Thursday, June 30, 2011

Discoveries in Memoir

I participate in an online essay class with several women as we share our skills, our thoughts and our stories. It is a captivating thing to find so much of your own mother in someone else's story. Young women too soon to motherhood, in a time of no birth control, no resources, no support, and often a sea storm of devaluation. Reading their stories is often heart rending.

Much of my youth was a tale of transition, with staggering changes for the female population. The result for so many of us is unimaginable freedom to be whoever we want to be. While we're not done yet, we are worlds away from the often grueling and entrapping lives of some of our mothers. Those women commonly took their misery out on their children, who couldn't hit back.

It is not an easy maturity to get past the failings of my mother at mothering, to really see her as a person with her dreams denied, her triumphs belittled, her strengths hidden. Granting her sympathy for losses a child can't know in childhood comes only as a child achieves the steadier footing of womanhood, with a more experienced eye, and from the sort of support from the shared writing community.

Writing memoir itself permits the personal forum in which to muster courage and bravery to look at those places so long covered over, buried deep, but such a trove of those experiences so tightly woven to create the "me".

Self-revelation born of honest looking, truth in self-speaking, and unflinching reception of what surfaces produces the inner knowledge about who we really are.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Supporting Memoir

Sometimes it really pays to escape from your captor. Sometimes it makes sense after the fact to deliberately shut it down. Take a breather. Resist the inner writer, though countless how-to's say that is precisely when to stay with it, run at it, not away from it.

I don't find myself resisting the stuff tough to write, not fearful of exposure, not afraid about who might ever read it. No. I fear whining, lack of clarity, uninteresting dullness. I know mine is a compelling story.I know it tells itself. I know I have permission from my deepest self to use my voice.

This is what else I know: I need a hiatus in order to return to my work with fresh eyes. Oh, I know most memoirists know this. But I still respond to those admonitions from the authoritative writer's admonitions to not leave it.

Memoir is tricky. I return to see I forgot a key thing about my brother or my mother or the neighbor's sick son or whatever, that speaks to the story. I look at some of what I wrote and wonder who wrote that! I wonder if this material will be as much fun for a stranger to read as it is for the writer.

I wonder if it's really necessary to do the ironing....

Monday, June 27, 2011

No,Chronicles of the electronic world

Reeeeaaaalllllly  bad day yesterday. Lost my ereader at an Italian Restaurant, certain it stayed weth the dirty dishes on ourt table. Walked, I'm sure. Possible perps: two college age girls sitting at an adjacent table, my waitperson, and the busboy. Let me just say that in this day and age, my ereader now resides at someone else's house. Not much fun for the perp, for the piece is no longer produced and I have the power pack. He/she has about two bars left on the battery and I've killed my book buying account.

Last night sort of as a bedtime surprise, my computer crashed its hard drive. And in some sort of sympathy move, my husband's power pack decided it won't stay plugged into any socket, which means he essentially has no power. Catastrophic for him, it's his employment tool.

I think the big black cloud over our head wears a cloaking device so we can't see it. But we are seeing its effects, for sure. In a few days or so, the computer doctor in my town will make a pronouncement for my magic box and hopefully be able to repair my hard drive and retrieve my favorites list, that hallowed ground that quickly gets me to those special places where I spend my time when dodging work on the memoir. No, I don't remember any of those addresses and I hardly recognize the letters on this keyboard, alien as it is, though I know these are the same keys as on my own computer.

With my husband off the premises, I must wait to have him show me the way to my own emails without his, since this equipment is registered to him, so his fave list is not mine. Nothing on his is interesting. There are no finds here for me. He doesn't have a secret internet life and is the same bland, stable, steady man online as he is in the house. That's so nice. His faves include things like hymns, old ones he loves to hear.

I'm the crazy one in this household. I like to think of myself as his spice. He likes to think of me as eccentric bordering on nuts. But, really, I'm just more animated, with varied interests, major curiosities. A better description of him is that five minutes with him and you'd know he's an engineer. Not a bad foil for me.

I am quite scattered this morning without my familiar tool, without my ereader, with a phone that drops calls nonstop and phone geeks that either don't know any more than I do, or love keeping their secrets. Just means I must go do battle with one of them before the afternoon is out, and hold my tongue, or not.

