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What do you mean you wrote a memoir?

“What’s so special about your life that makes it worth writing about? Es más, why would anyone want to read about it?” was the first thing that came out of my suegra’s, Graciela, mouth one afternoon as we sat drinking loose-leaf mate together at my home in Pittsburgh.
It was August 2017, and I’d just finished telling my mother-in-law (pictured below) about a culinary memoir I was writing. Argentines are known for their candor. Graciela is certainly no exception. But I love her to pieces. Because, while it may not seem like it, it was the best question anyone could have asked me.
Why? ¿Porqué?
I’ve grappled with this same question for months and months. Here’s the truth: I didn’t choose to write Sobremesa. It chose me.It was the summer of 2017. I was on a walk with my older brother and husband in Charleston, South Carolina one excruciatingly hot and humid July morning. Lost in my thoughts, I found myself walking ahead of them in a sweaty daze. That’s when the floodgates opened and I received the message I needed to write this book. Here’s how the conversation went in my head…
     Me (shaking my head): “Nah… I must have heard you incorrectly.”
     Voice in my head: “Nope. You heard me—sobremesa. You need to tell your story through the lens of this age-old culinary practice.”
     Me: “But, why? Why sobremesa?”
     Voice in my head: “Because not enough people know about it, and they’re going to need it.”
     Me: “A book about table-talk? After the meal is done? I get writing about food, but not its aftermath. You want me to write about splotched napkins and dirty plates?”
     Voice in my head: “Sí. Exactly. Write about the people who cooked for you and the places their food took you. Think back to the sobremesa’s that stick out in your head and the conversations they conjured. The ones that helped make you the woman you are today.”
     Me: “But why?”
     Voice in my head: “Because it will help you heal.”
     Me: “Okay, that I get. I’m the first to admit I’ve got a lot of things I need to work on. So I should journal then? Why would anyone else want to read about my deeply personal conversations?”
     Voice in my head: “It’s not about you. It’s about them. Parts of your story are theirs, too.”
     Me: “So, maybe, just maybe, it will help them heal too?
     Voice in my head: … (silence)…
     Me: Hello? ¿Hola? Are you there, God? It’s me, Josephine…” (Yes, I still carry Judy Blume with me, even after all these years.)
But the connection was lost. I didn’t get a response. The voice in my head was gone. For now.
Without a thought, I turned around and looked my husband, Gastón, in the eye. “Gordo, I’m going to write a culinary memoir called Sobremesa. It just came to me. Just now as I was walking.”
Gastón looked back at me, then to my brother, and then back at me. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. His hazel-gold eyes said everything he didn’t. “Mierda. Here we go again…”
I believe in the power of storytelling to connect with others and make sense of our lives and the world around us. It’s what we do at the dinner table. It’s what we do when we put pen to paper, or nowadays, fingers to keyboard. But, while writing Sobremesa was at times cathartic, it didn’t come easily. It took me three years to find my story. I’d begin, then, convinced I was full of myself, table the idea. What made me think I could write a book about me. Me? Even I didn’t want to read about me. There were so many things about me that I’d rather forget.
But every time I put Sobremesa to bed (with a sigh of relief, no less), thinking I’d seen the last of it, I’d feel it begin to stir within me. That feeling of butterflies in your stomach that manifests into a stirring unrest began nagging at me. The butterflies wouldn’t leave me alone. They hovered over me, fluttering through my dreams at night until I awakened. That’s when I’d hear the voice in my head beckoning me, “Sobremesa’s story needs to be told.” I’d shoo it away, turning and tossing the other way. But it came back, night after night.
So I’d get out the manuscript and try to find it’s north. But ultimately, I’d find myself lost within a sea of incohesive pages and leave it be. November 2019 was when I walked away from Sobremesa for good, after tearing up 380 ink-marked pages of manuscript—one by one. God that felt good. It was also torturous. It was like we were breaking up for good. We just didn’t understand one another. Chalk it up to irreconcilable differences.
Then Covid hit. Social distancing. Quarantining. Lack of work. Fear. I was fortunate to be healthy and at home with Gastón and our five beautiful kids. I was stuck at home with Gastón and our five needy kids.That’s when, with relentless urging from Gastón himself who on more than one occasion yelled at me with his eyes, “Will you just write the damn thing? I can’t bear to hear one other excuse about why you shouldn’t write Sobremesa anymore,” I decided to open my MacBook, search for the latest file and give it one more go. I didn’t need the voice in my head anymore. I now had Gastón (who had way too much quarantine time on his hands) egging me on. “Your story needs to come out. Our story needs to come out. There’s a reason you won’t shut up about it. I’m going to help you.”
And he did. Gastón read, and proofread every chapter I wrote and rewrote—three or four times over. But he did more than he’ll ever know. I’m convinced it helped fortify our twenty year marriage. But that’s a conversation for another time.
For me, finding my book’s true north during Covid was an absolute blessing. The timing couldn’t have been better. While we were all isolated behind closed doors and struggling to come to terms with the new lexicon used to describe and tame Covid-19—terms that, like sobremesa, were sin traducción—we were more connected than ever. The pandemic made me realize, “What do I have to lose?”
