Sort of Memoir Writing

It’s really hard for me to commit to television shows.

I’m picky, easily distracted, and much more comfortable spending hours listening to music and reading fanfiction than sitting through multiple episodes of a show I might hate halfway through. One of my exceptions in the past few years has been the phenomenal CBC/HBO Max show Sort Of. If you’re looking for a binary breaking, sexually fluid, hilarious yet heartfelt show, this series about a nonbinary Pakistani Canadian nanny and their circle of family and friends is it. The show is entertaining, affirming, and even healing in a lot of ways.

It’s also really inspiring if you are writing and revising a memoir, like I am.

After finishing the second season during my winter break, I’ve been obsessing over the messages from it that really resonated with where I am in the writing process. Here are a few of those lessons (and some spoilers for both seasons):

Your authenticity must be non-negotiable.

I love my nails.

Sabi, “Sort of 2gether”

Midway through November, I started revising the first draft of my memoir. Most of that draft came to me during the first half of that month in an unexpected sprint but the revised drafts of each chapter have come slow like the miles of a marathon. There are a lot of reasons for the slow down, including the general nature of the revision process, but one of the major reasons I’m taking so long to produce a second draft is that so many parts of my first draft were inauthentic.

There are moments and feelings I didn’t write in my first draft because I was afraid other people would be upset by them. There are also moments I didn’t write because I was afraid they would reveal how weak and imperfect I have been. Even though I feel spiritually compelled to write this memoir in order to provide people like me a chance to see themselves reflected in ways we rarely get to, even though I know the only way for people to truly connect to my work is by sharing my full truth, I still approached certain parts of my first draft as if the opinions of others mattered more than my authenticity.

I can’t write an effective memoir like that.

I can’t live an effective life like that either.

I was reminded of both these truths while watching Sabi navigate life post-being outed to their dad as a femme nonbinary person. In the first season of Sort Of, Sabi makes the choice not to “butch up” for their extended family, essentially coming out to them without using any words. This leads their cousin to notify their dad in Dubai, who rushes back to Canada in hopes of “fixing” his wayward child.

Despite admitting to their dad that the family doesn’t tell him things because they’re afraid of him, Sabi doesn’t let fear stop them from showing up as their whole self in front of him or in the other areas of their life. They continue to flaunt their beautiful femme aesthetic wherever they go, spend time with their queer loved ones without stressing about what their family would think, and when asked to tone it down once again by their sister, prioritize their joy over her frustration at how their authenticity rocks the boat of their family.

By choosing their authenticity again and again over other people’s comfort, Sabi reminds me that I’m no longer at a point in my life where inauthenticity is worth what it costs. Maybe, I never was. And if I want to publish a book that will help other people show up as their authentic selves in every aspect of their life, I can’t let the comfort of others hold me back.

Don’t let the past keep you from going after the future.

Sabi, I built it and no one came. Or, not enough of them.

Deenzie, “Sort of Broke”

As often as I joke to my friends that I’m not excited for anyone to read my memoir, as often as I balk at the thought of people I know or might know in the future reading the dirty details of how I grew into the person I am today, at the end of the day, as a writer, I want people to read my book and I’m terrified they won’t. Every week as I’m revising my first draft, I think about all the writing from college that never got accepted into any literary magazines. All the blog posts I wrote after college in my first attempt towards one day building a brand that got less than a handful of views.

I think about starting this site in grad school along with my professional instagram and how hard it has felt to get people to care about what I have to say in an internet landscape that feels more over saturated with every year that passes. I wonder if attempting this new format of reaching people – a whole book – is the best or the worst idea I’ve ever felt compelled to follow through.

Now, I also think of Sort Of. I think of Wolf, Sabi, and 7ven committing to honoring the memory of their beloved bar, Bar Bük, without doing the exact things Deenzie did. I think of how despite everything that went wrong, their opening nights at their gallery/discotheque Berlin were stellar. Sure, they might not be able to keep Berlin running indefinitely. Sure, it’s uncertain if enough people will come to keep them afloat.

But if they hadn’t done what they felt compelled to do, what experiences would they have missed out on? Who might have never experienced the comfort and community of the new space they built?

These are the questions I’m asking myself too as I try to combat the fatalism that says all my hard work on this memoir is not going to pay off. It’s true that I can’t be certain how things will go once I finally publish this book, but if I never publish it, if I never even try, what experiences will I be missing out on? What positive experiences might I be keeping other people from getting to have?

Give yourself, your work, and the people in your life a chance to be new.

I’m only asking myself if I’m giving him room to be, you know, new.

Wolf, “Sort of Who She Is”

Everyone should have room to be new.

Raffo, “Sort of Who She Is”

I fell in love with the first season of Sort Of partially because I saw in Sabi’s mother, Raffo, an invitation to parents to let themselves and their children become something different than they had anticipated. Her story arc shows that even when you don’t fully understand all the newness around you, even when there are old things you can’t give up, even when you don’t get everything right, you’re still capable of change. You’re still allowed to grow.

In the latest season, I saw that invitation to grow even more strongly in all of the characters and relationships. That inspired me to ask, “What does it look like to give my story room to be new? What does it look like to give myself or the people I least want to read my book room to be new?”

Right now, I think it looks like having faith. Faith that no matter how unhappy I feel when rereading over the first draft, there’s a solid enough foundation to turn this draft, eventually, into something I can be proud of. Faith that I have the supports, the knowledge, the skill, and the endurance to turn this book into what it needs to be. Faith that while I’m sure everyone I know will not have positive things to say about the story I’m telling in the way that I’m telling it, some people will accept the invitation to grow that this book offers.

It might take longer than I want to turn this book into something new enough to sell. It might take learning how to respond in new ways to people who sling the same old harmful responses at me for daring to be authentic about my journey and perspective. Whatever it takes, I’ll be working on making room for change and growth at every step going forward.

Have you had a chance to watch Sort Of? If so, share what themes or messages are resonating with you from it, professionally or personally? How is it helping you grow?

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