Add memoir to the mix and I'm not getting the ironing done. Soooo, I've moved this alien computer to proximity to the overflowing ironing board. I absolutely need to push that  heavy metal across fabric or I need to buy more clothes. Between thoughts, a shirt gets ironed, sort of.  I'd best get to it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dancing with the memoir

I am amazed at the number of memoir writing guides I have purchased, but not yet read. Oh, yes, I have read about 7 of them, and the rest of them (maybe a dozen) rest like postage stamps in my ereader, my ipad, my library. Somehow I suppose I think that by a weird osmosis, they will seep into my thinking unopened, but the real truth on really bad days is that I don't care how those authors "did it". I just want to do it.

I became a first rate tennis player in my town, in my youth, by simply standing behind the fence and behind an ace player, watching how he or she did it. I learned by watching how to power into the ball, to get my racket at least as low as my knee, to connect with the ball,and how to run down every ball shot at me. Boy, was I young. Later, I chose my ball battles, forfeiting balls way out of my comfort range, and that's how I knew quitting time was approaching.

I'm a left-handed player, or was, and most of those types have killer serves. I was no exception. As I watched highy skilled players, I learned to volley and hardly ever enjoyed doubles because that's about team work and sharing. I had far greater goals: playing killer tennis meant that every 20 seconds or so I had a brand new opportunitiy to pound the heck out of whoever was my virtual ball on any given day. I got rid of a lot of fury (something way beyond anger) just playing good tennis.

I learned to ice skate the same way. Watching a pro, learning at a small skating studio, practicing, practicing, watching, watching. I advanced rapidly to jumps and dancing, but dancing involved a partner, so jumps were more appealing. I was smart enough to quit before I injured myself, but also because my hip sockets said, "stop the craziness, woman" and there went both tennis and skating. I went to work instead.

I excelled at both those activities because I watched how better, more skilled athletes "did it". I skated and played tennis in my head, every night before I fell asleep. I was totally enamored with my goals. And so I got good at both of them. It was the same with my memoir. For a year I woke up quite frequently in the wee hours of the morning and pushed a nub of a pencil across a scrap of paper as my brain worked through my fingers and deposited parts of my young life I had forgotten. I did it in half-sleep. Over and over again.

Memoir poured out of me like a fountain, as if a phantom was writing and the real me was just its tool. I rolled out 16 chapters, 377 pages, 119,000 words. Yeesh! The best thing I can say about that is that my editor was exceedingly kind and patient and gentle and dogged, to work her way through it and tell me how repetive I am, how much I overwrite, how tight this work isn't. But she also said there is at least one dynamic story here, that I must remember I am a natural-born writer with something important to tell to an audience needing to hear it.

Now, if I can only get out of my own way, stop trying to work it so hard and just let it be told without working for flare, or great insight, or any of those things the new writer thinks must embellish the already valuable story. To just let the story tell itself. So re-write is the name of the new game.

Boy, do I hate this discipline. I worry that I'm cutting away really good parts and leaving the bland parts. I worry I'll never get it done, because I keep rewriting the same three chapters and can't get to the rest. I'm spinning my wheels and making slow progress but not that I feel content with. I slice out every word that does not contribute to the meaning of the sentence, or that doesn't move the story forward. In some places I'm writing myself out of the story. Now, even I can see that's not a good thing. I've so purged what is possibly extemporaneous material in order to not be tedious and thereby have boiled this down to a report with people in it. Back to thedrawing board.

I need to give myself permission to be colorful and stop worrying so much about is there too much "tell" and not enough "show". To concern myself only with certainty that I have provided enough to keep my reader in the story with me, to slow the pace so the reader can rest, but not too long, to make my characters live and breathe and to get them lost in the cornfield with me, to ride a horse who stands 18 hands high, to feel like they are holding the toddler sister so she doesn't fall off, to fall into the creek and feel the wet  and cold pants of my little brother as if it's their own behinds. To recognize an angry and hostile mother who resents that her children might just attain their dreams where she has not. To hear the strafing of a beach and feel shrapnel rip young male skin, to taste fear that escalates to terror, to need to put the book down and catch their breath. That's a lot of writing amition, but having read my way through two back issues of Crazy Horse Magazine, I see that I can and do make a fair comparison, reading the selections there.

For me, the goal now is to not, not, not torture the sentence, but to tell it straight or slant and write it real,  and let the lyric flow when it will. But to not work at it until I have destroyed it. I know I have not reached too high because how else can I explain the groping and uninformed search for good instructors and immediately found them?

