After what seems like eons of urgent sidetracks, I’m feeling pulled back into this project. Something subtle shifted, connecting me with the drama and tension of the day we moved to Los Alamos. That day was a huge milestone in my life and as I pondered it, I noticed all sorts of omens I’d never seen before. I use the term omen in a neutral sense, not one of foreboding. I wonder what a more accurate term would be. Foreshadowings?

I’m sticking with chronology, at least for now, and I’ve written this scene at least half a dozen times now. Each time it comes out a bit differently. This time I’m deeply in touch with the tension and the wonder. I’m finally sensing the feelings I had at the time. Feelings I had no words for so couldn’t articulate back then. The closest I ever recall coming to talking about feelings in our family was adjurations not to hurt anyone’s feelings by doing or saying this or that. We didn’t talk about our own feelings. I’ve spent a significant chunk of my life learning that vocabulary and how to apply it!

I think I can probably take much of what I’ve previously written and graft it into this new manuscript. We’ll see. For now it feels good to have some movement again, however slight. I won’t delude myself that I’m close to final copy but it feels closer. I feel more in touch with something close to bedrock, more connected to place. Perhaps the NAMW Roundtable discussion of writing about place I listened to on Thursday has something to do with that.

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It’s been another month between entries here.  The fact is, I’ve been totally absorbed in transforming my Writing for the Health of It workshop to include narrated slideshows I can use when I teach it via teleseminar (it will be listed as a Story Circle Network winter offering). This memoir project has sat untouched in the shadows. Work on my memoir has ground to a halt, at least in terms of applying fingers to keyboard. But it’s never far from mind.

This morning as I scanned Jerry Waxler’s latest post on his Memory Writers Network blog, I was suddenly transported back to the summer of 1951 into my seven-year-old body. I stood on the rise in front of our house looking down across the street to the cluster of kids gathered between Carol and Tom’s houses. More than anything I wanted to be part of that cluster. I wanted to belong there, not just hang around on the edges as I’d done a couple of times previously. And I had no more idea how to go about achieving that status than how to sprout wings and fly to the moon.

Suddenly I felt a visceral shift and stunning realization: this desire to belong, to fit in, to be connected and accepted, is the theme of my youthful years. This is the thread that carries through everything. This desire is what I thought about as I sat at the sewing machine. It filled my fantasies as I pumped toward the sky on the playground swings, or rode my bike around town, or … did anything at all. By the time I left for college I had made significant progress toward that goal.

Realistically I know I won’t be getting back to serious writing on this project before the end of January at the soonest, but I probably will do some doodling and journaling on this theme.

When I do get back to it, I’ll be writing primarily for the fabled “Audience of one.”  I may eventually share the story, but primarily this has become a self-exploration tool, and I know I can write deeper and more truly for two eyes than the eyes of a multitude. At least in the beginning. This is a valuable discovery. Private writing removes the need for artifice and strips things to the bones.

 

Since my last post here, a month ago, I spent two weeks in New England, one each in Vermont and New Hampshire, where my husband and I attended Road Scholar programs. Each program included multiple discussions of local history. I was fascinated to learn that the Indians taught early settlers to kill trees in order to create open spaces for growing food. The settlers eagerly seized upon this tool and amplified it to new levels. Eventually they not only killed the trees, but cut them down for lumber and fuel. They defoliated most of the area.

In the overall scheme of things, the flaming fall foliage we see is new, regrown within the last seventy or eighty years. If I look closely, I can see the lack of majestic old trees such as we gaze at beyond the meadow we call a lawn in our backyard. But overall, the slopes look verdant and lush. They look healthy. Had I not heard about the devastation, I would not sense it today.

I’m reminded of the concluding line of Archibald McLeish’s play J.B., a modern adaption of the book of Job: “Blow on the coal of the heart and we’ll know … we’ll know … These tales of devastation and regrowth were dry tinder on the coal of my heart.

They brought focus to a growing sense that  the story of my grieving the Los Alamos devastation is only tenuously connected with daily events of girlhood. Roots were certainly there, but the details of this adult perspective are a distraction from the account of my girlhood and vice-versa.  While the two are related, the connections are so deep and complex that Tolstoy himself would be challenged to cover it all.

The die is cast. My decision is made. These two stories will be separated. Henceforth My Los Alamos Girlhood will revert to a simpler story of growing up in Los Alamos. I’ll develop the story of the mountains as a separate piece, perhaps part of a spiritual memoir that has not yet taken clear form. I may also expand the original essay that sparked the attempt to marry the two stories.

Keep it simple!

Fortunately, nearly all of what I’ve written can be rearranged, allowing me to proceed apace rather than starting over.

 

 

 

I just missed watching the pilot board our ship to guide it through the Inside Passage into Vancouver’s harbor Saturday evening, but I did watch such a transfer several years ago in the Baltic Sea. A small cruiser pulls up next to an ocean liner, adjusting its speed to maintain position alongside. The ship’s crew drops a hanging ladder over the side. The pilot grabs the ladder and climbs twenty or thirty feet up to a small portal in the side of the ship. Aside from requiring considerable strength and agility to climb the ladder, this is a relatively simple challenge on smooth water, but life threatening when waves toss both boats around, changing their relative levels, and causing the ladder to swing. Leaving the ship after guiding it out of the harbor may be even more perilous.

Today, as I shift from travel mode to daily life, I feel like one of those pilots, going from one treadmill to another, both moving, and not quite aligned. Few trip experiences related to Girlhood, and it’s going to take a little time to reprime that story pump and get the thread moving again.

The one thing I did notice as we hiked through Victoria’s Stanley Park was the deep feeling of peace and reverence I remember from time in My Canyon. Coastal forests in the northwest are far different from those in the Rocky Mountains, but both evoke a sense of mystical awe that I find largely missing in totally deciduous forests. What is there about towering evergreens? Hope? Stability?

I’ll let that question gently guide me back into the story stream.

I live to write about life. This is my six-word memoir. If I were to have a tombstone, I’d ask that this be inscribed thereupon, transformed to past tense. As it happens, I’ve requested cremation, with my ashes to be scattered, so there will be no tombstone.

Considering that I live to write about life, much of the time I’m not actively writing is spent thinking about what to write. Right now I’m thinking more than writing as I combine recovery from cataract surgery with endless digging in snow. The good news is that the recovery is progressing well, ahead of schedule, and I anticipate being back in full reading mode before long.

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.

Having the Internet close at hand is a mixed blessing. I keep popping over to GoogleMaps to remind myself where things were. This also reminds me of how things aren’t, which sharpens my focus on the reality that the place I remember basically does not exist anywhere but my memory.

I’m also looking at other sites with historical information about Los Alamos. I need to be careful not to let additional material significantly alter memories. Maybe I should turn my browser off and just write.

On the other hand, I found an amazing eBook written shortly after the Cerro Grande fire of 2000 that shows how the burned areas regenerate. It refers to the love people still feel for their scarred, damaged land, and points to the possibility of looking at the fire as a new beginning that none of us will live long enough to see.

This perspective is powerfully important and dramatically altered my perspective on that fire, which has been deeply traumatic for me since the moment I heard about it back in May 2000. This insight will help me tie up the loose ends in the final chapter or two. But who knows what else I’ll discover — the story will surely change even more by the time I get there. That’s what’s happening now. As I write, I’m finding the story as fluid as water, not something to be contained in the palm of my hands.

Therein lies the excitement, adventure, and discovery of memoir writing. I’m relaxing into the wave, finding the flow. All is as it is. (more…)