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  • On Giving and Forgiving
  • Rebecca Cuthbert (bio)
My Beard: Memoir Stories
Sharon Doubiago
Spuyten Duyvil Publishing
256 Pages; Print, $18.00

Sharon Doubiago’s vibrant career as a poet, memoirist, teacher, and chronicler has most recently given readers My Beard: Memoir Stories, what her included biography calls “a memoir in the form of individual stories rather than the on-going narrative of traditional memoir.” Though the term “beard” calls to mind disguises—costume-shop props as well as pretended heterosexual relationships—Doubiago can’t be accused of hiding behind one in any of these remembered encounters. If anything, her accounts are painfully bare, raw in the sense that even with the balm of time and reflection, the reader can feel her frequent heartache and sometimes physical agony crackling outward from the pages.

Through that pain, there is a sense of generosity that overwhelms the reader from the first story to the last. Doubiago grants forgiveness to those that others in her position might not, from her child-rapist father to her jealous mother and sister to her cheating ex-lovers. She writes of them, she tells the truth as she sees it, but there is no vindictiveness. There is rarely even anger, just sadness and pity for what could have been or even was, for a moment. In a letter she writes to a friend, she describes her current broken relationship as doomed. “Basically he wants to be alone. Basically he is a loner, loner not lover. Basically I don’t feel loved, basically I am trying to draw away as basically I’m not a casual lover.” She ends the letter saying that she knows she must leave, but that outcome is not her choice.

The memoir avoids insults and lashings-out partly through its razor-sharp focus on Doubiago and her emotional processing. Though she recounts failed relationship after failed relationship, the stories are about how those people’s actions affected her—her self-image, her life’s narrative, often, her art. She writes that after “the loss of Max,” one of her great loves, she spent a tortured afternoon in Pioneer Cemetery, writing in her journal and drawing headstones, deciding then to make a “journey across the country, to try and write a big poem [...] to make something of [her] love that both George and Max had rejected.” That project was Hard Country, one of Doubiago’s book-length poems.

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The most difficult relationship to read about here, the one that must be most difficult for Doubiago to write about, is that of hers and her father’s. Her father, Cecil, or “Red,” was a complicated and deeply troubled man, quite possibly a self-hating homosexual and the child himself of a pedophile. Doubiago also mentions that her mother hinted at her father having been sexually abused in the church —and though all of this does not lead every reader to forgive him, Doubiago does and always did, despite her account that he abused her physically, emotionally, and sexually for years. She sums up her feelings that others may not understand in the memoir’s final story, “My Beard,” that weaves together glimpses of her father’s abuse and later confession with memories of her failed marriage to Hunter, a sculptor who sought control of women through his artwork. Doubiago says that her father “suffered” because of what he did to her. “His suffering is in all the twisted and twisting images of him in my memory and nightmares,” she writes. “I’ve always suffered for my father’s suffering, I suffer for it now. Hate the sin, not the sinner.” That statement seems to encompass not only what lives in her heart for her father, but for her lovers too. If the word for that is not “generosity,” what is?

Also surprising, sometimes shocking, to the reader are the stories of Doubiago’s treatment at the hands of other counter-culture writers and poets in the literary circles of the Northwest. Doubiago is a pacifist, many would call her a hippie. She lived out of vehicles that had...


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