The Meaning of Jewels in My Memoir, Jewels That Speak

In my blog, Revision X6?, I said I would talk a little about the meaning of jewels in my memoir. If I try to remember when I first began to make attachment to stones, it probably came from observing the mysterious luminous blue luster of my mother’s Georg Jensen moonstone ring from the time I was born.

My hands are short, my fingers a bit stubby, the kind you want to hide behind your back if someone stares at them too hard. My mother’s hands were elegant, her fingers long; they deserved to be looked at. As a very young child, when I was in close proximity to her, I liked to lie with my head on a pillow, my feet up in the air, my eyes on Mom, and play with her hands. The only ring she wore in those days was the moonstone, and like her hands, it was beautiful.

When I thought of different ways I could go about telling my story, I suddenly hit on the idea of revealing parts of my heritage through the personal and mystical meaning of jewels. That I care about jewel stones is something that anyone who knows me really well can concur. If I don’t ever wear a jewel stone I’ve been given, there is a definite reason for it. Jewels connect me to my past, my present, and future. They connect me to my father, my mother, my grandmothers, my famous great-grandfather (Louis Comfort Tiffany), and my even more famous great-great-grandfather (Charles Lewis Tiffany, the Tiffany of Tiffany and Co). Jewels remind me of the self I was in the past, and connect me to who I am today. Jewels gather meaning as time goes on.

Revision X6 of My Memoir, Jewels That Speak

I revealed in my first blog article–The beginning of my writing life–that it was editor Margaret Gable in her course at The New School in New York City who trained me to sit down and revise.

Long before I retired from teaching, I knew I wanted to tell my story in a memoir. Not everyone grows up in two different countries and has to quickly make up new character traits in order to fit into different cultures. Such jarring experiences occasionally produce the themes of great artists, like one of my favorites–Henry James. Not every bored ten-year-old goes up to the attic to rummage through suitcases and musty old boxes only to find pieces of the most beautiful colored shimmering glass the eye can behold.

Later I learned the pieces were remnants of the opalescent stained glass, Favrile glass, named and patented and used in his designs by Louis Comfort Tiffany. And who was he? No less than my father’s grandfather–my very own Great-Grandfather. Not every child has to take an ocean voyage on the Queen Mary during the 1957 boat strike to rejoin a father in London who had essentially left us–my mother and us five kids–in order to be closer to his mother, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, and her famous colleague and companion, Anna Freud. How did Grandmother and Anna Freud wield so much power? Not everyone is the daughter of a strong, handsome Norwegian mother who devised a plan to take us five kids to ski in the mountains of Norway and on arrival handed out backpacks bulging with all our food and other supplies to strap on our backs to cross-country to a remote hytte (cabin) with no running water, electricity, or toilet when not one of us had ever skied before. Not every girl learns how to attract men like flies to defer the pain of the loss of her father’s love. But everyone suffers losses, and has to be ingenious in learning how to combat them. We just all do it differently.

My Memoir–Jewels that Speak–began with the title scribbled on a page of a plan book in March 2007, when I was in the Ozarks with my husband Paul for my birthday weekend. Within six months, I produced a first draft. Editorial help from Laurie Wagner Buyer prompted me to write a second draft. Then, a third draft. Since then, the book has been in the hands of a New York editor, producing additional critiques, and inspiring additional revisions.

After a fifth round of critique from the Writers Group I blogged about last week–Feast for Seven Women–I have started another draft. Who said, “in revision the scissors are even more necessary than the pencil,” or some such thing? Sounds about right.

In another blog, I will talk about what the jewels mean in my memoir.