The realization of that much blessing motivates me to polish my treasure and trust that publication will be a strong possibility. Not for money or fame. Those things have eluded me for a lifetime. But for the reading audience who needs to hear that from abandonment and abuse can come triumph and victory, understanding, and perhaps a clear witness that the human spirit can rise above adversity. I know from so much reading, that my story is unique and that events in my life pale before other tragedies I have read. That doesn't make my life less meaningful. It will be a fair offering when it's finally finished, useful in the main, and a good read. Even as a new writer, I have that much confidence and that comes from affirmation.

Okay, back to the grunt work.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First Day of Summer

Every year of my life that I owned a calendar, this day was marked with a star before anything else including birthdays and holidays and later, anniversaries and deaths. I have always lived in a humid, muggy, hot state in the season of summer, so don't get me wrong; I love the onset of summer because it means really cold days are behind me. Hot summers which follow leave me prostrate on the couch under the fan pushing air condition breezes over me.

I remember that as a child hot summers didn't phase me, deter me, deplete me, you get the idea. I skated on the cement sidewalks all the day long more days than not. On the "not" days I roamed the fields beyond my house with my brother and his friends. Sometimes we navigated stinking hot and buggy cornfields and the boys often set me up to get lost in there, chortling when I pleaded for help.

Summer meant sippping homemade root beer on the neighbor's porch. Mrs. Buckwalter served us ice cold bottles of the stuff, and with the yeast content we blew up like little balloons, propelling ourselves around with our own gas. We laughed like crazy kids.

Evenngs on the porch found us camped in front of whirling silver blades on a black base churning the air enough to cool it. Not much distance from it, we were again very warm, so the gadget kept us tethered. Such an evening of dalliance was followed by tepid to cool baths before bedtime when we were sufficiently cooled down before night set in. We slept like the babies we were.

On hot afternoons we donned our bathing suits to stand beneath the lawn sprinkler, hooting and hollering as we jumped through the heavy spray, hair sopping and suits dripping water down our legs. We spent hours in that fountain together, making up games and sliding across the soaked grass on bare feet until we fell down laughing. When we wore ourselves out, Mom appeared with large slices of ice cold watermelon and we buried our little faces deep in the pink meat, spitting seeds as we approached the rind. And then it was back to the drenching to clean off.

As I sit here cooling my mouth with a banana icicle, I recall peach ice cream from the crank ice cream maker to be found under my fanny as I sat holding it down while Dad cranked. I'd get up periodically as he added salt. The banana stick is nothing compared to that incredible treat.

Things are simpler for us now, but then, life itself was simpler. Long ago Mom stopped cranking her clothes through the wringer, and a full line of clothing out to dry is a rare sight today. It's a rare attic popping with exploding root beer bottles so warm they pop their corks. You can still buy a crank ice cream maker, but I truly know of no one who owns one. Lots and lots of homes are air conditioned, though how long we'll be able to afford this kind of cooling is questionable. I don't do sponge baths in front of a fan anymore.

If you're reading at my knee, you more than likely have family members who have the same summer history. Go sit on their porch and ask them to tell you what that was like for them. Have lemonade if not root beer. Turn on a fan. Feel your way back to a time you might not ever have experienced for yourself. Trust me. It's cool!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day and Who we belong to

It's Father's Day. I am reminded that I had two of those and still retained the designation of orphan. The question comes to mind: was I rich or poor in daddies?

A wailing child can take me back on the instant to the first day in an orphanage, as I was left there by my mother, wailing my heart out, red-faced and hiccupping, and inconsolable. Even now, when I see a child in such extremis, everwhelmed by grief, and heartroken, I have to look away. Orphanage was right up front in my mind.

I sat on someone's lap there and explained in gulps and sniffles that I didn't have a Daddy so Mommy left me here. That gentle someone said I had a Daddy I didn't know about. As she comforted me, strokng my hair and wiping my messy little face, she talked to me in soft tones about the Father I had. She said the only hard part was that I couldn't see Him, but that He was very near to me all the time. She had a book, she said, that could tell me all about Him, and how much He loved me could be found on nearly every page. She promised to read the stories there if I would listen.

She told me that I could remember some of its parts so that I could tell them to myself whenever I was unhappy and worried or scared. And then she told me how I could talk to Him. She spoke about His character and His attributes. At some point my tears lessened, my body stopped shaking and I nestled against her, less rigid, less frightened.

I was three.

