Writing

Film Reel Rolling Backward

A celluloid life

is easier

Splice and mend

cut out the mistakes

Erase the grief

 

The year I spent fucking my way across Europe

Sam & Dave spilled out over pirate airwaves

off the Isle of Man

 

Possibly that

could be discarded

Culls for the cutting room floor.

 

I was Mustang Sally

doing desperado sex,

on-the-run-no-questions-asked sex.

unprotected sex

In a time of free love

 

What I needed

most

was comfort

Relief from the pain

 

Cut and splice

his death

so shattering it could have been my own

So young

 

But we cannot roll back the film

We go on

All those mistakes

make us who we are

 

[Scintilla Project prompt, day 10: 1. Sometimes we wish we could hit the rewind button. Talk about an experience that you would do over if you could. If you would like to sign up for this storytelling fortnight, click here, or on the icon in the right menu. It’s Scintilla. It pushes your boundaries.]

No Turning Back

Scintilla #7– What have been the event horizons of your life – the moments from which there is no turning back?

no turn backThere are times in our life when we stand at an intersection and more often than not it requires hindsight to know we were even there. Yogi Bera once said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it,” and perhaps that is the best possible advice. Either way, whatever decision we make will irrevocably affect our lives going forward.

And that hot day in June when my husband said to our lawyer, “Yes. Close his easement,”  it unleashed a series of events that would irrevocably change my life.

It might have been the air conditioner blowing a chilly wind that made me shudder, but it might have been that second sense I developed after years of working the emergency room, that second sense that tells us we ought to proceed with caution.

Whatever else I have learned from what followed, one thing is certain. The next time I am tempted to aggressively engage others in any grand design to make things better or to avoid loss and destruction, I will remember that pivotal moment in the lawyer’s office. Because to win sometimes we lose more than we gain.

What made us think, expatriates in another country, we knew enough or understood enough, to enter into a legal battle over an easement?

I do not know the answer to that. but my husband was convinced he would rather fight than give in to neighbors traipsing across our land.

[This is an excerpt from a memoir. Thanks to the fine people over at The Scintilla Project, I edited this little passage, the moment where there was no turning back.]

If you’d like to take part, follow this link or click on their icon in the right-hand menu.  It’s fun. It’s Scintilla- a fortnight of storytelling.

Thoughts On Memoir and Angles of Repose

Angle of Repose

Finding the angle of repose, that easy place where story flows

is no easy task.

First, pour your heart out on the page

until a pile forms— sufficient text for a memoir, say.

(Example: if the memoir has 360 pages, write M=360)

Using a life span and brutal honesty, measure the amount of truth versus myth you have created, and divide M by half (most probably).

M ÷ 2 = 180

Edit and rewrite to create that desired book-length document.

Remember, the steeper the slope the more likely the pile is to slough off, slipping until…eventually we find that angle

where the story stands and the truth prevails.

WNFIN, Dredging Up the Past, and Baking Literary Cakes

 

“Writing or making anything—a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake—has self-respect in it. You’re working. You’re trying. You’re not lying down on the ground, having given up.”

~ Sharon Olds

 

UnderwoodNo5I have never done NaNo before, the national novel writing challenge that encourages people to write a novel in a month. I’d poo-poo’d it in the past, thinking it was not applicable to nonfiction, but then I ran across Nina Amir‘s website and facebook page, Writing Nonfiction in November (WNFIN). I decided to give it a try.

Right off the bat I will tell you that I failed to gain the requisite 50,000 word count that NaNo sets as a pass/ fail benchmark, but I succeeded in so many other ways.

An idea for a memoir has been with me for some time now. It niggles at me and I’ve poked around its edges and written about it in essays and journals over the years. Mostly I have day-dreamt  but this month I set about really exploring it.

Before the month began I used  Scrivener to lay out a series of scenes that I could remember from the timeframe I would be writing about. And, by the way, if you don’t know about Scrivener, do find out. It is far and away the best writing program on the market. Anyway, once I had the scenes, I made notes about each one so I had a vague roadmap to guide me along the way.

And then__BANG!__ The gun sounded on November first, and I was off for 30-straight days of writing.

The interesting and unanticipated thing that happened to me with this memoir, is what I thought it was about is not necessarily what it really is about. As I wrote, one thought would jar another, and I found myself adding  unexpected scenes to my project. Not to say that the scenes I had were not relevant, just that there was another story wanting to surface.

Not long after this revelation, I ran across a wonderful Paris Review interview with Mary Karr, poet and author of Liar’s ClubCherry, and Lit. In the interview Karr talks about how it took her so long to uncover the real conflict in Lit while she was writing it.

 “A book is never about what I think going in. At first I thought it was about romances I’d had, and it just wasn’t. I kept being drawn to material that focused on my separating from my mother and reconnecting with her—the psychological implications of that. But I couldn’t imagine writing a therapy book. It just felt so Pat Conroy, very Prince of Tides.

 “It was about being Odysseus—having to leave home to find home. It’s about making peace with Mother to become a mother.”

My point, exactly. She also said that nothing is wasted and not to be afraid to throw it all out (or in my case put it in a file I call “unused scenes”) and start over or with a new angle.

Being so thoroughly engrossed in those years for a month was hard—it was not the easiest time in my life—and there were days when I could not face it.

Here is where I think writing memoir, and writing, say, a novel, are different for a 30-day challenge. The emotional strain of reviewing those years was a ghostly affair, and the longer I spent with those emotions inside my head, the more I relived the psychological aspects of that time. I found it paid to take time off from it so I could look back with an objective eye. Or, to quote Michael Martone, “The memoir’s problem is that it needs to find, to narrate a kind of death in order to make sense of life. I think of it, the constructed death, as a parentheses, an artificial parentheses, that the writer must draw around a life, or this part of life, to be able to stand outside of it and see it for what it is and isn’t.” This may be the hardest, and the thing that will require the craft of rewriting until it is right.

At one point I found myself asking in frustration, How can a person possibly practice Zen and write memoir? They are antithetical. The answer I came up with was to delve in but give myself frequent breaks. Oddly, it was in those breaks that new memories would pop up. I began carrying my iPhone everywhere so I could dictate a scene I’d remembered.

It’s hard work, is what it is.

So, I ended up with 30,000 words, more than I had when I started the project. I know that I am a lean writer, not a wordy writer, so I feel there is a bony skeleton now on which to hang the meat of this memoir. I found threads that I hadn’t noticed before, and gathered up material for a work in progress. And a work in progress is what it is.

I never expected to complete a manuscript in thirty days, but I learned a lot about myself and I certainly learned a lot about what this memoir wants to be about.

Oh, and there’s no law preventing me from continuing this project in December…

 

 

Essay is Live at Blue Lyra Review

Blue Lyra Review

“The words a father speaks to his children in the privacy of the home are not overheard at the time, but, as in whispering galleries, they will be clearly heard at the end and by posterity.” -Jean Paul Richter, writer (1763-1825)

 

I am happy to announce that my short nonfiction essay, Death Comes Calling, is now live at Blue Lyra Review. This is an inaugural issue and I share space with many fine poets and writers including Marge Piercy, one of my all-time favorite poets. Many thanks to the wonderful editors over there; Matthew Silverman and Adrienne Ross, you rock! This is especially bitter-sweet as I wrote this essay shortly after my father passed away this past April. It is nice to see something positive come from something so sad.