March 2010

After extolling the virtues of writing by hand when “blocked,” I had to eat my own words. I got all jammed up on a couple of stories, so reached for a pen and notebook. To my astonishment, I found myself impatient with the pen. It was slow. I began leaving out words and whole thoughts. So … back to the keyboard.

Maybe the diversion did its job. I wasn’t stuck anymore.


This morning I listened to a replay of Rebecca Lawton’s December 2009 NAMW monthly member teleseminar. I’ve already listened to this program a  couple of times, but I usually listen to each one several times and hear something new each time.

This program is on time and mind management for writers. When Rebecca began talking about the Inner Critic, skyrockets of recognition exploded. Perhaps I’m blessed to be less afflicted with IC issues about my writing ability, though they are certainly not absent there. In this case my IC (known as Gretchen to long-time readers of my Heart and Craft of Life Writing blog) is shouting loudly about content:

  • “Your life was unremarkable.”
  • “Why do you think anyone would be interested?”
  • “Do you really want Those People to know they hurt your feelings?”
  • “What’s the point?”
  • “Are you sure you really want to do this? That it’s worth your time?”

On and on and on, she goes. Where will she stop? Nobody knows! Yes, dear readers, we all face Gretchen (by any other name) sooner or later. In this case she snuck up on me from behind and hid just out of sight. Here’s my reply to her:

“Gretchen, I know you are there. I’ll find you very soon and send you back to your room until I’m ready for your help. It will be in your best interests to vamoose right now and not wait to be found!”

I’ll keep you posted.

I’m not exaggerating in profiles and other material when I claim to have written over 500 life stories. There is no way of counting exactly, because they are scattered all over creation, and some of those may be two paragraphs, but I really do have that many. The past couple of days I’ve been rereading anything I have in print (far from the whole collection, I admit).

My intention as I pulled out the bulging portfolio was to read those folders with material that may be relevant to The Los Alamos Years. I quickly discovered that my filing system is a joke, and began reading through the whole collection — at least the equivalent of a book by now. Probably two volumes. This experience is fascinating! Yes, I’m noting edits on nearly every piece, but few or substantial. Earlier edits are holding up well.

What I’m finding is that this pile of isolated vignettes is powerful stuff, way more so than I remotely realized. Many of my own pieces move me to tears all over again as I reexperience the situations I wrote about. These are good tears. Tears of re-experienced resolution. If no other person ever reads them, the effort I put into bringing them to this state was worth it.

But the good news is that there is a ton of material to be incorporated into A Los Alamos Girlhood. Some of it is well-written as it stands. Other is resource material to be woven in.  I’m encouraged by this.

I also found a piece I wrote almost five years ago that could serve as a lead-in. Or maybe not. But I have set it aside.

Bottom line: if you are reading this and not yet ready to tackle an organized memoir, don’t hesistate for a moment to write a huge pile (500 or more) of vignette stories. If I were to die tomorrow, those vignettes would be there and bear powerful testimony to years I may never get round to dgesting further. Vignettes, life story writing, is a valuable resource and well worth your time to write. At this point I’m glad that I began that way, and encourage others to do likewise.

My challenge now is to weave together all the memories and resources I have discovered.

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep. Experts say not to lie in bed if you aren’t sleepy. Since I was thinking about The Book, I got up and wrote a story from my list about the first time my sister and I went down in the canyon alone. Against the rules. Since I prided myself on being the obedient daughter, this is a stunning admission, to the public, and to myself. It’s not that I had so many illusions. I generally was quite obedient, but there was generally no reason not to be. Does that count?

Don’t know what I’ll do with this simple story, where I”ll put it. But it reads well as a stand-alone. It will nestle in well somewhere as things further unfold. As it stands now, it includes one short flashback.

Over the last couple of days I’ve read several references to memoir as a “way” or “path.” Indeed. A path to self-discovery, a re-stor(i)ed past, re-vision of personal history … and probably much more. For some, it is a path to healing and wholeness. For others, transformation. Or is that trance-formation? One thing is certain — it is definitely not dull!

I’ve filled more than a dozen paper journal pages the past few days, and I don’t recall seeing a white rabbit, but I must have followed one. I slid into this hole while revising a story I wrote a couple of years ago about a birthday party I attended when I was ten. The story didn’t show little old me in a very flattering light to begin with, but kids are kids, and I was okay with that.

As I worked, with the thought of chinking in a few related memories, several additional memories about the birthday party bubbled up, and I began asking myself questions like, was (she) really that bratty? What would she be saying about me if she were writing a memoir? (That won’t happen. She died about twenty years ago.) Suddenly the story sounded mean spirited. She may be dead, and I may be changing the identity sufficiently that nobody would recognize her. But as I looked afresh at the thoughts I had written, even though they accurately reflect the thoughts I had then, I felt mean and spiteful. Those thoughts may accurately reflect the thinking of ten-year-old me, but sharing them with the public fifty some years later is another matter. It’s not a matter of covering up. It’s a matter of feeling mean and ugly all over again. The story is not about my transformation from then to now.

That led me to reexamine not only that relationship, but many others, and … I grew alternately tall and short. I’m still seeing lights fade in and out — and these are not lingering artifacts of my recent cataract surgery. I expect to be invited to play croquet any moment.

What is real? What is True? What is the story and where are its boundaries? The tension mounts.

This (confusion) too shall pass. I keep writing, whether on the manuscript or in my journal. My current inclination is that the birthday party is not at all related to growing up in Los Alamos, and might well be left out of the memoir. Perhaps it will work well in a later volume with a different purpose and focus. Or maybe I’ll find the right slant to tell it with a magic combination of historical and current Truth.

Yesterday I discovered the term Transformative Narrative in a brand new  Yvette Hyater-Adams’ maiden post on her new blog, Transformative Narratives. I plan to explore this writing/storytelling niche more deeply. As I read the post, a whole bell tower began pealing in my heart. I do believe memoir writing falls into this corral.

If my hunch is correct, when I emerge from the rabbit hole once again, I shall be a butterfly!

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