doing something for yourself, think about doing it for someone else. How can you help someone else? Can you connect someone who wants something (a job, a new assignment) with someone else in that industry? Pull yourself out of it and you’re networking. I believe that in the end if you do it selflessly, it will come back to you in very good ways.

    • Melissa Breau
      Melissa Breau says:

      @Adriana – instead of offering your opinions, think. Who do you know that would benefit from meeting someone else you know? Who can you connect?

      If you help people make professional connections they’ll help you do the same. And they’ll see you as someone who knows people … and therefore should be asked for opinions.

  11. Dale
    Dale says:

    Perceiving that one has viable options in his or her life situation determines one’s level of depression. Things may not be going well, but if you believe you have options for overcoming the present situation, then depression is less likely to occur.

  12. LPC
    LPC says:

    Redemption isn’t logical. Doesn’t need a visible moment. Sometimes we can be redeemed by sun coming through a tree’s branches. Some of us, that is. The cheerful ones. In the end it’s probably all genes and chemistry.

  13. Socorro Luna
    Socorro Luna says:

    I believe you can do anything! If you do not want to write a book, then you won’t. I enjoy reading everything you write. You are a genius in my book. So honest. That is refreshing. It is not always nice, but who cares? It is your life and you tell us about a variety of things. It is interesting.

    If you wrote a book, perhaps it would be too intense for people. I like reading the bits and pieces you send via the blog.

    You ROCK!

  14. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    My daughter has recently asked me to write about my life . . . and my inclination is to review my upbringing, and how the values and passions got “planted” as they did. This is apparently interesting to my daughter, though it might not be interesting to everyone. I think my daughter wants to understand the women who stand behind me in a cue in time . . . my own mother and grandmother . . .

    Again, you bring up the value of helping others, Penelope. I am inspired and comforted whenever you do: 1) because holding this value and acting upon it makes life very simple and honest; 2) and if this is truly a key to success, then I don’t ever have to play the games and strategize in order to make good–it is freeing!

    “Interesting”–whatever that means . . . I recently read an idea in the book, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, wherein Thomas Cromwell interviews young men who want places in the prosperous Cromwell household. Thomas asks these young men what they value and what they would value under duress; and ” what it is that they can do in this world, that they alone can do” (p. 437).
    THAT answer is what makes the applicant interesting and valuable and qualifies him/her, it seems to me. And the interviewer is truly interested when s/he asks such a question.


  15. justamouse
    justamouse says:

    Life is totally redemptive. Love, squishy juicy love, is redemptive. Every day that you wake up and remember to be grateful is redemptive. Yes, I am that effing ray of sunshine. I am married to a depressed man. I know all about depression. He is Eyeore, I am Tigger (but an introverted one if that makes sense). It works. But I refuse to get sucked into his black hole, jump around it or cater to it. That’s his gig. I’m over here having some fun and he can join me if he likes. Why are we married? I love him. His love redeems me. My life is better becuase he, in all his Eyeore self, is in it. He’s brilliant, the best Dad ever and the only person I want to touch toes with at night while my toddler sleeps between us.

    You know where the redemption is in your story? That you are succeeding against all odds. I know many parents of Aspie kids who want to know that their kids are going to make it.

    Suicide is horrible, and we love to dance with it, but in the end it’s a cop out. It’s the most self absorbed act ever, and I have kids and people I love and I am not selfish enough to think that ‘punishing’ them like that would teach them anything. I don’t think it’s alluring, and although I find it sad that people who do are so broken that they see no other way to live, I refuse to glorify it.

  16. Bill
    Bill says:

    Your post prompted me to respond: I used to find it very difficult to write about myself – but technology has really helped. With my mobile camera, I can send photos to my posterous blog directly. Or I can be on the train or tube and catch a few moments to send a comment or two to the blog from gmail.

  17. theWiz
    theWiz says:

    I am not sure what this blog is about. It seems to be about writing, but not really. It seems to be about how boring life is and how can people stand their own boring life, but not really. I even take exception to some of your advice:
    1. Your right people are not interested in someone’s sex life but they are interested in glimpses into it. One of the things people enjoy most about you is when you are willing to give glimpses into that personal life. When you talk about sex. When you talk about your family, coworkers, friends. That is the sex life – the personal things that make up your life. You are one of the best at doing doing this. You do it behind a curtain with shadows, giving hints of it, but not giving too much detail.
    Anyways your stream of thought seems to be kind of wandering today (or maybe I am having one of my dense days), but you wrapped it up nicely. Fun either way. Caio.

