Heart of the Story

I step onto the trail. The snow has blown in and erased my path with drifts.  I know the path well.  Looking ahead of me I can tell which tree branch I usually duck under and which one always hits my arm.  I will recreate my trail.

As I leave the treed in area and head into the open prairie my foot steps hit resistance.  The snow is like creme brulee – a hard crusty surface with soft snow underneath.  I know this snow.  This is snow-fort snow.

It is a perfect day.  A warm wind, blue sky and the sun delights to see its reflection in the million glistening stars it creates in the snow around me. I plop down and begin cutting out blocks for a snow fort.

I am in a bit of a trance.  When I realize what I instinctively just did I feel a little silly. But hey, I cut some more blocks anyway remembering all the snow forts my friends and I use to make. I should include them in my story somewhere but wonder how to write about them.  Then I remember something else…

I turn the corner from the back alley to the street. I feel like I am gliding home.  Lynn is with me.  It is daylight and most likely afterschool.  As we turn the corner I see my house and then dad, with his snow scoop, shoveling snow.  He walks along the drive way filling his scoop with snow and then piles it up against the house.

I can remember the first time I asked dad why he piled snow up against the house.  I was small, maybe five years old.  He told me he did it to help insulate the house.  The snow piled up against the walls would keep us warmer.

“Like an igloo?” I asked.

“Yes, kind of like that.”  he said.

I remember thinking my dad was really smart for knowing that.  But now, in this second, as I turn the corner I don’t know if I feel proud or embarrassed about my uniqueness. None of my friends pile snow up along the outside walls of their houses.

I see Lynn’s expression and I wish we could be like everyone else. I don’t know what the small smile she wears means.  I don’t ask.  All I know is this is not the first time we have done something weird around her.  We are forever doing something my friends have never seen before.  She will still be my friend in the morning. Somehow this knowledge feels only half full, incomplete, not enough.

I stop cutting blocks of snow and just sit there.  My chest feels full.  Feelings of pride mixed in with shame surround me.  I gotta get back to the house and write this one down before I forget it or lose its passion.

In search for a meaning or plot to my story I wonder if my antagonist is my community, society in general, that tells me what I have isn’t enough.  I had no idea as a child that I was poor and without until society told me I was poor.  It was like I had no idea what that word even meant.

I may have found my theme:)

Diary of a Memoir Writer: Keeping A Routine

I have decided to experiment at keeping an online journal regarding my memoir writing process. It might be a weekly post. I will play around with it. Here it goes.

Writing for an hour each day, first thing in the morning, has worked for the most part this week. In this time frame I have been able to write about 1500 words, a little more, a little less. Depending on when I go to bed, I wake up at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. I have been doing quite well at remembering to bring my notebook, pen and reading-light to bed but I have forgotten and on those days I lay in bed procrastinating about getting up. There were a couple of days where I missed my goal.

One day I struggled to write. I felt compelled to journal and record some dreams first. Plus I slept in, waking up at 6 o’clock. I only had a half hour to purge memories onto the page. It was my intention to do another half hour of writing at bed time but it never happened.

Another night I put my three year old to sleep, falling asleep with her. Then I woke up at midnight and could not fall back asleep until 2pm. I couldn’t fall back asleep cause I was feeling guilty for not writing yet too tired to get out of bed.
I didn’t wake up until 7:30 in the morning which is when I start my day with my family. Too late to write. This day I wrote nothing but some blog posts.

There is part of me resisting trying to remember. There is part of me not wanting to remember. I ask myself why cause I do not have any disturbing memories to recollect. No abuse, no serious trauma. My house wasn’t burned down as a child or my parents didn’t die when I was young. No, nothing severe.

I guess trauma is in the eye of the beholder. Some things in my past must irritate me and want to be left alone but the only way to get rid of them forever is for me to pick them up, examine them, and see them for what they really are. Don’t let them hide in the shadows and presume I know what they are. Or worse yet, believe I KNOW what they are.

I feel a little lost as well, like I don’t remember anything throughout the day. I expected starting this journey that memories would start to flood my thoughts during the day. Instead I feel I am holding them back. Like there is a door I close when my hour of writing is done.

It is time for me to whip out my resources, get some writing prompts to stimulate my memories. My favourite ones are Legacy by Linda Spence and Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. I wonder why I am hiding my memories?

