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.

The grandchildren have come and gone. At the risk of seeming to brag, I’ve got to say, they are ideal grandchildren. As teenagers, they are respectful, helpful, considerate, well-behaved, resourceful, full of insightful ideas and great conversationalists. And so, so full of energy. The constant rush to cram a lifetime of visits into a week took its toll on this grandmother. I’m exhausted.

But I’m also refreshed and feeling  a bit of new perspective nibbling at the back of my heel. Isn’t that an interesting place to experience inspiration — in the Achilles area? Now what could that mean? Obviously something about vulnerability . . . or maybe moving too slowly in the fast lane?  Is something “nipping at my heel”?

Another source of inspiration is coming from Dominique Browning’s book Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness, the memoir I’m chilling out with while waiting for a resurgence of energy so I can finish plans for my Writing for the Health of It class that begins a week from today. I’ll review the book when I’m finished, but two things stand out right now. First, she uses dialogue as a very occasional accent, like a splash of lemon-yellow against an olive background.

The other is one line that stands out like that splash of lemon-yellow: “What I have found, in these hours of sleeplessness, is something I may have encountered as a teenager, and then lost in the frantic skim through adulthood — the desire to nourish my soul.”

The “frantic skim” through adulthood . . . is it time to slow down? To “take the repeats” as she began doing and nourish my soul? Could be. What does that mean? For life in general and for my writing? These are juicy journal prompts, for sure!

New, or possibly revised, concepts are bubbling away in the dark. It may be a few more weeks before they begin to take form on the page, but the yeast is lively.

For the last few days, perhaps even the last few weeks, I’ve been teetering closer than I realized to the brink of despair. Yesterday I sat down, opened my file, and looked at the frayed end of my story, trying to pick up the thread again. After several minutes of feeling lost, I went to bed. This morning the story was the first thing I thought of as I awoke. Suddenly all the doubts that have been building in the dark exploded to life:

  • This isn’t working. It’s like randomly tossing loose jigsaw puzzle pieces on the table.
  • Nobody will bother reading this.
  • I’m boring myself.
  • Why am I wasting my time on this?

You get the idea. I had unwittingly allowed my inner guidance system to switch to the Critic Channel rather than my muse.

I had a full-fledged case of the doubts when less than a month ago I was exulting about the structure I’ve chosen that focuses on place rather than chronology. What knocked me off-path? Whence the doubts? Philosophical discussions! I’ve been listening to a few purists who include chronological order at the top of a checklist of criteria necessary for a manuscript to qualify as a “real” memoir.

I know better than to do that! On the very first day of every class I teach, I issue this passionate rejoinder: Don’t let anyone else tell you how to write. There are skills, there are components that make your writing easier to read and understand, but the way you tell your story is as personal as your fingerprint. Listen to that inner sense we all have of how to tell it. First and foremost, it MUST fit your sense of your life and your Truth.I get pretty worked up about that message.

I had lost sight of that fundamental Truth and as I woke up this morning I was actually considering abandoning the project — or at least scaling it back to a bland, gray chronological documentary.

Feeling the gravel slip from beneath my feet as I stood on the brink of despair, the student was ready. The teacher appeared. For reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with my writing project, I surfed over to Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonet’s Women’s Memoirs site. There I found a video post reconnecting me with Natalie Goldberg, one of my key sources of inspiration. In the video Matilda reminds viewers of the preference for reflecting rather than recounting that Natalie expresses in her most recent book, Old Friend from Far Away.

Bingo! That is exactly what I needed to hear. That is where I’ve been heading. Ten years ago I spent days researching the difference between memoir and autobiography. I came to understand then that reflection was the key difference. Memoir reflects, autobiography recounts. Reflection may follow a chronological path, but like memory, it may jump all over time and space. Yes, there are skills. Yes, scene is important. Yes, I do need to add some elements to help readers see the grid. I can do that! But only if I keep writing.

Thank you Natalie for the critical support, and thank you Matilda and Kendra for channeling that wisdom back to me at just the right moment. I am such a strong believer in “messages from the Universe,” and this is a very strong message.

