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.

After all the grappling I’ve been doing with structure, a spark of inspiration lit the wee hours this morning. I suspect it resulted from input from a member of the LifeWritersCritique group. I posted a piece of “raw” writing there for feedback on concept, missing content and so forth. One veteran writer replied:

… I also found myself wanting to know how that day or event shaped or changed you. Why was it significant? Why is it worthy of being included in your book? And lastly, I found myself wanting a more enlightened perspective.

These questions are obvious, and I would pose them myself if someone else had submitted that material, yet it’s truly helpful to have a fellow writer ask them of me. They take on additional power. I feel more accountable and energized. (I hope you take this as a testimonial to the power of writing groups! ) The question about significance also reminded me that I had failed to include a sinister aspect of that experience that lurked in the background, but should be highlighted.

After surveying my instant responses: I’m still grappling with structure; this is an early draft, not a fully developed scene; my intention is to focus on place and times as much as myself, and balance is a challenge … I paused. That all sounds defensive. Was I being defensive? I hope not! This project is an adventure. I’d love to achieve everything you read in that feedback. But how?

Including insight or later perspective is a key challenge. If I stay “in the moment” back then, without interjecting any insight, the story is in danger of being a bore. I didn’t have moments of terror or stunning victories. Though far from “average” or “ordinary,” I did not live a headliner life. Those early years were the sowing season for seeds that would blossom and bear fruit decades later. If I interject analytical perspective from the future, it lends an entirely different tone. I wouldn’t reject that out of hand, but it goes against my intuitive sense of the story.

In one of those four o’clock moments of lucidity kicked in by a full bladder that activated Monkey Mind, the flash occurred. As I wrote in a February post, early in this project I drafted an account of a quick visit my husband and I made to Los Alamos in August, 2000, only three months after the devastating. Cerro Grande fire My thought at the time was to use that visit as an organizing thread for stringing together flashback vingnettes attached to the various places. They could be positioned as memories that sprang to life as we drove by each location. I never quite abandoned that idea, but it in my mental deep freeze. It looks good again. It can return the proper balance of focus to place.This concept is definitely worth further explorations.

Will this be the final form? The tension mounts. Stay tuned for further developments. Meanwhile, I may not have stumbled on this idea so soon if it weren’t for the serendipity of the newly forming Life Writers Critique Group, a spin-off from the Life Writers Forum that Jerry Waxler and I cohost. If you are looking for a critique group, check us out. We welcome any memoir writer, across the range of experience, age, gender and cultural background to lend a rich diversity to the group, and there is no charge to belong.

I’m exhausted. I got three dark scenes out of the way, all at once. It’s good to have them visible, on the page. I covered heavy stuff: a couple about The Bomb and quitting orchestra because my friends said they were going to. I was able to get to one “light” conclusion of The Bomb story, at least one part of it. The other loosely connected part will hang as a loose end to carry forward into the future and (if I get around to it) a later volume. I’ll pick up the orchestra thread when I write again tomorrow — or probably the next day. I have yet another eye exam tomorrow and must endure more dilation. Yet another reason not to write?

I’m fascinated by the way reliving these scenes on the page is so powerful. As I wrote about unexpectedly facing Mr. Pinkerton, the orchestra teacher, after he learned that I’d dropped out, my eyes filled with tears at the strong feeling that I’d let him down. I knew it then, and felt it even more deeply now. I don’t think I cried at the time. I don’t remember ever crying as a girl. I kept it all inside.

When and how did I learn not to cry? I never thought about that. I’m going to let that question simmer and float around, and I’ll bet that in a day or few, the answer will bubble to the surface. As I think about the question, I hear Franke Valli and the Four Seasons singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” But for sure I didn’t learn it from that song. It came out in 1962 when I was about to graduate. If you want to listen, click here. It comes on loud, so check your speakers before you click.

Guantanamera