What am I doing here? Why am I waking up at 5:30am, reading all of these books on writing – how to write, when to write, what to write, etc. Do I need to write about the weather? The landscape? Is that what this memoir will encompass? I’ll tell you about the weather where I’ve been – for the most part it’s approximately 71 degrees in my house where I’ve spent the majority of my time because I’m either too busy or too embarrassed to bring my kids anywhere, or it’s 74 degrees in my car when I’m shuttling my kids to therapies or doctors appointments, or it’s 66 degrees in the hospitals where it feels like I spent the first two years of Owen’s life (though I know it was only two weeks plus a bunch of appointments each week after that…). So there. As for the landscape, well, I don’t really give a shit and I assume my readers won’t either.
It is incredibly confusing to be living a memoir while in the midst of writing it… I know that some people have done this – Dani Shapiro’s Novel Devotion (which I’m reading currently) takes place while she’s on a search for spiritual fulfillment and enlightenment. But just about everyone else I know or I’ve read (barring Anne Lamott’s journal-style memoir Operating Instructions), is talking about things in their past. Anne Fadiman, Claire Bidwell Smith, Jeannette Walls, my friend Jenny Feldon (whose memoir is coming out next month), etc. These women have lived their memoirs – past tense. They have the had at least a modicum of distance between themselves and their events. My events are still unfolding – with Owen, with Parker, with my mother, with myself. Will that enrich or muddy my words?
I am learning though – that chapter on tense in Handling the Truth was fantastic for me. It didn’t tell me which tense I should be using – again, I think the fact that I am living this while I am writing about it makes a difference – but it did allow me to give myself some sort of permission to write my story in different tenses if and where applicable. Some things I’m writing about are more dramatic when told in past tense – from a distance. But some aspects of the story I am still living, I am still struggling with today as they unfold – and that can be very powerful when told in first person.
And there is something that many people – the first to be a writer friend Allison Slater Tate – have told me that has lingered in the back of my mind… Am I ready to write this story now? Has enough of it unfolded? Has there been enough time yet? Beth Kephart wrote in the current memoirist’s tome that I’m reading right now, “If we don’t know what we love – if we’re not yet capable of it; if we’re stuck in a stingy, fisted-up place; if we’re still too angry to name the color of the sun – it is probably too soon to start the sorting and stacking and shaping that is memoir.”
Angry in general, or angry about the specific and/or main subject of the memoir? Because I am still pretty fucking angry – but not about Owen anymore. I think (maybe?) I have moved onto acceptance about Owen. I don’t know what the five (seven? sixteen?) stages of grief are, but I know I no longer ask “Why him?” or “Why me?” or Why us?”. I have realized that it just doesn’t matter why. The question has no bearing on what actually is and that’s where we are. So that’s where I start from. I am here, and asking “Why?” takes you back there. I don’t have time to look over my shoulder right now – it is too hard to move forwards while looking back.
But I am still angry about my parents – about my mother and my childhood and my adulthood – I am still angry and sad and resentful. And that is part of this story too. My childhood and my parenting must be intertwined as they are for all mothers and fathers. And I do worry that it will cloud my judgement. I am still grieving my childhood and the relationship I never got to have with my mother. I am still angry for the hole I had to claw my way out of and still occasionally feel myself slipping back into.
I don’t want to write a book coming from a place of resentment and anger – I do not want this to be a tool used to avenge the little girl that I used to be. It’s is tempting, as all revenge fantasies are, but it will never come out the way I want it to. There is a difference between telling the truth so the full context of a story can be told, and telling it for the sake of “sticking it to them”. Of course I go through times when there is nothing more I would like to do than to expose all of my mother’s manipulations and lies and abuse to the world – to make her “pay” for what she has done to me – but to what end? Anyone that knows her knows those truths already, and will this book be as rich if it is coming from a place of anger and resentment?
I need to get to a place emotionally, where I can let go – where I can push those emotions far enough away that I can write this clearly. I need to let all of this go like when you release a balloon into the sky and watch it become smaller and smaller as it drifts further away from you, until it is a speck of color…and then nothing.
Where can I get such a balloon? I’m pretty sure they don’t sell those at Party City.