writing my memoir

If I were going to write a memoir, that’s what I’d call it and then subtitle it with – Lather, Rinse and Repeat.

I bring this up for two reasons.

The first is that my blog reader is crammed with Eat, Pray, Love crap as the Julia Roberts adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is opening or has opened.

The reviews are mostly “meh”. No surprise. The novel itself isn’t much. One review pronounced it too “talk-y” as in the character constantly describes how she feels and her observations about every freaking thing. As if a movie about a writer documenting her journey to enlightenment should be somehow more visual than word-packed.

My favorite review so far was written by Helena Andrews at The Root. It took up the theme of Gilbert’s book and named it “white girl problems”. Couldn’t have found a better genre for it.

White girl problems are essentially the non-issues the pale and the privileged focus on in the absence of actual adversity.

When I attempted to read Eat, Pray, Love, Will was just going into hospice. A book by a woman bemoaning her serial monogamy – that horrid pretty girl issue of having always been someone’s girlfriend or wife – while I was losing the only man I’d ever had a long-term relationship with in my entire 41 years didn’t go over well.

Sucks to be her, I mentally eye-rolled as I put the book on a shelf never to be cracked open again until I decided that some of her syrupy half-wit might be useful when I was writing comps for my education masters about six months later. I knew Gilbert was a poser but my professor didn’t.

Andrews though draws this awesome comparison between “white girl problems” lit/memoirs and a line from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. There is a scene where the Mad Hatter observes that in the real world, Alice has lost her “muchness”.

“You were much more … muchier.”

White girls in the real world then are searching for their muchness.

Gilbert’s muchness turned out to be the exact thing she thought was her problem – love and being in a relationship – because her journey ends when she meets the man she is now married to.

So much for issues.

Which brings me to my second reason, and it is related to the loss of muchness. My memoir. The one that’s pretty much written and is screaming to be edited and shopped.

I can’t.

I know. I have been saying that for a while now, but I am sure of the reason behind my reluctance. And it goes beyond my belief that books about overcoming tragedy by being plucky, witty and boot-strappy are so common place that they’ve become clichés onto themselves.

Rob followed a link to a widow blog and the author was describing her experiences at a Blogher style convention for widows complete with keynote speakers, author panels and how-to workshops. A couple of her encounters with people who’d mined literature from their experiences and turned them into books and/or workshops had left her feeling removed and as though she was possibly doing widowhood and grieving wrong.

And then I knew why I haven’t finished my memoir.

I can’t give people their muchness back. I could write a memoir, package it and sell it out of workshops and conventions, but a person’s muchness comes from within not from without.

I felt/still feel sometimes as though I didn’t do widowhood right. The way I felt, and the things I needed to do for myself, were often so out of step with other widows, books on grieving and even memoirs of widows that I wondered how I could be so far out in the weeds when everyone else seemed to know where the paved road was.

I can’t do that to someone else. Lead them to believe – even inadvertently – that I know the way.

Especially since I really don’t believe there is a process to grief or a one size fits all way to navigate the first year or that the whole honoring of someone’s memory should even be numbered in the top twenty of a person’s priority list.

The blogger mentioned how pleased some of the authors seemed with themselves, their lives and this opportunity to basically headline a conference. And I can totally understand her and them.

It’s amazing when people read what you’ve written and tell you it meant something to them. It would be easy to let that dominate and forget that the subject matter makes you more responsible to your readers than that of a fiction writer.

If what I write inspires someone, wow, but if it makes someone feel inadequate, wrong, or persecuted by the fates? Ouch. It would bother me the same way that the kid in my 3rd hour English class who’d given up because he’d never gotten a grade above a D used to bother me. Even though that wasn’t really my fault, I had to fix it. It was my job.

Memoirists open their lives for reasons that are far different from that of a fiction writer. It’s more than telling a good story. My story and opinions as a blueprint for grieving would be a responsibility like the one I took on as a teacher. And it would mean never fully closing the door. The pain would always have access of sorts to my now. A liberty that it doesn’t deserve and that I don’t owe it.

Besides, I’ve written my story – here and in a hundred different places all over the webosphere via comments and guest posts.