I pleaded for my mother and this kind woman explained that my mommy had something very important to do and I couldn't be with her while she did it. This was the safe place for me, and she went on to tell me that it was my heavenly Father who thought this was so. In fact, she said, this might just be His idea, a thought that restarted tears. But she held up her hand and said, "No, no. Listen to me". And she began to tell me what she suspected about my loving Father, that all things are under His hand and that a safe place was the most important thing for me right now, so He'd know exactly where I was, all the time, while Mommy had to be about her own business.

She was planting strong seeds that would later bear the fruit of my faith, knowing that later I would need this bedrock instruction to build upon. As I sat in church today listening to my pastor talk of community and building relationships within the church community, I was suddenly back in orphanage again, recognizing that I was firmly rooted in the idea, bound to the understanding of sharing a life and a place with others. This pastor gets it, knows the need, recognizes we cannot play in God's arena if we won't belong to each other.

No matter our beginnings, our trials, our foibles, our joys and our sorrows, beneath all that we bear the same burdens. The only difference is degree. Who better to help me carry the baggage I find so hard to put down, than someone who knows that baggage well. Who better to help me put it down? But it means we must necessarily show each other our burdens. And stop pretending we don't have them.

We are made for each other. That is the naked truth. As we more and more isolate ourselves, as we more and more work in our little cubicles, our lofts, our separate places, we lose our connections, and trust me, while the internet calls us quickly, it does not, ....not....bring us closer to each other. So that when the rain falls down, the volcano erupts, the world ignites, we are still separate and alone.

We build those walls with busyness, with work, with mind numbing withdrawal, and find ourselves by ourselves. We long to belong. To keep company with someone. To share thoughts and ideas and laughter, and yes, tears.

Sometimes I hear people say of each other, "Oh, they're dumping. Oh, they're venting". Is that a way to say "shut up already"? When we signal that we are unwilling to listen to the pain or lonliness of another, we miss the whole point of what God intended. See, He didn't make just you. Or just me. He made us both. Made us all. Why do you think that is?

I've been a member of my church for nearly 35years and still feel like an outsider. People are friendly, and even warm,  welcoming and smiling. But after the service is over, the door closes. They do not intend to know me. We all go about our business. This club is closed. Some people walk away in pain, wondering why they are not let in. Tough to build community, let alone mission, with that posture.

Some people have a knack to belong. They just assume it. And with that posture, some of them are permitted. But most of us need to be invited. Some signal that we're welcome. Some belief that we belong here and have value. We want to matter to this place.

So what's that got to do with orphanage? The feelings, you might be surprised, are the same. Where my church is concerned, I think I'm still at the orphanage. And I want so badly to go home.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Abandonment and Abuse

Double A's are a double whammy for a child, and they so often occur together. Not planning to write my memoir on this blog, these are, though, the under story of my childhood. With the review of this part of my life I am aware that so many chldren sustained these blows at levels even more severe than mine and so for some long years I thought, well, what happened to me is not so bad, certainly not worth writing about. No one pulled out my fingernails or chained me in a closet. No one left me alone for days at a time with no care. No one left me by the side of the road.

I left any idea of writing memoir on the shelf in my mind because I thought I had nothing to say.And then I began to tote up the number of folks I knew who grew up with alcoholics, or who were children of divorce, or isolated without friends or friendships, with no idea how to build those nurturing relationships. I began to develop an urgent interest in knowing who we are and how we got that way, particularly, and then incessantly, me.

What surfaced was a surprising intensity of recognition. I saw how insidious psychological abuse is and how very difficult it is to describe on the page. A good hiding is easy. A blow to the face easier. Scars on the heart are so much harder. Even with focused attention to building such a scenario, this kind of abuse comes out sounding like whining, sometimes.  Devaluing, demeaning, erasing a child is done inconspicuously, treacherously, behnd the back, hidden, with subterfuge. It is hard to call out the culprit citing actual deeds.

Children are adept at reading between the lines even when the message is obscured. They are even more adept at denying what they read. Children are unprepared to identify their villains as mommy and daddy, even when they can draw no other conclusion. They don't tend to tell their suspicions to anyone else. But they know what they feel and how they come to feel it. Admitting to themselves that they are the daily target for pain from those very people who are supposed to love and care for them is crippling.

When the abuse is physical, and hidden and sexual, a child hopes for a savior from the thing he or she can't talk about. Little children are not programmed to take on a powerful adult, to call him out, to find safety on that uneven playing field. When the perp is a trusted family member, the child gains a full understanding of how untenable is his place in this hierarchy.

