Huzzah, huzzah! I found the drama, the tension. I’ve been assuring people for months that though it was far from dull, my girlhood was lacking in the elements of suspense and tension that make for a compelling read. This morning as I got back to my challenge of arranging memories on the map of my last visit to Los Alamos, I found the tension. It isn’t in the events of girlhood. It’s in the re-view.

Backing up just a bit, I’ve found it exceedingly difficult to sit down for even fifteen or twenty minutes to work on this project. I’d been thinking this was due to having deadlines on book reviews, needing to write something for a writing group, catching up on promised critiques, wire brushing a report my hubby is writing, working on a project building shelves in the guest room, eye surgery, etc. Yes, those things and more have definitely played a part and kept me busy, but … there is always at least a little time for things that truly matter.

This morning I found the real block. Mostly to assuage guilt, I forged ahead and began writing about the drive up from Santa Fe. I’d bogged down at Camel Rock, just a few miles north of Santa Fe. A memory of my grandfather is forever anchored to that site. I didn’t want to leave Camel Rock! (And maybe the safety of my granddaddy?) Today we moved on up the road. That was easy enough to write, because I’d already written it in an earlier draft. All I needed to do now was to paste it in, gently tweak and add as I went along, and convert it to present tense — a couple of weeks ago I decided the best way to delineate the re-view from historic events is to use present tense for the 2000 trip and thoughts and past tense for girlhood memories.

Moving up that road, I felt the tension building. I know what lies ahead. I know what I’ll see. But the reader doesn’t. I dread it because I know. I began sharing my dread, elaborating on it, without naming the source. By the time I got to the crest of the hill after the road winds up the side of the cliff to town, I was in tears, on the page in memory and on my face in real time. And I have a double thread of tension — from my first ride up, which I clearly remember (creatively perhaps, but clearly in any evet) and this later one.

Now I “get it” more than ever that it’s hard to write about painful memories. They do become intensely real again. I’m more fortunate than some, because I’ve already worked this one through and know what lies beyond. For sure, my heart goes out to those who are writing more freshly.  I see more clearly than ever the value of personal experience for those of us who help others write this sort of material.

If adventure at the time was pale, look for adventure n meaning. Now I’m excited about writing again. Hooray! To celebrate, I’ve begun looking through Flickr.com for historic photos of Los Alamos. There are many more than a few years ago, and I’m assembling them in an album. It’s going to take time to fill it up.

I admit it. I fell under Tawni O’Dell’s spell and took advantage of her permission to be a real writer without writing every day. Actually I don’t need Tawni’s permission to not write every day. I already knew that. Besides, life sometimes intervenes and other business must be attended to. Now my fingers are flying again.

During my break I found a jumping off spot. What better place than a cemetery, finding the grave of the baby brother I never knew and cracking the veil of the past? That occurred at the beginning of the drive from Santa Fe to Los Alamos, the drive that really did trigger a gush of cogent, potent memory. In so many ways, it was a day lived in parallel universes, oscillating between times and realities.

I’ve done two things to move the project forward. I set up a Live Sync folder so I can work on this project on either of my computers and have my files automatically and instantly update on the other. This has the splendid advantage of providing perfect backup. Having done that, I set about dissecting the preliminary file I wrote a few months ago so I can recast the relevant parts and add to them. I have a strong start now.

I’ve been reading too, and came to a stunning conclusion after reading Sam Patron’s “Search for Soul” blog, and Susan Wittig Albert’s latest volume, Holly Blues. Sam has a couple of posts about an adventurous part of her life. She covered a lot of ground in relatively few words. The story is lean and mean, written close to the bone. It’s pure narrative, with little in the way of description and no dialogue that I recall, but my eyes were glued to the page as I scrolled through the account, reading as fast as I could. Thinking back, I decided that I might have found additional description and scene elements distracting. I was making my own movie on the fly.

That hunch was validated when I read Holly Blues. Susan Albert is a master of scene building and her descriptions are especially succulent. I could take a week to savor the book, but instead, I read it in about four hours after dinner. I chided myself when I realized I was skimming through whole pages of exquisite description to get on with the action. Guilt? Not me. I savored enough of those scenes to know that Susan has not lost her edge and would have missed them if they weren’t there. Making the choice to skim read to fast forward through the action is far preferable to skimming out of boredom while deciding whether to set the book aside.

What’s a writer to do? I love this sort of soul-gripping story that totally sucks me in, and I’m also easily seduced by silken word ribbons. Can we have it both ways? Guess I’ll have to stick with the silken ribbons, because I do not have the gripping adventure.

They say we bring our problems on ourselves, or something like that. Was I so desperate to avoid writing last night that I trashed my computer? I decided to install the OpenOffice update that’s been nagging me for weeks. That shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes… It shouldn’t. It didn’t. What took more than the couple of minutes was the melt-down. The upgrade to 3.2 wouldn’t install. “No changes have been made to your system.”

They lied. Now 3.1 didn’t work. System Restore didn’t restore it, not even when I went back two weeks. Without OpenOffice on the laptop I’m using to work on this project, I’m dead in the water.

Morning came. I won’t bore you with details, but after googling (I’m making an aribtrary editorial decision that when used as a verb, google is not capitalized) the error message a couple of times to fine tune it, I found a trail to a Windows system file that was causing the problem and learned how to obtain permissions (this is truly arcane friends) to rename this file. That did the trick. The upgrade slid right in, in less than two minutes. Problem solved.

The bonus is that I now know how to get permission to do brain surgery on my ‘puter, and feel a certain euphoria for having solved the problem.

But my story is still not written. I’ll get there. I suppose in the account of this memoir writing process, the current event is a Tension Event.

There’s a lot to be said for writing by hand, on paper, with a pen or pencil. It may be faster in the end, when you factor in all the technical garbage and distractions we now deal with as part of the “modern” writing process.