Preparing to write a haphazard memoir
I had taken a week off work to write and for two days I procrastinated with fits and starts, but pretty much only produced the beginning of a poem regarding my mother and her life. Only a page and a third so far! Inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ I used interesting language and it was all going well when I just stopped. I just wasn’t feeling it.
Then I got sidetracked by music, t.v., the internet and naps. When I went back to it – it wasn’t there. Not so much writer’s block – I just didn’t feel it. The thoughts of delving back into her life seemed unappetizing. I’m not sure if it’s the guilt of being so far away from her and my family or fear of the painful memories.
I keep oscillating between projects, genres and formats, not being able to make up my mind. I’m very good at making lists and organizing my writing. I have spreadsheets and notes that make it very clear as to what is to be written and how. The hard part is actually sitting down and writing them out – fleshing them out.
It takes me so long to finally pick a genre that by the time I’ve decided what to write, I sit down and instantly find myself dissatisfied with my choice and end up staring at a blank page. Again, it’s not necessarily writer’s block. There’s an unsettling feeling that it might not work or that I’ve made a wrong decision in terms of format or topic.
Then I think about not writing in long hand whilst sitting on the couch and ponder writing at my computer. The issue with my shoulder freezing stops that idea in it’s tracks, so I think about going to my other desk that looks out over our lovely back yard. But then I’d spend too much time gazing out the window daydreaming and the cats would want to join in and disrupt everything.
It seems like I’m making excuses but in truth I lack the discipline, because I don’t do it enough. I’m great at planning but doing is another thing entirely. I know that usually once I get into it, pages start flying and I’m in the zone. I can meet publishers deadlines. I have had articles published in three of Llewellyn’s Almanacs and every time I submitted my writing way before the deadline, without any need of revision, I’m proud to say.
But that was then, this is now, as it’s more personal as I’m attempting to write a very personal memoir. (What memoir isn’t personal!?) Part of the problem is censoring as I go. I can’t help it. I can feel my family peering over my shoulders. I find my eyes wandering up the page, making mental notes or crossing out what I’ve written, revising and mutilating.
I remember the Beats – particularly Kerouac saying something about rewriting being censorship and to go with your original, raw and true thought. I guess I’m a little more like Ginsberg (Oh how I wish!) in that, although the idea of not censoring is delicious, it seems sloppy and messy. Then I hear Burroughs say ‘Exterminate all rational thought’ and I’m back at square one!
I’ve been working on a non fiction self help book (yawn!) for the past few years. It started out with the idea of life mapping, using techniques such as self analysis, ritual, dream interpretation and researching your background through the trials and tribulations of your parents and what they brought to the table – in terms of psychological influences, parenting skills (or lack thereof), experiences, events, backgrounds, circumstances and so on.
I’ve got it all worked out re: synopsis, sample chapters, permissions and citations, research, formats etc. But I just can’t seem to get back into it. Ever since I received feedback from Urbis (a writing site that disappeared without so much as a ‘thank your mother for the rabbits’!) – I’ve been stuck. Mind you, the feedback was constructive, important and relevant (and so terribly obvious that I was disgusted for not thinking of it myself).
The advice was – why don’t you use yourself as a case study? Readers like to know that the writer knows something about the subject because they’ve experienced it, or in that book’s case – that the writer has gone through the steps put forth. I had thought that I could get away with using other people as case studies – namely Jack Kerouac and Vali Myers.
I was such an idiot. How could I have laid out an action plan for others to follow when I hadn’t tested it out on myself? How could I claim that my processes worked if I hadn’t gone through them myself? (Even though I had dabbled in ritual, dream interpretation etc – I hadn’t done so in the formalized way that my book was suggesting.)
Then I realized that I had the daunting task of ‘unraveling’ myself and my history. How horrible to relive the experiences I’ve been hiding from my whole life. How laborious to wade through all the crap that bubbles under the surface of my shining, smiling facade! People have always told me that I seem perpetually happy and content; that I’m helpful, kind, dependable – almost zen like. Hilarious! Made me want to punch them in the face.
I’v always been viewed as carefree, strong and capable. Not so hilarious. Every time someone told me so, the anger started rising in my throat. I should have been thankful that others viewed me in such a positive light. But that’s always been the problem. It suited them to do so. It was in their best interests to think of me like that – then they could keep heaping it on me! I would be stoic and brave and they could continue to lean on me, depend on me to be there for them.
Woe betide me if I ever leaned back. I was supposed to be strong. I was told to snap out of it and keep everything kicking along. Or they’d make excuses and hasty retreats, not contacting me again until the storm had passed. When I failed, let things go, became a mess – their anger knew no bounds. I was never allowed to be anything less than strong, capable, dependable.
Digging up all those memories and repressed feelings seemed akin to letting the zombies run wild! I wondered if I could still keep it all together whilst recording all that flotsam and jetsam. Just writing those previous paragraphs had me gnashing my teeth, fighting back tears and wanting to punch my teddy bears!
Mind you, it wasn’t all that bad. Like most people, I’ve had just as many good things happen to and around me, if not more. It’s just the concept of unearthing everything, warts and all, at the same time trying to maintain order, that boggles my mind. Then of course, there’s the guilt of hanging out dirty laundry. (An old boyfriend told me once that I was more Catholic than him, when it came to guilt – and I’m not Catholic!).
Writers have to deal with the guilt of hanging out the dirty laundry, in the most skillful way, however – in one sense, no-one owns events, or has control over your emotions or memories of those events. The trick is to try to be reasonable and philosophical.
(To be continued)