  18. Sheryl
    Sheryl says:

    In an early creative writing class, I wrote a story that showed my mother in what I thought was a particular unflattering light – drunk, maudlin, with exceedingly poor judgment about what was good for her then-fifteen year old daughter (me). I felt guilty for that portrait of my mostly sweet mother, but the class loved that character more than anything else in the story. In fact, they raved about her. It was an eye-opening moment.

    I relate to your struggles with Aspergers, even though I don’t have Aspergers.

    When I read Better Never to Have Been by David Benatar recently, I found it both redemptive and optimistic (even cheerful!) for reasons that most people wouldn’t get.

  19. jim
    jim says:

    I think one of the great thing about blogs is how they can be a platform for writing those slice-of-life moments in a way that is entertaining and engaging, but do not have to be redemptive.

  20. RickSmithAuthor
    RickSmithAuthor says:

    one of your best. the career stuff is ok, but it feels like you write that when you are being boxed in by those around you. I am hooked on the personal stuff like a college student hooked on a soap opera. I would buy a book about your life the moment it hit amazon. Oh, and bring the damn farmer back – i miss him…


  21. Anca C
    Anca C says:

    Good points you made- the ones I thought were particularly interesting were the part about writing being redemptive(I need to bear that in mind when writing) and the 15% editing. If all bloggers did it, their stuff would be a whole lot easier to read and understand.
    And, on the subject of “how to write”, I need to emphasize the way your posts always help me with my creative writing, not only with my blog entries, but also with stuff I need to edit/ write/ proofread in my daily life as a professional.

  22. Colette
    Colette says:

    So it’s all in the telling, I conclude. You could talk about the dirt and make it interesting, and funny too.

    I’ve just begun to write about my messy life, trying to protect it’s ordinariness from the kind of comments you describe. Even my ‘process’ (if I have such a thing) would not stand up to scrutiny.
    And my redemption sure doesn’t look like a watershed.

  23. Ann
    Ann says:

    The standard evolutionary just-so story would be this: most of us don't because we're descended from the ones who didn't (or did later in life, not early).

  24. whitney
    whitney says:

    The only good memoirs are interesting ones, and truthful ones, and ones where the author has a voice. All the garbage about redemption is just distraction. Life IS boring, but we all have amazing stories to tell. I would love to read about your insane childhood, or your Asberger’s marriage, along with your obsession about suicide. You need a good editor, not an agent.

  25. A question
    A question says:

    I’m also fascinated by suicide (especially assisted suicide), for nearly the same reasons, except that I don’t find it surprising that so few people kill themselves (people who are not inclined to kill themselves tend to have more children and pass on their not-inclined-to-kill-themselves genes).

    If you think life is, on balance, hard and unhappy (which i’m sure it is), then how did you justify having children? (As in justify to yourself.) Or did you not think about it that way? Seems to me that life is something you don’t ask to be brought into, and then it’s ****ing hard to get out of again without a huge amount of will power or a huge amount of despair, and disregard for your loved ones.

    This isn’t meant to be a horrible question – I’m genuinely interested… I’m actually a pretty happy person myself, but I figure any one child you bring into the world is odds-on going to have a mostly-hard or mostly-unhappy life…

    (Incidentally I don’t particularly believe in the quest for happiness in life anymore – tend to think aiming for good health and loving relationships and self-knowledge/self-acceptance are all more important. I think if you’re occupied enough with those, then you don’t really have or need the time to sit around and think ‘am i happy?’)

  26. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    This is why reality TV is so boring. Reality has no plotline. So it has to be contrived by choreography and editing.


    Give me a rip-snorting, car-chasing, bad-guy-goes-down comedy-thriller with a hot hero, a cocky grin, an implausible plot, and a hidden band of great writers, and I’ll buy the popcorn.

  27. Rich Williams
    Rich Williams says:

    1. I’d love to have all your blog posts in book form. That would be a great book!

    2. There are only a couple bloggers that have something to say. You’re one. The other is Steve Pavlina ( What a combination! In both cases, the blogs give good information and show growth. In both cases, it’s much better to have read all the previous blog entries. So much for the idea in point 1. Don’t put them in book form.

    3. I’m leery of Self Help books, but they give me a temporary burst of confidence (much like reading a blog about happiness, I’m happy reading the piece, but not long after wards). I’m reading “The Power of Now”. Good book. Put your blog in book form. Ah, forget that, downloadable pdf, to save me from copying and pasting all your postings into a Word document. Ugh.