As a young girl in such a position, my weapons were frightening and confusing to parents who had no ability to interpret them. As I acted out my anger and my fear, upping the ante with more and more outrageous and puzzling ehavior, they finally had to come to a clear suspicion that there was something terribly wrong with me, missing the reality that something terrible was happening to me.

Concurrently, my own rage reached such a decibel that I confronted my abuser with killing anger and threat to expose him to my parents, an act I thought could actully destroy me, but was the point to where I'd been driven, finally willing to risk anything to free myself of this person. As luck would have it, a neighbor told my parents that my abuser was harming his daughter. And told them he knew of my harm, too.

Terrible things came from that. I was now the brunt of their shame and then their suspicion that somehow I contriuted to my own sexual demise. At a time when such things were never discussed, when counseling was a word not even known, this was a wound within the family that was never addressed, and sat festering throughout our lives. We were left with a script without words, to play on the stage of our story with no strategy to walk our way to the completion, forever stuck at some chapter we couldn't get past.

I see this scenario played out in so many families, not necessarily with the same stimulus, but with characters unable to work out their pain and inflictions on each other of same. And we abandon each other with, well abandon. I do not believe it is easier, in the long run, to run away from ourselves and those to whom we are forever tethered. I do not believe sores should be left to fester. I do not believe we cannot heal each other. I do know that nothing healing happens without forgiveness and forgiveness is hard work requiring tough visits to th source of the pain. And with all the perps gone from my story, I'm left to write memoir. To write it down, look at it with a cold eye and recognize that these are the components that make me who I am and why.

Fortunately, life is not totally captured by those things.My life has been touched by truly great individuals who took an interest in me, sheltered me, encouraged me and recognized what tools I've been given and how to maximize them. I have come some long time ago to recognize the hidden value of abandonement to an orphanage where really good people planted seeds that grew to mighty oaks in my life, arming me with gifts I might never have discovered, left alone with my mother.

My story is worth telling, for it is in the end, a triumph over suppression, repression, jealousy and cruelty born of a woman whose own demons held her from knowing true happiness, something she could have achieved out of her own strengths, her own dogged determination, with which she survived her own forms of hell. In this walk, on this journey, I have come to know the inner workings of a woman of her time, whose own dreams were throttled by those times, who came from drudgery to elope out of it into a happy marriage truncated by widowhood, three kids, a war and depression to marry against her best judgement. And finally to be buried alive in a nowhere town wtih a nothing life of emptiness and bitterness. She made her kids targets of all that because she seems to have married for their security and found it was an empty gesture.

So many lives contain components such as these. That some of us, perhaps many of us, triumph over these boulders in the stream is testament to the  strength within ourselves to draw upon.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Postponing the inevitable

It was helpful for someone to tell me that James Michener wrote 19 drafts of Hawaii before getting it right, and even then I find him too wordy, though I should tell you at the start, there is no book of his that I have not read, never mind the wordiness. He was a deft and skillful story teller.When I read Chesapeake, a geographical area I'm fully familiar with, I fell off my chair laughing at the guys in the duck blind. For me there is no more tedious,disarming and dedicated character than Hoopoe in The Source. Jump past some of today's new writing and slip back to Michener for a really good read.

I'm currently reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. This is the fourth time in my life I have read it and still find her ability to put me in the middle of really current problems compelling and absorbing, so much so that my shelf full of ereading goes begging, and I must find relief from her in other, lighter writers. Currently, I'm at page 594. Only about the same left to go!

Why does that matter to me? Wellll, I'm dragging my feet about starting over, continuing to whack. Truth to tell, I remain enamored of my own prose, refusing the internal editor who tells me I should know better, must know better, and to surrender what needs to be given up for the greater good of the words that remain. It helps to read other authors and teachers who share the same angst, working to find the true book within all that paper-talk. I know there lies my reward, if I can just bear the work of the knife. Er, pen. It's all too easy to find a thousand different legitimate reasons to not get to it. So I will ignore the bright sunshine beyond my window, forgo the afternoon wine on the porch, order in and skip the fine art of grilling on my deck, and begin the surgery, hoping to get beyond hacking and whacking to honing and freeing to find the thing my heart is saying buried way too deeply in the Michener-esque enormity of size that is my manscript.

