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.


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…