I’m doing some work with Christina Baldwin’s family myths concept that I mentioned in the last post. Results are mixed. I’m seeing lots of family myths that affected my life in powerful ways back then … and even now. I’ve discarded some on my own, and others have been outgrown by the whole family. Relatively few are left intact, but I do see how some linger even now, and in a couple of cases current events provide to cues to recognize departed ones.

My biggest challenge right now is sticking to my determination to frame off that particular period of time rather than jumping ship and following another thread instead. I run the risk of having a dozen unfinished manuscripts piled around like unfinished garments next to the sewing machine. When I realized too many garments had piled up, I tossed several out and realized I didn’t want to sew anymore. I’m not ready to let that happen with writing! Finished projects are sooo satisfying. For better or worse, I must get this draft written and get on with things.

The obvious solution to capturing the moment of insight into those that don’t fit into the Los Alamos frame is to record them in my journal, carefully flagging them for easy retrieval later. By the end of this month I should be ready to focus on this project more intently once again.

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.

Right now I am keenly aware of the process of writing and the sheer joy of sitting on my sun porch early in the morning, computer-in-lap. A raucous jay warns off other birds, or perhaps calls to the chicks that recently left the nest. Its harsh sound is intrusive and distracting, like a thorn or itching mosquito bite. Our house nestles into the west side of a steeply rising hill, and the first rays of sunshine have yet to rise above it. I love this softly gray, moist time of day, especially when the temperature is perfect for comfortably sitting out here, as it is today. The deciduous hardwood forests in Pennsylvania are so different from the ponderosa pine clad mountains I grew up in, yet the same deep sense of connection prevails. Memories seem more real out here.

As I consider what I’ve already written, I realize I need to add more details, and I see where they are lacking. For example, I have not described myself at all, nor have I said anything about my husband other than the fact that he is with me on this trip. I can add some self-description in an early scene about wearing my new turquoise chunk necklace on a visit to Old Town in Albuquerque. I can describe my husband in the scene I’m still working on that’s set near the apartment where he lived the summer I met him.

No, I’m not spending all my time revising, not even rereading — these revelations occur at odd moments, like in the shower, or while I’m cooking. If I don’t do something about them soon after I think of it, like any story idea, they’ll be lost. As I see it, I have three choices: scroll to the place I’m thinking of and add the material, jot some notes in a separate file (or scrap of paper), or take no action and hope I remember again when I’m ready to edit the whole manuscript.

“Just get the story on paper. Don’t stop to revise as you write.” So say the Experts. My decades of experience at the sewing machine tell me otherwise. A sleeve is a sleeve is a sleeve. Pattern instructions put cuffs on sleeves way late in the game. But it’s entirely possible to sew the side seam of the sleeve and fully finish a cuff buefore you even cut out the rest of the shirt. Aside from having to sew the shoulder seams before inserting collars and sleeves, little is sacred about the order of construction for a shirt. And so it is with stories. I listen to my inner sense of order most of the time.

Now my jay bird has moved a few hundred feet deeper into the woods, and a chorus of gentler birds has returned. I’m going back to my manuscript.

Turning back to writing after a weekend away, I decided to continue the orchestra saga by writing of my decision to return. I opened my manuscript file (after accruing a folder of a couple of dozen single story files, I decided to keep them all in one massive file), scrolled down to the end, and typed a working section title: Going Back. I began to type:

I felt miserable that …

I stopped. That week? I’ve forgotten how many days we were at All-State. In fact, I’ve forgotten just when it took place. In fact — I’m not totally sure I rejoined orchestra second semester of my freshman year! HELP! Well, I’m pretty sure.

Fortunately, I don’t have to guess. I have three resources to turn to for help. The first took mere seconds. As fast as I could type New Mexico All-State Orchestra into the search bar, I confirmed that it takes place in January, at least now, and that squares with my memory that it was cold and gray.

The second and third will take a bit more time. I think I know where the brown envelope is that holds my old report cards. That will confirm when I took any given class. Finally, I’ll haul down a box big enough to hold a pair of hiking boots and find all sorts of high school memorabilia, including All-State concert programs for for my sophomore, junior, and senior years.

If I didn’t have those resources, I’d probably just wing it and do the best I could, relying on the symbolic truth of whatever memory I did have. I’m glad I still have tangible evidence for maximum accuracy.

Another chapter has emerged, A Summer Bike Ride. How much simpler the writing is since I determined to write composite memories rather than trying to capture specific ones. Considering that about fifty years have passed since the days of which I write, most specific memories have dimmed anyway. Breaking loose from chronology and my timeline simplies matters immensely too.

This chapter was rewarding to write. I think I managed to capture the essence of the Los Alamos picnic ground in that era along with some insight into my thoughts as a young teen. It was also a good place to plant some description of my bedroom.

“What else can I put in here about my fascination with pine trees?” was a typical question as I wrote. I feel rather like a painter pondering where to put a spot of red to juice up a forest scene. I was able to tie in several mini-memories that wouldn’t rate a chapter of their own and more dialogue than I expected flowed in naturally.

Does it matter that this specific day is basically fiction? Not at all, at least to me. It is totally true to my memory of how things were, if not exactly what happened. I know that this day happened in a similar fashion several times, but don’t remember exact details of any individual one.

If anyone wants to bone up on how memory works, I highly recommend John Kotre’s classic volume, White Gloves: How We Create Ourselves Through Memory. It’s old enough that if you can’t get it at the library, it’s readily available used through Amazon.

My snow chapter is done — or I should say the draft is done. I wish I could say as much for the snow in our yard. I think we’ll be able to chill beer in piles beside the driveway on July 4 this year.

I like the way this draft went together. It has flashback scenes threaded along a continuing story line and a decent amount of dialogue. I may work in a few more descriptive details later, and I may want to include another element or two later, but for now, it hangs together. I’ll set it aside and work on something else. The question is what that something else will be. Perhaps I can best answer that question by hauling out the notes I made on airplanes a couple of weeks ago.

Earlier today in a post on The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing I mentioned a  scar on my knee that’s disappeared. I went on to mention that much of the writing I’ve been doing has caused many internal scars to disappear. I think I won’t concern myself with what that means in terms of this memoir. I write the truth as I know it today, whether it is the same thing I would have written twenty years ago. I don’t think the difference will be large, and I can’t write what I would have written then, anyway because I don’t know what I would have written then. Time has passed and I didn’t do it then.

Truth, as much as it’s discussed and dissected and placed on a pedestal, is an ephemeral and relative thing. I’m certain I’ll have a lot more to say on this topic as time goes by.