Which brings me to confess that, while brand new at this blogging, it is already an addiction that I hope will abate to something more manageable....there are not enough hours in the day!...and I pray to shake loose this all too easy tool for procrastination.

By the way, I shall reiterate, often, the joys and challenges of online class writing and encourage anyone who is reading anyone reading me? join up if you write. And surely you write. Trading thoughts, ideas, helpful responses, especially if you're working under someone as gifted at direction and encouragement as Sheila Bender at Writing It Real, are wonderful tools at shaping, developing and executing really good prose. Writing with others is guaranteed to improve your own good stuff!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Discoveries in Memoir

In slashing my way through a cumbersome memoir, full of too many people, I'm needing to sort through the cast of thousands to discover who the principals are who shaped my life. Thinking the answer is: all of them, the fact is that some of them invested enough of themselves in me to outrank most of the others. Some of them caused me significant damage and earned their place on the stage. Some of them stood in the wings and cheered me on to become more than I could have expected or imagined, and some of them stepped up to rescue me from some of the others.

A solid group of them enabled me to recognize the winners who populate my ongoing life now so that I recognize readily treasures to whom I listen and from whom I learn. These friends and mentors hold me accountable, trust in and encourage me to walk a path to stronger faith and challenge me to grow in their valuable company.

It is through them and often because of them that I brave these unknown waters and write my memoir. I know that the life I have led is a bit different than those they live, that the things I have dealt with were never part of their history. I know, too that they are not just my cheerleaders, but people truly interested in helping me tell my story, a tale not without risk in the telling.

A whole new cadre of supporters were unexpected and a fine surprise. These are the folks, mostly women, with whom I write. We share our writing interests with a strong eye to honing, offering good suggestions, helpful thinkng and gentle observation. I look forward weekly to their hawkeye abilities to help me improve my writing. But it is their generosity that is so amazing. Far from competing, trying to be the best, these writers greet each offering to the class as if the work is their own, as if it matters to them that all writers write well and consistently. That allows each of us to risk, to grow, to attempt beyond what we thought were our limits.

We are blessed with an exemplary instructor whose uncanny ability to get right to the nub of the difficulty, the starshine, the tangles, and the power of good writing delivered, shows us in the end how to make it better, how to polish to perfection, to show us how to get there. In this most recent round of essay writing we have become writing friends, sharing experience, sharing skills, sharing ourselves in the effort. Such a result pulls me to my computer to contribute my very best, however busy, so as not to just toss off something not worth their time. Every week. Under the firm hand of a good writer who believes in developing more good writers, I have learned so much from Sheila Bender, of Writing It Real.

Thank you, followers, for supporting me in this blogging, something entirely new to me. You are major contributors to my encouragement. Some ofyou are beyond busy and still give me time and attention. Some of you continue to take an interest in me and show me the way to be all I can be. You are the reason I write and why I'll achieve the success I seek.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lazy Sunday on the Porch

Breakfast on the porch has carried me right through lunch and on into afternoon wine in the warm breeze and the protective shade. Company consists of two young squirrels robbing the bird feeder and I am so relaxed I don't even care. They are small and hungry.

I've read my way through several blogs of friends who write, trying to determine their preferences for book forms and publishing houses, self publishing, and forums for free or for pennies. While I miss the tactile joys of holding a book, flipping pages, underscoring words and phrases, I find my ereader serving many purposes, not the least of which is the ability to carry a whole library with me to the park, to appointments, to cafes, to the moon if I'm going. It's just too convenient. Books can't compete in this busy life full of so much that sitting curled up on the window seat rarely happens anymore. But I admit to loving my library. Book-lined shelves containing tomes I have not visited in a decade still soothe me, shelter me, make me feel, somehow, word-wealthy. If you should ask me where is my Robert Burns collection, I know, exactly. Ditto my Bawdy Songs and Backroom Ballads. Britain's Backroads. Tell Me You Love Me Junie Moon. The Family, Sex and Marriage. New England Pirates. The Derbyshire Country House. I visit them, dust them, pull them out and read a couple lines. But I sit parked by the coffee pot or the chocolate box with my ebook, needing no space on the counter, when my lap will do. And read and read and read.

I spent the morning slashing my memoir free of repetition, wordiness, low-impact vignettes, over working. Reading myself to myself aloud, in full voice and not whispering, I hear the clinkers, those words that shut down the thought full-stop, the forward movement, the heaviness, using someone's principle that if any word does not elevate or contribute to the sentence, whack it. Ha! I watched whole sentences disappear! Whack! Whack!

