Dear Mrs. Obama –
I’ve been reading with great interest about the book deal you and President Obama have struck with Penguin Random House for your respective memoirs. Congratulations!
With all due respect to your husband (and I have massive amounts of it), it is yours that I cannot wait to read.
Oh my, yes.
You’ve been holding back out of necessity for eight-plus years. Now we want to hear what you have to say about everything from the frivolous to the serious. The way I see it, while Barack Obama may be obligated to share with us the official version of things, Michelle Obama has some latitude.
Please use it. Give us scathing truth.
I put a challenge before you. Back in 2010 when I was writing my memoir, I attended a conference where the speakers were the authors Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz. After the talk, I approached the latter and asked him for one bit of advice on writing a memoir. This is what he said:
Be naked on the page.
Now, granted, that’s a lot easier for a random citizen like me who decided to chronicle a spiritual journey than it is for a former First Lady. You’ve got to walk a fine line. And given your most famous one-liner is now “When they go low, we go high,” you are especially being called upon to figure out how to keep it classy while also keeping it real.
Here’s a thought. Instead of thinking about your memoir solely in the “First Lady” category, perhaps you could ponder the broader genre and why it’s become so popular. Elizabeth Gilbert fell apart on her bathroom floor in Eat, Pray, Love and Cheryl Strayed woke up along the Pacific Crest Trail with little frogs leaping all over her in Wild and Annie Ernaux shared the dread of losing a big part of herself at the thought of having children in The Frozen Woman. What moments will stick with your readers, make them catch their breath, call a friend and read them a passage?
I have some ideas. I know there’s a lot to cover, so these are just off the top of my head to make my point.
Please tell us how a wife reacts when a reality star businessman questions her husband’s citizenship, proves himself in public debates and Tweets to be ignorant of how government works or even what global leadership entails, and then goes on to become President of the United States. Don’t hold back for the sake of decorum. You want to go high? Write it well and bring us along for that ride.
We want to know what it was like to realize your husband’s presidency called for an increase in Secret Service protection because of an uptick in threats, how it felt to be bringing two impressionable girls into that world, what it was like on the days you didn’t feel like being dignified. Tell us if the gardening was sometimes like a little shot of meditation, where you drew energy from when your fellow citizens mocked your looks, what the President did to piss you off on a given day.
Bring us the human, the humane. Draw from the living and the loving. Make us feel the stories you tell because you’re not holding back. Just be Michelle and let’s continue this no-nonsense relationship we’ve got going.
At the moment the nation is still reeling from being led by an empathetic, thoughtful President one minute and a proven narcissist the next. So many of us long for strong voices who can help us make sense of it all, how our country went from being compassionate and reasoned to dismissive of all we hold dear.
Your words are something to look forward to in this dark place we’ve found ourselves dwelling. On one hand I seem to be asking you for truth. On the other I seem to be requesting you tell us everything will be all right, even if you’re not sure.
I think that speaks to the kind of image you’ve cultivated. You seemed to get it right an awful lot of the time on the national stage. Now that you’re in the private sector, can you shine a little of your light our way? Give us inspiration that comes not from an intent to inspire, but from the kind of rawness that can’t help but inspire.
This is one citizen’s perspective of your memoir mission. Thank you for listening and happy writing.