January 2010


As I previously noted, I’ve been out west visiting my father as well as our older son and his family. I used many of the notes I made on the plane ride west to ask my father all sorts of clarifying questions like, “Where was the building for Junior Rifle Club meetings? How many rounds did we fire at each target? Did I have my own gun or share one with Robin? What year was the second car we had there?”

Along with the spiral notebook I took to hold my thoughts along the way, my bank of memories is filling up, and thankfully, a sense of focus is emerging. I am exploring the idea of examining my formative years from the context of now to show the roots of certain preferences and attitudes. I probably won’t take this tack, but exploring the possibilities is enlightening. It’s also fascinating to realize that many things I used to consider liabilities now appear as assets.

The amount of work needed to simply process all these insights and develop a sense of direction before returning to writing draft copy seems staggering. How will I organize my material? By theme? By chronology?

I intend to reread Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood. Also A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel, and Miss New York Has Everything by Lori Jakiela. If I remember correctly, these memoirs include clusters of calendar jumping memories while loosely following chronology overall.

I’m also still cogitating on finding the balance between growing up in Los Alamos and simply growing up. What is unique to place? What experiences did I share in common with people growing up other places in that era? And what was unique to my family and me? How should I handle these differences?

The end seems so far away, but the journey is exciting. One day at a time…

I may not post much for several days. I’m visiting my dad, and do we ever have lots to talk about!

On the plane yesterday I made lots of notes. I started using mindmaps. (You can read about those on The Heart and Craft of Life Writing. Use the search bar.) One turned into a sort of flow chart. Funny how old process analysis tools never disappear from memory, though I have not thought of system analysis charts for, uhm, maybe 10 years.

Another trick I used was to write down memories, without any storyline, just the thought. Nothing new there, but it helped me to write them in little chunks, like small text boxes, rotating each a bit differently, so the page is full of things that look like signatures of a whole group on a greeting card. This ploy helps keep my mind loose, from locking onto any particular one, or reverting to linear mode.

If I were at home, I may have torn up some scraps for this purpose. I may print this page out and tear it up. It’s good to be able to move things around.

Thoughts intruded: Will I have enough to justify a whole book here? Will it matter if it’s only 58 pages? Is this worth the effort? Inner Critic talking!

My Inner Cheerleader jumped off the bench: You’ll never know until you try. You committed to doing this. Primarily for yourself. So far it has been VERY worth it.

Hooray for that Inner Cheerleader!

Having the Internet close at hand is a mixed blessing. I keep popping over to GoogleMaps to remind myself where things were. This also reminds me of how things aren’t, which sharpens my focus on the reality that the place I remember basically does not exist anywhere but my memory.

I’m also looking at other sites with historical information about Los Alamos. I need to be careful not to let additional material significantly alter memories. Maybe I should turn my browser off and just write.

On the other hand, I found an amazing eBook written shortly after the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 that shows how the burned areas regenerate. It refers to the love people still feel for their scarred, damaged land, and points to the possibility of looking at the fire as a new beginning that none of us will live long enough to see.

This perspective is powerfully important and dramatically altered my perspective on that fire, which has been deeply traumatic for me since the moment I heard about it back in May 2000. This insight will help me tie up the loose ends in the final chapter or two. But who knows what else I’ll discover — the story will surely change even more by the time I get there. That’s what’s happening now. As I write, I’m finding the story as fluid as water, not something to be contained in the palm of my hands.

Therein lies the excitement, adventure, and discovery of memoir writing. I’m relaxing into the wave, finding the flow. All is as it is. (more…)

You  may have read my Blogspot posts about New Year’s Resolutions, Mind Mapping, and the breakthrough I had that enabled the words to flow. I’ve been agonizing for months over how to get started. Where is the tension? What’s the real story? Simply documenting memories, events, and how we did things is not enough to make a compelling story. That may have archival value for the family, but it won’t be gripping reading, and it will not explain the essence of me.

Fortunately, after listening to hours of downloaded NAMW member teleseminars, trading thoughts in the Life Writers Forum that Jerry Waxler and I cohost, and generally shooting the breeze with other memoir writers, it hit.

My “story” is not about events. It’s about how early events, thoughts, perceptions and beliefs shaped my thinking for decades and ultimately led me to where I am today — a place I rather like. It is essentially an overview of the seeds of my soul.

Once I had that clear, words began to flow, almost of their own accord, and they are not words that would have occurred to me had I remained in left-brain “puzzle it out” mode. These words came from elsewhere.

I’ve been posting on my main blog, The Heart and Craft of Life Writing, about my intention to complete a memoir about the years I spent growing up in Los Alamos in the fifties and early sixties. Now I’ve determined that the memoir, which has acquired the title A Los Alamos Girlhood, deserves its own blog, and this is it.

Giving it a separate blog accomplishes several things.

  • The new blog focuses specifically on this project, rather than interweaving it with more general topics.
  • Conversely, this allows The Heart and Craft of Life Writing to retain it’s broader focus, remaining true to its mission, purpose, and the needs of readers.
  • Blogging about the process of writing will keep my feet to the fire (or fingers to the keyboard) through the fact of public accountability.
  • It allows me to share some rather intimate details of the process with others who are on the same path. I hope we get some dialogue going in the comments.
  • Thus this blog becomes a sort of teaching tool, where we all learn together, each from the other.
  • Finally, it will back up and supplement my personal journaling around this process.

I may post every day. I may post more than once a day. I may skip days, even a few weeks. I make no promises about frequency here.

That summarizes my intention, purpose and plan for this blog.

You can read the initial posts about this project here: New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Have to Be a Joke, Mapping My Mind, and A Los Alamos Girlhood.

One last thought: you may notice that this blog is in WordPress while my other is on Blogspot. This gives me an ideal opportunity to compare the two platforms.