    Sorry for the rambling – you’re great! I almost wrote, “It strikes me that your blog may be my redemption. Write about that!” But, WTF; all we need is growth; too bad it happens as we get older.

  28. Tina Esparza-Luna
    Tina Esparza-Luna says:

    I think you are CRAZY. Life can be so great and you make it so much harder on yourself than it needs to be. And your life is redemptive. Write about how you have been successful in your career despite your Aspergers, although I think you might not like this because as you mentioned in a previous post, it would glorify the abnormal. I still think it could be an interesting & compelling story to those of us “normal” people.

  29. Sarah Morehouse
    Sarah Morehouse says:

    If your agent thinks divorce can’t be redemptive, she’s sadly mistaken. Sometimes it is a tragedy. Other times it’s banal. But sometimes it’s an awesome breakthrough and a healing experience.

  30. Alexis Grant
    Alexis Grant says:

    Love this post, Penelope. Love!

    I honestly think you have a memoir in you — you just haven’t figured out what it will focus on. You DO have redemptive qualities (although, for the record, redemption can get boring). Maybe it will take a few more years for you to see how your life strings together to feel redemptive. Maybe that redemption moment hasn’t happened yet. But it WILL be there at some point, and you’ll see it eventually.

    When you write about yourself, there’s a fine line between revealing enough information to make it interesting, and revealing too much. I wrote a post about this recently — Why you should reveal embarrassing details in memoir. You, Penelope, do this incredibly well, in a way that helps us see you as a real person.

  31. Sabrina Morgan
    Sabrina Morgan says:

    Wow. I wasn’t expecting you to answer the great, unanswerable question in your blog post today: why people choose to live when it’s completely, utterly illogical in many cases.

    But you’re right. You’re absolutely right. And thank you.

  32. Barrie
    Barrie says:

    This is a really interesting topic. I never thought my life was interesting enough to write about, but then after reading David Sedaris’s books (Me Talk Pretty One Day is my favorite), I realized that one can write about the must mundane things and make them funny and interesting. I tend to write about what I’ve learned in life — in hopes that I can help someone from making the same mistakes!!

    I love your blog and your writing! In fact I’ve included your blog on a list of my favorites on my blog!

  33. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    Wow Penelope, I’m a new follower and I must admit I’m hooked to your blog! I love your perspective on work life, and you’ve helped me realize that it’s OK to not be completely settled professionally at the “old” age of 25 :) I don’t feel so alone now, and I thank you for this!

    I just read your previous post about your insane childhood, and I was wondering if your parents were still together, or stayed married after the abuse was admitted? Just curious…

    Thanks, Tiffany

  34. Brent
    Brent says:

    I’m especially taken with your point #3, “Write to give the reader something they want.” I think a lot of writers start out with essentially selfish motives (I know I did), which is a fine or at least okay way to start out; but if you want anyone else to actually read what you write, much less to pay for the privilege, your writing obviously has to give them something they want. This is something I’ve always known, but I think I’m still learning how to fully accept and then act upon that principle. You’re helping me with that, so thank you.

    In other news, earlier today I was about to post to my blog ( about how and why I was disappointed by The Glass Castle, so I think it’s a pleasing synchronicity that you mentioned that book in today’s post. I linked to your post in an attempt to turn my eight or nine readers (maybe ten!) onto your blog.

  35. Beth
    Beth says:

    If you would like to read a short and excellent memoir which is redemptive solely because the writer is surviving and interesting both because of the topic and the beautiful writing, you should read Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso. It’s very very good. And it’s bullshit free, which is rare and delightful.

  36. Eastside Aphrodite
    Eastside Aphrodite says:

    Penelope – Like Alexis Grant, I am also confused about your Aspergers. You seem more bi-polar to me?

    I’m going to go back and read some old posts to see if I can shed some more light on this…but it has been nagging at my mind every time I read one of your blog updates.

    I do always enjoy them, regardless of your diagnosis. :-)

  37. Sydney
    Sydney says:

    I think you’re right on when you say we need to find focus for every post.

    Lately, there have been some trolls coming out of the woodwork over on my little bloggity-blog and they all say the same thing “you’re self-righteous, you are in love with yourself” blah blah blah. At the end of the day, personal blogging is just that, it’s personal.

    My blog has evolved from me trying to be a big voice in the world of PR/SM bloggers, to writing more about myself and what I’m learning as I make this transition from corporate to college. Though my posts are mostly about me, they are riddled with advice that people in my same place can relate to.