Purge, Pack and Move would be an awesome title though.  Sigh.

I am rewriting the beginning of the memoir. I think I mentioned that a while ago. The drafting went like a field afire after a summer drought, but despite the length (10,000 plus words) it was bones only. After letting Rob read it, I am fleshing it out. Slowly. Not that the words come slowly but the memories are far clearer than they have ever been and they compete viciously with the emotions that saturate them. The word count will easily have doubled by the time I am finished – next week sometime with luck – and then I have to meld it to the original.

I am excited about it. Really. Because it finally looks and sounds the way I have envisioned it all along. But, the scope sometimes pulls me up short. Feelings are going to be a bit raw when people read about incidents that went on that I never shared or when they discover my true feelings concerning events that involved them. I have wrestled with this from the moment I decided I would write about my experience and me and Rob. I still haven’t worked it out completely.

Memoir is a subjective form of storytelling. And it is the telling of a story. The story happens to be true, but it’s a limited viewpoint and one that is faulty unless the author happens to be omniscient and even the bible lacks the all knowing third person.

One thing I noticed as I have gone about the business of living these last six years is that nearly everyone I had contact with had no problem foisting their interpretation of circumstances on me and expecting me to agree with them regardless of the veracity, so I have decided to proceed and write it the way I recall it and show how I felt. It might not match up with others’ recollections. So be it. The beauty about memoir is that everyone has a life and they are welcome to write about it from their own point of view. As long as one isn’t trying to settle scores or be cruel, and recognizes that it may result in some “splaining”, memoir is a good way to maintain the tradition of personal/family oral histories that help us to know and understand one another.

Six years. It was six years this past summer. Even digging up the events that led to Will’s being diagnosed weren’t enough to bridge that span for me entirely. He is so long gone, and the person I was disappeared along with him. The interesting thing? I don’t miss her.

My NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words was reached and slightly surpassed this morning at 50,197 words, and I am only at Idaho Falls. This despite a rather annoying interruption early last week the resolution of which still continues to elude me.


At breakfast this morning, Rob related an article at The Zoo about Joe the Plumber. Seems he has a book deal. Seriously? Well, if that is the case – who can’t get published these days? Certainly improves my odds, don’t you think? Read Full Article

I hit 40,301 words into NaNoWriMo and my memoir Sunday evening. The plan is to hit 50,000 by Friday or Saturday and the full 79,000 – my own goal – by December 11th, my birthday. I write between 1400 and 2000 words a day, so I am confident.

I also made the decision to supplement the story-telling aspect with actual emails between Rob and I and IM sessions too. I mined old posts from the babycenter group and the soap opera message board I was a part of through the bulk of Will’s illness up through widowhood as a means of dating and clarifying events. I have been re-reading a lot of my own history in my own words and it has been, uh, interesting, looking back at who I was and how I got here.

There is going to be some rewriting. Early in the memoir I tried to be vague about people and events, especially with in-laws and the widow board, but as I wrote I realized that I can’t make sense of the storyline if I leave things out to spare myself and others embarrassment. I am reminded again of the advice I received on writing this memoir in the first place,

“Tell the story, big and messy.”

So, the incident with Rob’s widow board stalker is in. Fortunately she is no longer a reader of my blog. I think once I left the widow board most of the people there stopped reading and forgot all about me. And I wrote, though not in graphic detail, about my horrific attempts with dating prior to Rob. No real names naturally; it is good thing that I was already in the habit of nicknaming men. I haven’t known a single man who was nameable and the great thing about the Internet is that people conveniently re-christen themselves or are so predictable that their new names jump right off the screen at you.

For example, Rob’s stalker had the cutesy-poo habit of “decorating” her posts with flash graphics of the hearts, flowers and fluffy animals genre. We called her The Hallmark Lady for a long time, although she’s recently been downgraded to Mullet Woman.  My fault totally and I should be ashamed.

Most nicknames are pedestrian, however, and denote occupation or a physical characteristic of equally mundane origin. I don’t spend too much time bestowing monikers, but for purposes of telling a tiny portion of my life’s journey, I guess it’s a good thing I have bothered even a little.

