No, I have not abandoned this project.  Time away from my laptop allowed me to focus on some hands-on projects, a break that allowed some needed distance for refocusing. Then we headed east to visit with our Texas Tots. They are fortunate enough to have two living great-grandparents, and one is in New Jersey. This was an opportunity to build some deep level ancestral memory.

Now the challenge is to gear back up and revisit the story. Yesterday I pulled out my mindmap and timeline to show to students, but really, I needed to look for myself. I”m like a cat. I need to circle a spot many times before committing to settle in.

The second stop on my memoir revisitation tour that primarily emphasize time and place is Haven Kimmel’s wildly popular volume, A Girl Called Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. I didn’t know this memoir, published in 2002, had already become a classic when I added it to my pile at a Friends of the Library used book sale  four or five years ago, and it sat on my shelf for a couple of years. In fact, I thought the cover looked and sounded a little dopey, and I almost donated it back unread. Fortunately word leaked out that it was a Significant Book.

Three years ago my husband and I took a road trip from Pittsburgh down to Austin and home via New Mexico. We grew tired of listening to audio books, and I began reading Zippy aloud when I wasn’t driving. Somewhat to my surprise, my husband enjoyed it, so I continued reading, finishing the book in three days (nearly losing my voice in the process. Not only did he enjoy it, he provided an insightful critique that I included in a post on The Heart and Craft of Life Writing.

Over time, I lost track of most of the elements of his critique, remembering only that the book was often funny, even hilarious, and that it consisted more of snippets than a developed story line. So I pulled it off the shelf and began rereading. The first thing I’m noticing is that reading a book aloud is quite a lot different from reading it silently. I love reading aloud, dramatizing the book as I read, as I imagine the author would have me do. I occasionally daydream of a career as a professional reader for audio book companies. But reading aloud precludes stopping to savor especially delicious lines, backtracking to double-check things, or skimming over dull or tedious spots. It’s also easy to miss subtleties.

On this read I’m more aware of the structure of her component story-chapters and how skillfully she braids two or three memories into a single strand, surely drawing on composite memory for additional color and vibrancy. I haven’t yet read far enough to rediscover the jumping around and repetition that annoyed us earlier.

The combination of Annie’s and Haven’s books inspired me to begin the morning by jotting key memories on tiny Post-It® notes I’m arranging on a large sheet of newsprint as an elaboration of the mindmap I referred to earlier.

I agree with all the experts who encourage you to “just write a draft — get your story on paper first,” but only to a certain extent. I stand firmly by my position in The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing that the writing process is as personal as your fingerprint, and you must find your own way.

I see it as being similar to cooking. I’m an intuitive cook. I read cookbooks and magazines for inspiration, then work with what I have, occupationally making a special trip to the store for special ingredients. I almost never follow a recipe precisely. I’ve read piles of books on writing, some of them about writing memoir, and now you are reading my twist on the process. You’ll find your own.

Now, back to the draft of the current story, incorporating a couple I wrote a few years ago…

The constant snow storm we’ve been living in has played havoc with my writing. I’m in great shape — my muscles are stronger, my endurance greatly enhanced. I’m amazed that I’m enjoying suiting up and slinging snow around. I look forward to it. Who would have thought? I’m discovering muscle memory of earlier times in my life when I took hard labor for granted. Interesting!

It’s not that I’m not thinking about The Book. It’s much on my mind as I chop massive snow banks into blocks with my trusty cookie sheet and toss them aside. But my energy is going to snow, not to writing.

Last night I reread the initial chapter I wrote last month. It’s full of flashback memories I had as my husband and I drove through town in late August, 2000, shortly after the near-fatal Cerro Grande fire that devastated the area in May of that year. As I read my account, I realized that the order of our drive effectively surveyed my life there in reverse order.

I went to bed contemplating the idea of writing a reverse timeline, of digging through the layers to discover a small girl. I didn’t contemplate long — all the fresh air and physical exertion of late sent me into dreamland within minutes. When I woke, I picked up where I left off, and soon determined that this is not a good order. My story does not end with finding a diamond in piles of poop. The only manure in my tale was at the stables I almost never visited, and the diamond appears much later as insight.

That is not to say that using the drive to as a device for linking loosely related flashbacks won’t work. I want to place a major emphasis on place in this story, and what better way than to revisit it? Using the visit as a platform for rest and contemplation between dives into the past could give me a way of connecting insight with early events and experience. My story pales to insignificance if it’s a simple chronological account.

In the process of searching, I also found the now forgotten mind map I made several weeks ago. I posted it on The Heart and Craft of Life Writing. It’s good. It’s really good. I printed it out. I will use it as a checklist to ensure that I embed these key elements within appropriate flashbacks. This gives me a sort of grid, with columns of environmental features and columns of experiences. The challenge is to have at least one check in each column.

I am literally weaving a story!

I have a desktop full of tools now.

I’ll assemble these pieces and continue to cogitate. I’ll also cross my fingers that tomorrow’s second round of cataract surgery will not slow my writing. But that’s a story for a different time and place.

I may not post much for several days. I’m visiting my dad, and do we ever have lots to talk about!

On the plane yesterday I made lots of notes. I started using mindmaps. (You can read about those on The Heart and Craft of Life Writing. Use the search bar.) One turned into a sort of flow chart. Funny how old process analysis tools never disappear from memory, though I have not thought of system analysis charts for, uhm, maybe 10 years.

Another trick I used was to write down memories, without any storyline, just the thought. Nothing new there, but it helped me to write them in little chunks, like small text boxes, rotating each a bit differently, so the page is full of things that look like signatures of a whole group on a greeting card. This ploy helps keep my mind loose, from locking onto any particular one, or reverting to linear mode.

If I were at home, I may have torn up some scraps for this purpose. I may print this page out and tear it up. It’s good to be able to move things around.

Thoughts intruded: Will I have enough to justify a whole book here? Will it matter if it’s only 58 pages? Is this worth the effort? Inner Critic talking!

My Inner Cheerleader jumped off the bench: You’ll never know until you try. You committed to doing this. Primarily for yourself. So far it has been VERY worth it.

Hooray for that Inner Cheerleader!