Writing Memoirs

Great article on Memoir writing. Keep reading on Huffington Post to get to the great advice.

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memoir

9 Tips for Dealing with the Emotions When Writing a Memoir

Writing a memoir is much like going through your trunk of family treasures and keepsakes. At times the memories may be fuzzy, just like the ink on the pages of that 70-year-old journal your great-grandmother kept. Sometimes the memories may be painful, much like the ring your father gave you before he passed away. And sometimes the memories may be glorious, like the wedding dress you have stored safely, in hopes that your daughter may one day wear the family heirloom.

Due to the emotions that emerge in memoir writing, it is often necessary that the writer understand how to navigate and conquer the writing process, in spite of the added element of being taken for a ride on an emotional roller coaster each time one sits down to write. There are strategies writers can use to help ease…

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Next Steps . . . .

Whale tail

 

There are an infinite number of paths you can take in this lifetime. Let your life be open and vast like the ocean. While the way may seem unclear, waves create currents that will open up paths in the water. If you let the currents take you on a journey, you will be amazed by the possibilities. Stars reflect on the moonlit water, sprinkling the surface with crystals of hope when the way is murky and you are weary of waiting on the unknown. Have faith! The flame of sunrise will be there when you awaken.

How do you escape something imbedded so deeply you believe it’s a part of you?

dog and bacon      I am the dog waiting patiently for the hand that holds the bacon. Hunger lives in my bones. It pulses through me like a heartbeat pumping around all of my emptiness. It’s a black, squishy thing, like a worm that slowly eats you alive.

The worm came to me years ago and said, “I’m going to make you pay.”

I wanted to say no, but it didn’t care what I thought of the offer. Hunger was a get up and go kind of worm. It snuck in when I wasn’t looking and took up root before I had time to notice what was going on. Once I experienced its heaviness, I wanted to run away – just high tail it across a long field until I could shake that vile thing off of me.

How do you escape something imbedded so deeply you believe it’s a part of you?

Getting rid of hunger would feel like an amputation. I am afraid of losing limbs and hobbling along at an invalid’s pace. I do not want to press labels into my fur like unwanted name tags or become the focus of another man’s pity. So I sit with hunger and tell it jokes.

Sometimes we play games like where’s the hotdog, or crank call Dominoes Pizza. We order five pies with everything and send them to the abandoned house down the street.  The deliveryman always scratches his head as he slides out of his slightly dented purple Honda Fit.  He rings a doorbell no one will ever hear and stands on the lonely porch made of gravel and concrete. He counts the large stones that lead up to the chipped red door before walking away.

Hunger howls at the pizza man as he starts his car and drives over to the houses where the lights are on and someone will answer his call.  The howling deepens the ache in my bones and drives me to find yet another master who may or may not have the bacon I seek.

I’ll sit pretty for anyone if they hold out a scrap of food. I’ll even settle for one of those red globs that smells like bacon and tastes like play dough. Just hold it up and see what I’ll do. But no matter how many treats I eat, hunger always seems to have the upper hand, erecting great piles of rot fencing in the things I want most.

When the emptiness lingers like the last sip of wine coating the bottom of the glass, I wonder if I will do it differently next time. Part of me thinks I won’t, but who knows. Hunger has weakened with age and I’ve learned to run a little faster.

So I keep dreaming of that one-day field on the edge of town – the one where the grass is green and the soil underneath has just enough spring to keep you going. I imagine my paws pumping across that long stretch of packed earth and gaining so much speed that the worm loses its grip and plops into the weeds. In the dream I keep on running, even after my bones harden, the skyscrapers of emptiness tumble, and I feel the weight of my presence pressing against my skin.

There are only two correct answers to this question

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I live in an area where “how are you?” is the standard greeting. It’s what people say when they meet you on the street. It’s what they say in the checkout line at the supermarket. How are you? How are you? It rings in my ears like a song from the radio I ‘ve heard one too many times.

There are only two correct answers to this question –fine  and good. Sometimes people will tell you they are good, meaning well put together people with positive intentions. They will say this, even though it’s not grammatically correct. No one offers an, “excuse me miss, you should’ve given me a fine or well for that one.”

No, they’ll smile and nod, relieved that they can check you off the list, like the milk and eggs they carry on that wadded up grocery list.

Most people say they are fine. We believe this means that everything is ok. In fact, we want everything to be ok because otherwise, we’d have to have a real interaction.

Most people aren’t ready to delve into the other meaning of fine – f- -ked up, insecure, neurotic, and empty.