    I wish that more people (read: trolls) would realize that while I write about my dating fiascos, I am VERY aware that my situation is not unique, that this shit happens to everyone. We all go on bad dates. But it is unique, because I’m writing about it. Of all the people in the world that have been on bad dates, how many of them write about it? Not very many, in the grand scheme of things.

    Excellent post, P. And if you ever do get a book deal that isn’t career advice, shoot me a note. I’d wait in line for that bad boy.

  38. CJ in LA -AKA the cruelest city in the world
    CJ in LA -AKA the cruelest city in the world says:

    Thanks for your crazy, human and in the end lovable voice. I went to a big New Age conference a couple of years ago and the guy was a physician who was a “National Expert” on near death experiences. He told us many of the usual things that people see when they are close to death and comeback. You know the one where your life flashes before you and so on and so on. The one that I remember the most was that many people also reported was that there life did flash before then also but when it flashed they experienced ALL of the people that they interacted with through their eyes. So they saw a real glimpse of of what it was like to be them from the outside and from those in their lives.

    So Penelope thanks for what you gave me today. A warmth and a gratitude to remember to give and in that giving I can find just a piece of my humanity and meaning.

  39. Anjali
    Anjali says:


    Your voice, your perspective, and your opinions ARE redemptive. (Any editor/agent that doesn’t see it isn’t looking hard enough.) Whenever I finish reading one of your posts, I feel a sense of clarity or purpose that I didn’t have before. I feel redeemed.

    Keep doing what you do, and the perfect book will find its way onto your pages.

    Best of luck.

  40. Darlene
    Darlene says:

    Penelope, your redemptive moment is the fact that you have chosen not to kill yourself. Faced with all the reasons you list (and more that you don’t) you still choose life. And that my friend, is wherein your redemption lies.

  41. Diana
    Diana says:

    @ Alex! a “relatively low incidence of depression” in the world? Where did you read that? I’d like to see that report. Life is hard for the vast majority of people on earth. Positive thinking is a luxury reserved for the healthy, the safe, and the well-fed. Consider yourself very lucky.

    @ Penelope I liked your explanation of why it’s hard to write about our lives. I remember being asked once by a doctor what my childhood was like. I said “Same as everyone, I suppose.” I can’t believe I actually said that! It’s unfortunate that we can imagine that abnormal circumstances are normal.

    • Alex @ Happiness in this World
      Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

      I certainly don’t disagree that life is hard for the vast majority of people on earth, but that’s an entirely different issue from the proportion who become depressed because of it. Numerous epidemiological studies have demonstrated that, even when you include mild depression (still strictly defined), the majority of people are not clinically depressed. Here’s just one such study:

      • Diana
        Diana says:

        @ Alex
        Canada? I knew a couple of women from Canada and they did have sunny, confident personalities. Perhaps Canada has something in the water?

        Wiki (I know, I hate Wiki too, but it’s fast) says “Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.” I bet my analyst would say that’s a very conservative estimate. Much of it is hidden because of stigma and lack access to health care. Depressive episodes during difficult times and/or illness is pretty common. Why do people fear the word depression? It’s not a weakness you know.

  42. JR
    JR says:

    All right, I’ll ask the stupid question. Someone please define “redemptive” in this context. It’s based on “redeem” which has several different meanings.

    • Maureen Sharib
      Maureen Sharib says:

      I’d define “redemptive” as that moment when our past experiences clarify themselves in relation to our present. Yeah, I know. Huh?

      Maybe this: Our present becomes the doorway through which we’re able to pass into the future.

      Still not good? Uhhh…I’d like to see others define it. It’s not an easy concept to wrap your mind around UNLESS you’ve experienced it, I suspect.

    • Brad
      Brad says:

      People are using it differently, but: Liberating. Conquering adversity or shortcomings. Or more generally, producing a happy ending (that one doesn’t fit the suicide application though)

  43. Melissa Breau
    Melissa Breau says:

    You say:

    “Why don't more people kill themselves? Life is very hard. And there is no sane reason to believe it will, at some point, get easier. So why do we keep going? I don't know. This fascinates me.”

    Well, I read somewhere that it has to do with a fear of the unknown. We don’t really know what comes after (and those people who believe they do, also believe that if they commit suicide they’ll get the bad end of the bargain … excepting suicide bombers….hmmm)

    Anyway, just thought I’d share my piece.

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