Since I must now use this account to post comments on some WordPress blogs, lots of people are visiting what appears to be a dead blog. It’s dormant, but not dead. Please visit my active blog, “The Heart and Craft of Life Writing“.

That said, another year has flown by. I have not abandoned this project, nor have I quit writing toward its conclusion. I just quit blogging about it. Fragments are flying around, looking for their proper place. Perspective is deepening, Structure options remain open. Meanwhile a return to Los Alamos to visit with classmates at a Major Reunion will soon take place, and while I’d intended to have this volume finished before then, it will benefit from the refreshed contact and site visit.

Another factor has come into play. A couple of Facebook groups have formed for those of us who grew up “on the hill.” Hundreds of memory snippets are posted there, and the result is the compilation of a sort of meta memory, larger than any individual could possibly hold. I’ve learned that I did indeed grow up under a rock, largely unaware of much of what was happening. There is no way I can speak for my generation, so I can only speak for myself. That’s good to be reminded of.

The bonus for realizing this is that realizing I grew up under a rock, I also realized that I sort of knew that, and although I thought I wished to be more included with “those kids,” I was quite happy with life as I experienced it, and pretty much did what I liked to do, most of the time. That is a cool and affirming realization.

Viva memoir, and viva the meta connections being enabled by web apps like Facebook, blogs, and more.

I just sped through a reread of The Children of Los Alamos, by Katrina Mason. I’m glad I did reread it, for reasons I covered in a review I just posted on Amazon. Aside from the reasons I cover in the review, I’m glad I reread the book because it affirms that my particular cohort — elementary-aged children who moved there five or six years after the war ended — moved to a rather different community, but to my understanding, we shared most of the perceptions as those who were there during the Manhattan Project.

It also strengthens my belief that a memoir from my cohort, my time, has a valuable contribution to make in illuminating the overall community atmosphere of the second round of Early Years. It helps me refine these views and find more purpose in writing. Perhaps it may even alter my decision to self-publish. But there’s no point making a decision like that until the book is written. One or two more volumes of background material and then back to work!

You may wonder, as I also do, how much reading the work of others may influence my memories. That is a distinct possibility, but … no memory is pure in the first place. Memory is influenced by the very act of remembering. And some fuzzy perceptions I’ve struggled to articulate are becoming more clear. This material feeds into composite memory more than specific ones. So on balance, I don’t think it will affect Truth at all, and I shall proceed.

After a brief detour in real time here to paint a room and catch up on some local chores, I’ve moved past my old church and memories of Junior Rifle Club and we’re heading into the center of town. But first we make a lap around a couple of blocks to find the apartment where we began married life, living below one of my high school teachers who, nearly twenty years older than I, was also a newly wed — for the first time.

Thank goodness for Google Maps that make it so easy to check the route we took and get street names right. Somewhere I have a map from the 1950s that shows the town as it was back then, before any of the private housing was built. That will be a nice illustration to include. Sooner or later I’ll check with the Los Alamos Historical Society about the possibility of obtaining a few old pictures of places like the Community Center that would enhance the book. I have no idea what they might charge for a project like this.

I’ll need to go back later and insert a little more car conversation with my spouse as we’re driving around to add a bit more reflection. But I’m going to leave that as an additional layer for later. I don’t feel ready to tackle it yet. We did talk about things at the time, and whatever I come up with is going to be very close to the dialogue we had at the time.

Last time I actually wrote anything on my manuscript, I began describing the church building we were driving past and listing memories. I only got a few sentences into that section. It was late when I got to that point and I feel into a state of brain freeze. I’ve been back a couple of times and felt overwhelmed by the idea of resuming where I quit writing. Aside from anything else, I was sure I’d written about this before and didn’t want to spend another half hour restating what I’d already done, but I could not find that file. This hump loomed large.

While looking for something else a couple of days ago, I came across the file I needed. This morning I’d planned to do a simple cut-and- paste, then edit the result. But as I poured a cup of coffee, the root of the problem jumped out at me. This was boring. Big time boring. Even to me. How can I fix that? I  wondered.

I immediately knew the answer. Scene. I needed to write it as scene, with some dialogue and action. How many times have I shared my trepidation about writing my cerebral life as scene? In spite of this angst, I felt my energy level rise at the idea, so I set my mug down, pulled my ‘laptop onto my lapdesk and began tapping away. It flowed more smoothly than I expected. I got the whole scene drafted, and moved on through Junior Rifle Club, the next site along the drive.

How convenient that my life back then was so containerized with little overlap  among my various activities, clearing the way for isolated sight-specific memory.

The new material will need a lot of editing before it’s ready to share, to add more tension among other things, but at least it’s on the page now. On the page. I like that phrase. That page can be either digital or paper, and it’s “written down” in either form.