I am also pretty honest about the mother-in-law but without being mean – at least I hope I am not coming off as vindictive. I feel more sorry for Will’s mother than anything else. But it’s hard for me to illustrate just what why I reacted to some things the way that I did without using examples and, even in a memoir, ya gotta show at least as much as you tell. MIL is not someone I would ever have chosen to share a stage with but she is a cast member who has to be acknowledged.

Rob raised an eyebrow – both actually – when I told him I was using our correspondence.

“All of it?”

“Well, no. Some stuff is private.”

The look I got was indicting, and rightfully so, because I have a long track record of indiscretion where writing about my life is concerned. Needless to say, Rob gets to read the manuscript before anyone else, and I doubt I will be looking for other beta reads before February anyway.  But I really want a good, shoppable draft done by April 1st, so I will need to find additional readers other than my husband.

November to April is a good six months from start to finish. I would give myself longer with a fiction novel but my life is really already written up to the current day, so I can’t say that more time would make it more interesting. It is what it is.

I started my memoir last weekend. I suppose one could say that as a blogger I have been writing the story of my life for over two years now, but as my husband helpfully pointed out no one but a handful of regular readers really cares.

“I don’t get this memoir writing thing,” he said. “Aren’t autobiographies reserved for the people who actually counted in the larger historical context?”

And he is right in a way. John Adams got a biography and an HBO mini-series out of his life because he was a founding father and a president. His life mattered. But before he was anything more than a gleam in the Democrat parties’ eye, President-elect Obama had written two books about himself, and the reason that he could do that he owes to the memoir. Read Full Article

I am far behind on my blog reading, so if you haven’t seen a comment from me this week I am reading and trying to catch up. 

Amazing how things accumulate in the “To Do” box even on short holidays. More amazing when one considers that as a writer who only really answers to herself (after husband and child’s care and feeding is seen to), I don’t really have to do anything, but I set myself tasks and feel sloth-like when they remain unaccomplished (or even begun) after a certain amount of time has passed.

First thing is that you may have noticed I didn’t post last weekend. Unless armageddon shows its four ugly faces (and I have it on good authority that won’t be until 2012) or Rob and I win the lottery (we don’t buy tickets, so this one is a long, long shot) or a woman is elected president of the United States (when hell freezes over folks), I will not be posting blog pieces on the weekend anymore. My blog stats tell me that the majority of you have lives and don’t stop by anyway, and it was just getting to be a bit more than I could handle. 

Next item is that I will be messing with the blogrolls yet again. Adding and deleting. I think it is time to review sites again too, so if I haven’t reviewed you or you aren’t on the roll. Let me know soon.

Moving on to personal writing issues, I began my memoir over the holiday. In longhand no less. At the suggestion of another writer, I have reconsidered fictionalizing my life. After all, most of it is barely believable biographically and going the fiction route was proving to be more biography than imagination anyway. 

One of the problems I have with long writing pieces is just keeping it up. I have dozens of stories in various stages of completion. I am such a scatterbrain that I get a great start and then another idea pops up and before you know it, there are too many of the little buggers screaming at me from the Word files for attention. My summer project is to finish off the more promising, but I will also be writing the memoir.

To keep me honest, I am toying with the idea of publishing a sort excerpt from the memoir the last Friday of every month. That way I can get feedback and instant gratification to keep me moving forward, and you can…….read it or not, I guess. What do you think?

At present I am shooting for a mere 300 words a day though I have gone over every time I set down to write. I am just writing, seeing where it will take me. 300 words a day is a novel in a year. I read that in Oprah, so it must be true.

In the meantime, I have another piece up over at Moms Speak Up. I am incensed about the whole media downplay of gender issues and sexism in America. I am sure that hasn’t escaped any of my regulars attention. I am also bit tired of being told that it’s not a big deal. Just because we are shielded by our middle-class existences from its full force is not a good enough reason to dismiss it completely.

Because I am also a bit behind in blog topics, I will be posting again before the day is over.

Thanks to all of you who check in and read, here or over at MSU and a Happy Memorial Day Weekend to all of you down in the lower 48.