Now that Sobremesa’s advanced reader copies are going out, I’ve been asked by a handful of friends and family, “Are you afraid you shared too much?”
To which I answer (or scream, at least in my head), “Claro. Yes. Of course. I’m terrified.”
Some of my deepest secrets are written in there for all to see. The not so flattering ones. The ones that make me want to crawl into bed and pull the sheets over my head. They’re no longer my secrets. Gastón says putting everything out there is freeing. My publishing team chalks it up to feelings of pre-meditated vulnerability, telling me they too shall pass. But, in the end, if I don’t tell my whole story, how can I truly claim it as mine?
Then, of course, there’s the not so minor detail that while this is my story, it includes family members, past loves and good friends who didn’t ask to be a part of it. Or better put, didn’t ask me to write about them. Still, our lives intersected and lines got blurred. For that reason, I made the conscious effort to try and honor them by sticking to my own experiences, my own thoughts and needs, and to not impose those on others. I changed some names and places to preserve their privacy. But while I chose to write my story, according to me, it’s simply impossible to leave everyone else entirely out. So while I’d ultimately love to receive a blessing from each and every person who lives within the pages of my book (along with that of my readers), I’ve accepted that may not happen, simply because we all remember things in our own way and on our own terms.
Just like we all remember different things about people we know in common. We may have the same best friend, or relative for that matter, but we all take away different parts of them. The parts that served and touched us most. I know, in my own life, different people bring out distinctive parts of my personality. Some more than others. We are all dynamic. There are many pieces to the puzzle that creates our ever-evolving persona. There is no “one way” to describe a person. My memories are simply “my way” and that shouldn’t take away or put in question your own. And vice versa. It’s like the famous Argentine novelist Julio Cortázar once said, “La memoria es un espejo que miente de manera escandalosa.” Or in English, “Memory is a mirror that scandalously lies.”
So to this avail, I can finally—three years later—answer my mother-in-law, Graciela’s question: “Why do I feel my life is worthy of writing a memoir?“
Here’s my why:
Because it’s my life to write and my story to tell. And for some reason beyond me, it’s adamant on coming out. We all deserve to tell our own story—or, according to Cortázar, our own lies and mentiras. No matter our number of Instagram or social media followers. No matter our net worth or accomplishments. On paper, at least. The same goes for you. No one gets to write your story except you. We all deserve the opportunity to connect with others through our words and experiences. We all deserve the chance to honor the legacy of those we love in our own way. Especially those who are no longer with us but left an undeniable stamp on our lives. We all deserve the chance to heal, and to help others do the same in the process.
Thanks to Graciela, I now have the clarity that’s allowed me to shelf my feelings of self-doubt just long enough to remember that this story is greater than me. I’ll likely need to remind myself of this. Over and over again. Because I’m the first to admit that often, when we talk about ourselves or tell our stories, we tend to frame them in ways that make us the star. If I’ve fallen into this same trap with Sobremesa, it wasn’t at all my intention. I regard myself as no worthier than the next. The simple truth is, we are all worthy. The stars of my book, in my eyes, are those that guided, and continue to guide me, on my journey. Even from beyond the grave. Especially from beyond the grave. If you read Sobremesa, please remember just that throughout my storytelling.
I’d like to leave you with one final thought. I wrote Sobremesa as a love letter to…
     the two countries I love with all my heart—Argentina and the US. ..
     my mom.
     mis abuelos Dorita and Alfredo.
     my dad.
     my brothers and sisters.
     my extended family and friends, especially those we’ve lost along the way.
     my children, so they’ll one day know where they come from.
     Gastón, who loves me for me—ugly secrets and all.
     …and, most of all, to you. Because today, even though I’m writing this behind closed doors on day seven of an imposed quarantine due to my oldest son testing positive for Covid (thankfully he’s doing well, gracias a Dios), we are still more connected than ever on a global scale. Maybe you have your own abuela Dorita whose spirit comes alive in these pages, or, like me, you are bicultural, Argentine, possibly even from the ‘Burgh; perhaps you’re in the midst of taking a chance on a second act (whether it be in love or professionally), or quite possibly you’re simply looking to take your seat at sobremesa’s endless table, where there’s always room for one more. Because, as they say in Argentina, donde comen dos, comen tres.
Best of all, Sobremesa is out May 4 and is now available for pre-order, but don’t wait to order because you can read it today! My publisher, Scribe Publishing Company, is offering a complimentary two-for-one deal that includes an advanced reader copy to all who pre-order the memoir, while supplies last. Simply send a copy of your receipt and address to this email with “Preorder and ARC” in the subject line, or enter below.
That’s it for now! If you’re thinking of writing your own story and working out your “why” in your head, I’m happy to be a sounding board. Just email me. I’d also love to hear if you bought the book and what you think. Your support means the world to me!
With love, te quiere,

Josephine Caminos Oría

President and Founder

La Dorita Cooks

Author, Sobremesa: A Memoir of Food and Love in 13 Courses (Scribe Publishing Co., May 2021) and Dulce de Leche: Recipes, Stories & Sweet Traditions (Burgess Lea Press, 2017)