Sunday, September 25, 2011

Memoir:where it takes us

When I realize that the book I am writing is different than what I'm really wanting to wrte, I face that dilemma common to memoir. It take some serious courage to speak that which has remained so well hidden for so long. One worries and worries about just what it is that triggers the writing of all those feelings, finally, and without warning.

I expect surprise, but not excruciating surprise. Hey, where did that come from? whose idea is that? I don't remember that! Oops, I didn't intend to reveal that! Who the heck is writing this stuff? And on and on, nearly daily as doors so severally locked creak open and ooze out material I thought best left in those moldy closets.

Oh yes, courage is the needful thing. there are dead bodies in my closets, figments, filaments, piles of detritus stored and saved up for God knows what. Memoir is not merely cathartic and self indulgent. It is the scalpel wielded by some inner self that slices open the often healed over wound that needs purging, cauterizing, bled. there is no healthy scar tissue here, but only the stacked cicatrix of twisted soul tissue held hidden from true understanding.

So I can get down to the who and what and why of the endless whine and cry of an early life of discard and trashing of a small child subjected to the whine and cry of an equally damaged mother. In the end, what we all seek is the answer to why. And we hang ourselves up on the barbed wire of an intolerable truth: there is no acceptable answer, no rhyme or reason. No useful explanation that we hope will bring healing. The thing just is, without repair, and still doing damage. Well, where's the hope in that? Finding understanding is perhaps merely panacea for the unfixable. But it can put an end to the why. To discover it's not me who is the perp, not me who came up short, not me who couldn't make a mother love. Worse, it requires discovery of who she is, far more important that what she did or what she didn't. And deciding how much I care, or not.

Memoir exhausts the soul. These are only some of the reasons we are accused, rightly, of not telling our story, but only telling about the story. We often don't know what the story is the struggle to get it said even as we work so hard to not say it. And we can't let it alone. Like picking at scabs, we niggle, waffle, run away, say something else. And try to never tell. Until we tell. until then, the doors slam on all that ooze, we go get a cup of coffee, just long enough to lose the train of thought. We miss the train and give thanks that we are safe for one more dsy from our killing truth, not knowing we have once more missed our chance for freedom.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Putting yourself in the Memoir

Why is this so hard? Telling my story through my brother or my mother or my stepfather or my teachers is so much easier than the "I" who insists on staying hidden. I, about who this story is, works up hill to erase berself from the tale, or worse, to believe her ever-present mother is the protagonist. While Mother looms large, and while she is the author of my shaping, the story is mine. My feelings, my miseries, my Triumphs. My growth. It helps to participate un more than one class. It is great input to be gained from more than one editor, more than one instructor and to recognize that each of them has her own ideas about memoir and how it should be written. The truth is that memories appear unburden and without chronology, and that while structure is necessary, like making some orderly sense of your story for the sake of the story and the reader, in fact, the story does not necessarily occur as all of a piece.

Locating myself in every memory and defining the meaning of the memory is not always a possibility. Sometimes the antagonist overrides the importance of the protagonist, thus mother becomes the story when hers is the driving role. If somehow that tampers with structure, I don't see it. Eudora Pelty implies the whole idea is a bunch of Huey, but the fact is, if a memoir is to be a movie (to which I don't aspire), then it must, like all movies, have a structure, which could include flashback, an effective means of saying to the reader, back then, this or that happened.

Looking at the thing as it now stands, I am inordinately pleased with the plan I'm following, but see that the
memoir mandate of first person, past tense, is quite restrictive. For instance, it is difficult to put my stepfather on a foreign beach, wounded and trying not to die, and put
myself in his head as a conduit for his thoughts out of the mouth of Six year old child. I am already finding that every editor, and I am dealing with three, as his or her idea of not how it should read, necessarily but what they like to read and how they are satisfied. Yes, yes, know that in general there should be a format, but it seems that could be more loose. What we can agree upon is that the story is dynamic, important, and is necessary to tell.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When the Memoir says to rethink it

It's waking me up in the middle of the night again. It nags and nags and says I can sleep later. It says this story is about someone else other than me. And Mama rides the night, pestering, bugging, waking me up. I find her less than frightening now, more intriguing, certainly more honest. She says it's her story not so much mine, and I am suspecting she's more right than wrong. Her story determines what mine is/was/will be.

We know whole bunches about her era, for the Depression and World War II dominate the current curiosities of the time. And we are beginning to know the minds of those men who lived that particular hell, and only a little bit about those women who waited for them to come home again, so life could move on again, so they had their identities back again, for in that time, there is where their identities those men, returning or not. Only problem was, those women who participated in the support of the nation while its men were off trying not to die, were discovering themselves, their abilities, their potential, their trap.

So in the dark corners of the night, I''m learning Mama. Not just her enormous imprint on my life, not just the damage she did with her choices, not just my gratitude for the strengths I possess, but her. What made her who she was and how she got that way Not just the enormities she had to overcome as a very young widow with two kids and one coming, and not just the terrifying time of war and depression with those burdens.

Finding the essence of a woman who permitted no true knowing of her inner workings, is like trying to commune with the dead, but that is not so scary, for she is alive and well in the place where I keep her. Only her bones reside in the ground.

I must look at her straight on and make my peace with who I thought she was and who I am discovering her to have been, and not just in my mind, but in her place, her personhood. I must look at her is if she could be your mother, not mine. Someone separate from me, who made me, molded me, denied me, refused me, feared me.

Who are you, Mama? As I dust and clean the rooms of my heart and reassign you to new quarters, I have the unique gift of new discovery as I peel your layers back to finally recognize you as who you were and then to discover who I am, and why.

I already know this about you, woman: you were one determined, overloaded, monumental-strength female whose life assignment would try the best of us today. Your work was beyond anything I have been called to do. What energy would you have had left to enjoy your kids? Your marriage? Your own life when everyone else's overrode yours? And still you were the most selfish woman on my horizon, more than likely self-absorbed at a level necessary for self preservation. Build the story with me, Mama. Otherwise I can't tell my own.