Saturday, October 29, 2011

Moving right along

It doesn't seem to matter what I do or don't do......I can't get back to this page more than twice a month. No wonder I doubt that anyone reads me. It's not that I don't care about this blog; I do! I do! It's that the subject of this thing in the first place absorbs nearly all my time as I learn about its demands, its truths, its strengths and weaknesses.

So, where am I on this path? In a maze much of the time. Revisiting ad nauseum, I write and rewrite now, slashing and burning through needless words as I hone this down to something more than a brain flush, and in the distilling I am discovering my original purpose: who am I and how did I get this way? What have I survived, to what did I contribute, and who gets blame/credit. I have learned the power of forgiveness, the incredible importance of mothering well, and the immeasurable devastation when that is done poorly or not at all.

I have read umpteen memoirs, have written and rewritten countless personal essays, now coming to be known as small memoirs (thank goodness!) and count among my friends some new people we fondly call editors, but who are in fact guides along the path to self-encounters and then hopefully on to publishing if that's what a writer wants. Oh, I want! The mechanics of same are so daunting as to be a foreign language , the mastering of which is a process, long, and convoluted, but worthy. The guides are, I find, generous, and nothing at all like their bad reputations as holier-than-thou, contemptuous of newbies, and unapproachable. They simply look for quality that is profitable. And they are inordinately busy. That has to be true, for the average length of response from them is three months.

Those at the other end of my thoughts, whether readers or editors, need to be recognized for the work they do. Writers, especially new ones, tend to think of editors as gatekeepers to the promised land, with the power to let us live or make us die to the world of readership. In fact, they are daily inundated with words. Words strung together sometimes with great beauty but saying nothing of real value, words falling all over each other pell mell, without purpose or substance, words without a beginning or an ending, words much like those in this sentence, not knowing where they are going, or what they are saying.....we call that 'free-write"....highly amusing....words that, in spite of our intentions or our lack of skills, sometimes say the most erudite, or astonishing, or profound things, the source of which is often a mystery to the writer.

My own romance with words is an ongoing love story as my inner writer tells me in memoir how those events I recount have shaped me into the person I am, the one who sits here at the computer typing so fast  I can't get it said fast enough. From a negating mother so detached from her offspring as to hardly recognize us as people, even people sprung from her own body, I have a lifetime of finding that I actually have fingerprints, actually exist beyond my own suspicious mind, finally to discover I am.

In this current atmosphere of memoir, with untold numbers of us writing our lives, there is an audience for "how'd they get through that" and even a voyeuristic bent to their interest. But I think we read memoirs avidly because we're all sort of in this together, sitting around the campfire outside the darkness of the cave, sitting under moonlight telling each other our stories of how we killed the bear, or fed the clan or became shamen or simply didn't get eaten by monsters. We are telling the stories of survival of sometimes quite deadly things, of glimpses of intense beauty and impossible triumph over the large things and the small.

I think I have something worth saying. I think I'll get that done. That's a quantum leap from last year as I discover this new world of new people whose lifework is to place what writers have to say in front of readers who avidly, even hungrily, devour words. Learning to say things that need to be said and then heard, and doing that well is so much more than putting words together in a meaningful way. Writing a memoir that captures, holds and absorbs a reader is to put that person right there in my story with me, whether in the alfalfa field flying a kite, or fishing with a little brother, or dodging an abuser, or overcoming orphanage life, the reader must be able to go there, in fact, must want to be running to get there with me, out of breath and expectant for what else could possibly conspire to erase someone's sense of self. To be nobody, and then to stagger uphill, reaching out for helping hands along the way to discover the somebody she has become, that's a story of triumph over neglect, jealousy and silent rage.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Forward Motion

It is a loverly thing when the memoirist gets to the time when organizing the story might mean she knows what the story really is! In such a state one can anticipate if not euphoria, then certainly anticipation of the full meal written with all the t's crossed and the i's dotted.

My too full plate is lighter now, with two writing courses within a week of completion, a new essay group coming along to write with, ...this will be my third year of this exercise, always worth while....and the cookbook that has tied me up for eight weeks is just about ready for the printer. Handing that bugger off will finding me heaving such a sigh of relief that anyone who reads this might hear it!

Looking back at what I''ve written, I see that what's good is really good and what isn't needs to be buried in the back yard as unsalvageable. Those parts need either to be completely rewritten or discarded as unworthy. I'm thinking to put an excerpt up here just for fun. While there is pathos in the life of two little kids from an orphanage, there is pure delight in their adaption to the many joys of complete freedom in a time when the world was a safer place for children, where there was not a predator on every corner, though there certainly was one in the house!

We moved with a new stepfather and a negating mother to a very rural town on the fringes of Amish country in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. Mother saved negation just for me. We wandered in and out of every home up and down our street, seemingly belonging to every family in a place where everyone looked out for every child. What seems to be a story of childhood innocence is frought with an undercurrent of a sinister presence emotionally funded by highly dysfunctional parents trying to make a life post WWII, with little awareness of their own emotional deficits.

Just writing that invitation to read tells me how far I've come, and to say that at all is a measure of my highly increased confidence, up from, oh yeah, I'm trying to write a I'm writing a memoir with an eye to publishing within a year!

If you're reading, come along with me. That seriously challenged mother was one of those disappointed and frustrated women who showed up to support her nation with her time and talent in exchange for a paycheck in a depression, only to be remanded back to the stove and the apron. She's a piece of work we survived in spite of her shortcomings, despite her dislike of me, despite her controlling suppressing husband, despite her utter boredom, which led her, she with no education to speak of, to eventually take a job as the school janitor to the enormous embarrassment of her husband who found that appalling. Well. Seems there was more than one way to get even. He should have had the good sense to give her at least spending money of her own.....

She didn't drive, so she walked to and from school in all kinds of weather, her husband refusing to take her. She persisted and triumphed....small victories, but her statement was clearly, "Who the hell needs you?" And it continued downhill from there. In truth, she was the better equipped for life, and stronger, in every way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Progress is a progression

I can hardly believe what I'm learning. Two essay classes and a heavy course for structure snd story arc have kept me stepping. I've gotten so much kind help from invisible classmates in my on-line classes, who lead me through the maze of submissions and query writing. They answer questions about the nuances of the publishing world and then my stumbling around the net has pulled me into wondrous places like a website called Author!Author! Where Anne is blowing out a full college course on everything you will ever need to know about how to write it, how to submit it, how to write anything at all. Go there now. Everything she writes there you need if you write. All her stuff is lengthy because she's churning out so much info. So much that is useful, needful. I can hardly sing her raises loud enough.

Pay attention to Sheila Bender and Writing It Real. Her patient, targeted instruction is amazing and her editing is unsurpassed. Need anything at all to be edited? Find her website. I write essays in her classes online as a discipline and as instruction on how to write tight, making every word count. consequently I choose parts of this memoir as material to develop in essay form to sharpen and polish. It works so well.

I can look back at my first efforts and groan before I laugh, recognizing how far I've come under her sensitive patient hand. There is nothing at all scary about her, nothing ever harsh or negative.

What I know now is that those essays need to be sent out en masse and everywhere appropriate until someone says a resounding yes to my work.

What I can see is that all that time and money invested in study and practice has yielded writing that stands sturdily on strong legs.