While writing about Rifle Club, I wondered how long the shooting range was. I tried standing at various distances from a wall, looking at an imagined image the size of a target and estimating from that. Fortunately I was able to find a description of the requirements for an official NRA shooting range. It was not the 30-40 feet I guesstimated — it was the full fifty feet I originally assumed. Perhaps nobody would notice if I’d gotten it wrong, but it isn’t that hard to dig around and get it right. I appreciate accuracy in the details, whether I’m reading or writing.

My other big challenge of the day was wording around the temptation to use distancing phrases like “I remember…” A quiet voice urged me to “Take responsibility for your story. Just say it, plainly and simply. Don’t try to hide.” Direct statement worked.

Just as I decided it was time to quit doing research, lest I create more memories than I discovered, I had to dig in my own photo file and crank up Google again. But this time it was to verify.

I imagine everyone reading this blog has driven through a turnpike ticket/toll booth or military gate somewhere along the road. I remember the Front Gate as being like a combination of those, but the covered area I remember from the early days is not there now. I found a photo of that original gate in my personal collection that verifies my memory.

The Los Alamos Historical Society could surely tell me when they took it down, but since I don’t remember, it doesn’t matter. I was able to verify the year as being 1957, which is good, because I thought it was 1956. The difference means that the event occurred before April in 1957, the time when I would have needed a pass. I think. Or was 14 the age for passes? Another fact to be documented. I’ll save up these questions and query the Historical Society with all of them at once. As a matter of principle, I do want to be as accurate as possible on details like this, and that’s a challenge when things blur into distant and composite memories.

The writing is fun again, like working a puzzle

Moving ahead with the idea of using my last visit to Los Alamos as the organizing principle, I laid out a map of the drive to and through town, noting memory clusters related to each place. I can do this. It will work. It’s even authentic, because at least fragments of these memories, emotions and sensory experiences did flood back at that time in much the way I’ll describe. I even have an idea for a catchy entry point into the story.

I don’t recall exactly where I came upon this idea, but I believe Linda Joy Myers mentions it in her new book, The Power of Memoir. It’s sort of a variation on the timeline theme.

My next challenge will be to set up chapters for each location and make a more detailed list of “story beads” for that particular string. Up to this point, much of what I’ve been writing is more narrative than scene. Having this structure will provide organizing context and make it easier to write scene. It will also make it easier to work with composite memories.

As I think of scene, I’m realizing that most of the memoirs I’ve been reading lately (new, commercially published ones) have been mostly rumination type narrative verging on essay with very little dialogue. Description is gorgeous, but in general dialogue is limited to single sentences from other people most of the time, with only a line or two per page at most. These books have also lacked a strong story line. I’m struggling to make sense of this observation compared to all the challenge of creating a “Hero’s Journey” type of account.

Perhaps the bottom line is one of my mantras: “Your story is as personal and unique as your fingerprint.” Also, “To thine own story be true.”

My story is emerging.

A few weeks ago I jotted story starters on a pile of sticky notes. I thought I’d arrange them in some sort of preliminary order for compiling into a manuscript as I wrote. That didn’t work, so I stacked them back together. The beauty of sticky notes is that they stay in order. Over the last several days I’ve been peeling them off, one at a time, and writing that story. Today I got to the one about Indians. “Indians — knew how to live on this earth and survive w/what’s on it. ‘No tech!’ ”

Yikes, how will I ever turn that into a story? Writing about the Indians will be a huge challenge. A single story can’t begin to do them justice. To me, they were as pervasive a feature of Los Alamos life as pine trees. I didn’t see them so often, but their spirit was everywhere. In my thinking, they really owned the land. No, that isn’t right — they didn’t own it in the sense that we think of owning it. They were one with it. Or so it seemed to me. They were as natural a part of the land there as the deer and chipmunks.

I’ll write a few vignettes about going to San Ildefonso pueblo to watch dances, and seeing squaws sitting with jewelry for sale along the portico in front of the Governor’s Palace along the Santa Fe plaza. Stories of picnics at Frijoles Canyon in Bandelier National Monument where we hiked to the cliff dwellings and I sensed ancient spirits. Memories of Indian awareness will add depth to descriptions in other stories. Thoughts like “I wonder what this canyon looked like when Indians lived here?” or “I wonder if Indians ever came up here? What did it look like then?” belong in canyon stories.  Much of this will be composite memory, and detail overlay. How else could I get the sense of a sense?

And there were Mike and Eddy, the janitors at Aspen school. Mike was officially named Armando Martinez. He and Eddie lived in an apartment under the gym at Aspen school during the week, and on the weekends Mike went home to assume his duties as governor of Picuris Pueblo in Peñasco. Mike was my friend even after elementary school.

Yes, I have many things to write about Indians.