My first week was about establishing a routine as well as being aware about my mind holding myself back. Routine is the key. My first day I got out of me my worst memory and that was only because I wrote so early in the morning, when my brain was still asleep. I must keep up my routine of getting up early. I must. I must. I must.

Photos To Ignite Memory

Struggling to remember anything about my past I opened up one of my shoe boxes of photos.  I started running through them until one of them felt like it pulled at me.  It was almost like an ache, a string attached to my heart and it was being tugged.  I had to write what I was feeling.

This is the picture that tugged me.

Mom walking into my bedroom that I shared with my sister in Saskatoon.

“Mom was a mean and untrusting woman.  She didn’t cook for us or take care of us in anyway. There was no help from her for homework. She never folded our laundry. She never cleaned. We took care of ourselves. Scrounging for food where we could. Often stealing money from her coat pockets to be able to buy something to eat.  The strangest thing is that this was normal to me.  I never questioned it.  Although I did comment to my friends occasionally that ‘my mom would never do that’.

I became attached to my grade 8 teacher, Mrs. Didur.  She was my step-in-mother. She had no idea of this of course. At least not until I moved back to Rose Valley the summer after grade eight and I sent her a letter. I had wanted to keep in touch with her. She never replied. For the best really. She couldn’t fill those shoes that I needed filled. I was looking for someone that could be my mom. Only no one around me, older women that is, knew I needed a mother, that I needed a hug. I needed someone I could go to. I don’t think I even knew what was missing. But I know now what it would’ve meant to me to be hugged by a mother.”

That photo led to 3.5 pages of writing, about 800 words.  Using a photo to stimulate your memories can be powerful.

Here are some tools and tricks for examining old photos for inspiration.  It is taken from the book Writing as a Road to Self Discovery by Barry Lane.

  1. Find an old photograph.  Now Lane suggests in his book one of you as a child.  I say grab anything that ignites a spark inside you.  You really can not predict where it will lead you.
  2. Describe the photo with physical sensations as much as possible.  Write what you remember through your senses.  The feel of fabric, a smell in the air, the feeling of lips touching your lips … get in the moment.
  3. Ask yourself some questions.  For example:  What is in the background?  What is everyone wearing?  Where are your hands?
  4. Write from the point of view of you as a child experiencing that.  Sit back.  Relax and let yourself sink into the moment.  Take a thoughtshot.  “A thoughtshot is like a snapshot but focused on thoughts rather than sense perceptions.”
  5. Now take a thoughtshot of you in present day looking at the photograph.  Write a list of questions you have about the thoughtshot or the photograph or anything else that comes to mind.  Answer the questions that tugs you the most.

In addition Barry Lane suggests going deeper by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is your the tone of voice you write with as a child?  Scared?  Silly?  Curious? Angry?  Confused.
  2. What do you notice when you compare your child voice to your adult voice?

The Hardest Part

Walking up and having thoughts in my head, not really sure what they are but I know I want to write about my childhood.  Yet I can’t pull myself out of bed.  I don’t want to get up and remember.  It feels so hard.  It feels so challenging.  Yet I can’t shake this pressure, like so many memoiries trying to get out at once.  A mob.  I can’t distinquish one from the other.

I find my note book and pen.  The trick is to write it all out as fast as I can as soon as I get out of bed.  I don’t even go to the washroom unless it is immenent.  This is what I did.  I got up and let my memory flow from my mind through my pen.  After

Listening to this energy within me I pull myself from my warm bed into the chilly morning.  It is 2:30 in the morning.  I must write.  I find my note book and pen.  The trick is to write it all out as fast as I can as soon as I get out of bed.  I don’t even go to the washroom unless it is immenent.

This is what I did.  I got up and let my memory flow from my mind through my pen.  What falls out of me is one of my worst memories.  The memory of my mom, two of my sisters and myself driving away from my Dad as he stands in our drive way.  What was the heart breaking moment in this scene of my lfe?  Well, I didn’t understand why he didn’t wave good bye to me, us.  I sat in the backseat with two of my sisters.  I really didn’t know what was going on but I knew my Dad looked different.  He wasn’t acting the way he normally does.

April 1993
Dad is 69 years old and I am 17 years.

