November 20, 2012
Childhood years are dog years, each one equaling seven or eight or more, each moment pressed forever into cells, each cell making, remaking, shaping
who we are. Childhood lasts a lifetime, the child self never leaving, but merely taking on new shapes: a weak heart, a held back tongue, a ghost tapping on your shoulder.
As proof, I give you my eighty-eight year old aunt, ravaged
by Alzheimer’s. She can't remember that we just went shopping,
but tells me she is going to the movies with her friends.
“It’s alright,” she assures me. “Mama said it was okay.”
I used to travel to other worlds when I was a child,
And still travel through time and space,
pulled by the magnetic force of what came before. What is it
I left behind? What Holy Grail lies in that land still living
somewhere inside of me?
I am archaeologist, a dirt digger,
sifting with my pen through the ancient rubble.
Word by word,
piece by piece,
I piece myself together.
July 16, 2012
How do you begin to write?
Look for a sentence that interests you.
A sentence that might begin the piece.
Many sentences will try out.
One gets the part.
I love the playfulness here. By thinking of that first sentence as an audition, it takes the pressure off it having to be perfect right out of the box. And that gives me an opening to keep writing to the next sentence... and the next...
September 26, 2011
The things we feel called to write about in memoir are all different. True, a second grade teacher who makes a student feel dumb is not as terrible as an abusive parent. But does that mean it is any less worthy to write about? There was something about the incident with that teacher that made her remember, made her want to tell the story of how she stood up for herself, to not give in to forces that told her she was less than who she knew she was.
Her story was, in essence, the story of a survivor, a girl who survived with her sense of self-worth intact. It is exactly the same kind of story that survivors who have endured more horrific offenses write. A hero’s journey can take many forms. We cannot compare our lives to others. Nor should we. As Flannery O’Connor said, “Anyone who has survived childhood has enough material for the rest of her life.” Sometimes we forget what an amazing feat it is simply to have made it this far.
June 30, 2011
May 27, 2011
Unless we carry a non-stop tape recorder or video camera around with us our entire life, we cannot capture every single word or visual detail. What we can capture is the emotional truth, the reasons why a certain memory is important enough to retain over the years. The best we can do as memoirists is to convey an accurate representation of the life we remember as we remember it. The truth as we know it.
May 20, 2011
One of the best things about the retreat was meeting so many talented writers and artists. Just being in the company of such people is inspirational.
Just before I left, a novelist from Canada asked me if I would have time to write when I returned home. "Oh sure," I said, thinking with relief of the summer break ahead. But the truth is, time to write is often not the same as allowing yourself to write. And there are inevitably distractions: spring gardening to do, appointments for this and that, shopping, cooking, reading and of course, the dog-- always ready for a walk.
But the biggest permission I need to give myself is to simply write without caring about results. "Roll around in the mud," a deconstructionist author advised me at VCCA. "Allow yourself to get dirty."
So that's the task ahead...here in "The Real World."