The clerk in the grocery store certainly doesn’t want to know if your mother passed away, or if you’re not sure whether the lights will be on when you get home, or if you’re worried about your crack addicted uncle who went missing after one too many benders.

It’s probably a good thing that the clerk doesn’t want to hear about all of the woes of each and every customer.  We’d never escape with that gallon of milk we just had to have with the cookies we planned to make. If the clerk had to care then we would have to care, which would mean we’d have to linger on the face of the broken-hearted clerk who hears every sob story out there while making seven twenty-five an hour.

We’d see how her eyes are heavy with too many restless nights, trying to sleep in the two bedroom apartment she shares with her best friend and that kid from the club who always says “it’s complicated,” but who never elaborates. He just falls asleep on the couch night after night, moaning in the dark while cars zoom by on the street below.

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If we saw all of that, then we would have to also see the homeless men and women on the street who stare ahead with blank eyes and rough, worn hands holding cardboard signs that tell a carefully crafted story that’s just left of fine, but not so far left as to make them unapproachable. They live on the fringes of what is visible. The stories they tell are usually tales of desperation peppered with desires for help and  either an “I can change,” or a “can do” attitude stamped across clothes that are meant to match the story. The jeans are clean enough, but not too tight or too baggy. The shirt is worn, but not a complete tatters.

None of the signs tell the real story. They never read, “I feel so worthless right now that this is the best I can do,” “This is the face of absolute desperation,”  or “This may look bad, but it’s safer than believing that things could be different and finding out it’s not true.”

Have you ever asked a homeless person how they are doing? I don’t mean asking in an awkward situation where they are looking for money and the only justifiable answer is the one that will elicit the most pity. I mean asking at a time when the person has enough and you are interested in hearing the real story. They may tell you all of the ways they are  just f.i.n.e. You may hear about how this situation is the result of generations of unworthiness, but sometimes you may also here that while life is tough, today is a good day. Perspective is everything. Sometimes a bit of loose change in a pocket, the promise of a warm bed, and full belly are enough. No matter what you here, the story will make the person more human, and as a result, you will become more human too.

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Being human would be so much better than flippantly asking “how are you doing?” with the same interest we would show regarding the color of your socks. Maybe that’s what I should start asking –“what color are your socks today?” I’ll ask it when I want to make small talk but don’t have time to be present enough to hear the real answer regarding how someone is doing.  It would take the pressure off having to be something you may or may not be for every person that you meet. You could be a white sock person, a brown sock person, or a person with no socks at all.

It would be simple, pure and so much better than feeling worried, scared, or sick and trying to put on a brave face that says everything is hunky dory, when all you want to say is

the world came crashing in today and I don’t have my bearings. I am all alone and not sure how I can make connections. I feel that at any minute I might fail completely and have to live with the disappointing eyes of my parents and friends weighing down my every step. 

It would be a relief to not ask the question “how are you doing?” unless you really wanted to know the answer and to not have to answer it unless the person asking was trustworthy and a good listener. We could stop saying we’re f.i.n.e and just say how we really feel. Occasionally we could even give ourselves permission to ask a stranger or brave an interaction with someone who feels marginalized and invisible and find out their story.

In the mean time, “what color are your socks today” is a nice alternative. It gives the responder the opportunity to take you on a journey of color, weave, and fabric or to simply say, white, black, or variegated purple with neon green cows and walk away without worrying about the story they need to tell themselves to keep “good” and “fine” from being a complete act of dissonance that crashes against their day.

Perspective is an opportunity to see the stars

February 4, 2014

The low hanging clouds blocked out the sunrise, causing the gray bark on the trees to shine. I am at a crossroads in grief. Three weeks ago today I witnessed my grandmother’s passing. This coming Saturday is the 17th anniversary of my brother’s death by suicide. His death will be old enough to consider what tux to wear to prom, and the excitement of slipping a corsage on his dates hand. His death is old enough to contemplate graduations and what the future will feel like. I wonder what his death will graduate from or to?

The low hanging clouds press into that grief, creating a heaviness that feels oppressive. Yet, as I sit on my mat today, I contemplate the present. It is not the day of my grandmother’s passing. It is not Saturday February 8, 1997, when my soul leapt from my body when I heard the words – he’s gone. It is not even this coming Saturday when my mind will be a flood of memories of what was coupled with the somber dance of what is. Today is Tuesday February 4th. I have a choice in what I see as I honor all that I feel. I can see the clouds above my head as oppressive, or I can see them as a stairway to the stars.

As I feel the breath circulating in and out of my lungs like a slow moving river, I listen to the cars that swish along the road below me and smile, wondering what stories I’ll tell when I climb that staircase.