I felt that I was going to the city for an adventure.  I was excited.  We were coming back to visit.  Why would Dad find this trip different than the others?  Oh the mind of a naive twelve year old.  When I think back on myself I imagine me as a little girl but I was twelve.  Surely I should have had more comprehension than to think this was a holiday!

“My brother came to pick us up.  The car was loaded with our stuff.  Mom and David in the front seat and Eleanor, Melinda and I in the back.

“We backed out of the driveway and sat on the road for a moment. which was customary when someone leaves.  Whenever someone left there was a fit of waving and horn honking only this time was different.  I sat in the backseat, by the window closest to my dad standing on the driveway.  I wave but he just stands there.  I am not even sure he was watching us.  He was hunched over.  I couldn’t see his face.  He was looking down or away maybe?  I waited for him to wave back but he didn’t.  He always waved.  Why not now?

“Mom yells in the front seat, waving her hands like she is holding the reins of a horse carriage, “Go!  Go! Go!”  David stops waving and drives away.”

Excerpt from my writing

Writing Voice

Last week I did a speech at Toastmasters. It was my second speech. The goal of the speech was to have what you wanted to say organized. Get it to flow.

Nervousness consumed me. Not like before when I was working and had to public speak. This time it was different. I held the fear of putting myself  out there under a layer of something.  The fear felt muffled.  As I practiced my speech and reread it I felt I was never going to remember any of it. The fear of reading the speech and never making eye contact with the crowd filled me.

My first speech went much smoother. I wrote it the morning before I had to present it and it was about me. It was part of me. It didn’t take much to write it or feel comfortable with it although I was still nervous.  It was under the required time amount but when I got up to the podium I manage to be natural and add more content.  I enjoyed it very much and thought this second speech should go as smoothly.  It stemmed from my passion for memoir writing.  It was about the importance of a memoir, or reflecting on one’s life.

So what was different about the two speeches? One was from me about me. The other one was about my passion but I did use a lot of books to back up what I said versus the speech on me I didn’t need anything to back up my knowledge on the subject matter.  Since the words were not all my own it was difficult for me to feel comfortable with it.

This feeling is familiar to me.  I feel it often when I blog or when I feel the need to prove something to someone.  I am unable to find my own words so I turn to others who have said it for me.  I do this often, as does my husband, when we want to prove something to one another.

One of the kind criticisms I received at the end of my speech was that it sounded like I was writing to a publisher. The gentleman also commented that there was a lot of content in my speech and he felt that he would need to hear it more than once, several times, to hear everything I said.  He thought it was great but it was too full and it felt off.  (Those are my words not his.)

Compliments of Sunstone Creations

He suggested that writing for a speech may be different from writing for publisher as he put it. It needs to be more fun, natural, I need to feel comfortable up there at the podium.I pondered his suggestions for the next hour on my way home. My instinct is saying they should be the same.

I went to bed that night feeling as though the problem was in my writing voice. Perhaps it wasn’t very authentic in this second speech. Then curiosity bounced in joyfully.  I wondered about whether or not I was writing the right things on my blog. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing about how to write your memoir.  Perhaps I am a bit off my mark. If I am putting in too much effort on what I write then it isn’t flowing for me and then maybe it isn’t organic enough for me?  I wonder … or maybe I am doubting myself and I’m not saying it the way I want to say it?

I let the idea go and went on with my day but the idea of my authentic voice floated around and around in my mind. When I think back now I can recall being aware that my brain was churning it over.

Then the next morning, or maybe it was two days after, I woke up at 2:30 in the morning. Wide awake. I had a desire to start writing my childhood memoir. Now certainly the chill outside of my duvet kept me tucked within but there was an element of me just being lazy and not wanting to get up and sit down and write.

So I asked myself, why don’t I want to do the work?  The first two thoughts that followed were:

  1. Because it is going to be so much work not to mention the commitment to stay at it and the effort to  remember.  Drudging up memories can be good but also hard.
  2. I could approach my memoir-writing-how-to section on my blog by actually working on a memoir and writing about the process rather than referring backwards to the process I went through with Sunlight. Maybe this is a better technique to get to my authentic voice and say what I want to say while getting a another book written that has been on my mind.

Compliments of Sunstone Creations

So this is the beginning of a new technique.  I am going alter the posts “Memoir Writing:  Discover Your Life” posts by writing about my experience going through a current memoir writing process.  Trying and experimenting on finding my authentic voice in the written word.