Giving up favorite tiny tales within the narrative is hard. Some of them are really, really good, so good that even I, the professional self-doubter, can know it. But they don't sell the story, don't propel it forward, and my trusty instructor tells me they can be part of some essay somewhere else in my writing, but to relieve the memoir of these impediments. She says the dreaded words: they are a distraction.So when the pen in my hand rips through it, I re-read and feel the work to be freer, unencumbered and I surrender the offending part to my trash file, retrieving them for insertion to an essay where they'll lead the band with their color and cleverness. And every day that I do this, the work is as hard as the previous time. I still live in the world of word-extravagance, not the space of where's-the-word-I-need. Words are still like gold coins to me; I loathe letting them go. Whack whack! Slash!

I have developed an imaginary reader. She is very unlike the interior editor some of us recognize. My reader wants red meat all the time. She knows no boundaries, plays no favorites, talks over me, points out her heart's desires, weeps and laughs and shouts "What's the point?" "Where are we going with this?" "NOW can you write it slant?" Who are you kidding?" "Oh please don't put that in there!" And other pithy phrases that tell me you won't like my writing any better than she does if I entertain the slightest dishonesty.

So I write for her. When she climbs out of her seat and starts pacing, I know I've got her. When she's curled around herself, hugging her arms against her chest, I know I've struck a nerve. When she sits sprawled with her eyes closed, chin up, I know she's lost in the story, and taut as a bow string as the tale winds out of my pen. But it is when her breathing's stepped up, and her fists are clenched that she and I have walked together into the swirling mist of memory where we watch our story come alive on the big screen of our melded minds.

Reading this, I see I have escaped from the tough assignment again, and need to return to it while I still have some motivation left, and an editor who wonders what's holding me up. After all, nobody's going to publish a rough draft, now, are they? It's back to the porch for me. And maybe a second glass of wine....

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Navigating a the blogger

Suddenly I wiish I was a six year old without preconceived notions about the e-world, cyberspace, the inner life of the computer versus my brain. All the help in the world won't matter if the basics are missing. This effort, this exercise, feels like math did when geometry made no sense, but advanced algebra did, though I had no clue how. I'm still struggling to identify the reason that comments, which I know have been sent, don't appear.

If writing were this difficult, I'd never put pen to paper, and I suppose that for some, that's the simple truth. The thought gives me new perspective on not just why I write but how I do it. For the first time in my life I have the luxury of time. Time that gets away from me while I write. Time to put it in park and just mull. Time to leave my bed in the middle of the night to sit here in the glow of my computer screen and pour out the stuff held in my head unaware. Time to visit my essay classmates revealed in their efforts as dedicated women exercising their craft. Time to encourage someone else on the writing path. Time to think about how to say the thing I need to say, to tell my life in a way that resonates, to address those triumphs and tragedies that culminate in who I am and who I permit myself to be. Time, that thing I took for granted, wasted, railed against, used up, counted across years of motherhood, invested in my family, my hobbies, my work, my indulgences. And, know what? It does march on! Looking back, I hear its footsteps, see its footprints, measured then and hurrying now, but marching. Marching.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thank you, angel!

There is much to say about memoir, about blogging, about a growing cadre of writers gracing me with their skills as I meet them in on-line classes, and in my email, all gifted inhabitants of cyberspace, a new and puzzling environment in which I am nudged to ever-expanding growth. I owe my presence at this site to a writer I have met only through her writing, that which reveals a penchant for putting me right there in her story, making me feel wet when she's on the water, and providing me with a big sniff of mustiness in a Maine cottage. Visit her blog at ISoldMyPearlsToDoIt. Did I mention her over-the-moon-high level of patience as she walks me through this? I'm of an age which remembers the wonders of the abacus, stumbling my way through meager computer skills on the backs of so many others who understand this world. I am so thankful!

I'm hoping to not just share my own experience writing my memoir, but to be an encouragement to hesitant writers, writers who have written nothing of the story they keep inside, would-be writers who only need a whistle and a nod to join up with this band of generous, sharing, gifted folks who tell the rest of us how, why and where to find homes for our work, even when we can't recognize it as valuable. And for those who hang back, fear the basic exposure of putting themselves down on paper, who don't know the exhilaration of self-discovery through the wonder of word sharing, if only for themselves.

Welcome to my new world!