Now it’s time to tell how I met my husband, one week after I graduated from high school. For decades I told people I met him exactly one week after I graduated, but recently I checked an online perpetual calendar and discovered that wasn’t quite true. I graduated on Monday and met him on Tuesday a week later. Today I went back to that calendar to verify the date of a party I threw shortly after that, and found a surprise.

The date, May 28, is red on the calendar, signifying a holiday. I blinked and looked again. I checked my diploma to verify the date. It appears that I graduated on Memorial Day, but in reality, aside from graduation it was business as usual that day. How could that be? I dimly recall a date change, so I checked Wikipedia. Sure enough, in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, moving Memorial Day from its traditional May30 date to the last Monday of May, thus ensuring a three-day weekend.

Is this level of detail useful for building tension or moving my story along? On the contrary. I think it would be a distraction. It’s a piece of fascinating trivia to admire and put back on the shelf. Online resources are fascinating and useful tools, but we have to know how to draw boundaries.

I did use the calendar to verify that our wedding was on the exact date of our first kiss. Isn’t that romantic?

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.

For the past couple of days I’ve felt out of sorts about this project. I’m writing. The words and pages are piling up, though not as fast as I’d like. But I’ve felt bogged down, like I was dragging something heavy on my feet, or maybe they were tangled in algae on the bottom of a pond. I’ve been indulging in the sort of behavior described in today’s Heart and Craft post. This afternoon A Voice snarled, “This has no interest to anyone but you, and maybe a couple of your grandkids. I know you won’t quit, but get done with it. You have real writing to do!”

Wow! That Voice is not one I’m familiar with. I haven’t heard that one before. It was definitely masculine. Unusual. Nobody specific that I know. I thought about it. There is some truth to it. Outwardly my early life was less than thrilling to hear about. The excitement was on the inside. Girl against emerging woman. Girl against perceived expectations of others. Girl against her own expectations.

There was another aspect to that message that totally puzzled me. The Voice knows me well enough to realize I will not drop this project. But I do not know what this real writing is. Woo woo!

Suddenly I felt overwhelmingly sleepy. Rather than fight it, or go for a cup of coffee (I’m decaffeinating for a few days, which is less oppressive than I anticipated — I still allow myself a couple of cups of tea) I headed upstairs and lay down for a nap. I fell instantly asleep, for about ten minutes, and had a firestorm of dreams. I don’t recall a single one, but they were intense. When I woke up, the storm was over and the sun shining — at least inside — Mother Nature is still weeping her eyes out beyond the window.

I’ve been writing topically, more or less chronologically within the topics. My dis-ease has centered on lack of vision about how to chop up the topics and reintegrate them. The answer is clear now. I won’t even try. I’ll stick with the topics, and probably devote a chapter to each. This is not a new idea, but I feel more settled about it.

This could all change. But the decision calms me for now, and restores my sense of flow.

They say we bring our problems on ourselves, or something like that. Was I so desperate to avoid writing last night that I trashed my computer? I decided to install the OpenOffice update that’s been nagging me for weeks. That shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes… It shouldn’t. It didn’t. What took more than the couple of minutes was the melt-down. The upgrade to 3.2 wouldn’t install. “No changes have been made to your system.”

They lied. Now 3.1 didn’t work. System Restore didn’t restore it, not even when I went back two weeks. Without OpenOffice on the laptop I’m using to work on this project, I’m dead in the water.

Morning came. I won’t bore you with details, but after googling (I’m making an aribtrary editorial decision that when used as a verb, google is not capitalized) the error message a couple of times to fine tune it, I found a trail to a Windows system file that was causing the problem and learned how to obtain permissions (this is truly arcane friends) to rename this file. That did the trick. The upgrade slid right in, in less than two minutes. Problem solved.

The bonus is that I now know how to get permission to do brain surgery on my ‘puter, and feel a certain euphoria for having solved the problem.

But my story is still not written. I’ll get there. I suppose in the account of this memoir writing process, the current event is a Tension Event.

There’s a lot to be said for writing by hand, on paper, with a pen or pencil. It may be faster in the end, when you factor in all the technical garbage and distractions we now deal with as part of the “modern” writing process.