What Am I Writing Now?

Here at our summer cabin in Wisconsin, where the morning hours are quiet and peaceful, I sit with my laptop and compose short stories that all deal—one way or another—with the trajectory of time on consciousness.

I came to the cabin with all my titles in a folder on my desktop. Things I had jotted down during the year when they popped into my head as I was completing my memoir.

In the wee hours, I study the list and see whether any energy resonates from the words to me, then back to the page. If something stirs in me, I start typing to see where it goes. If the story flows from the words in such a way that hours have passed and I think it’s only minutes, I am on to something.

Stories have unfolded from growth on stems to buds, to a little flowering in a way that seems right to me. In a week, I will gather up my flowering buds in my arms, carry them back to Lawrence, and lay them out in my study for examination.

This fall, I will change from a creator to an analytic technician, working with my stories to make the words more clear, to give them deeper meaning, working to have them resonate for a bigger audience than just myself.

Starting Up Again

We (my husband, my daughter and I) live on the academic calendar. KU’s spring semester began today. We are inching back into “our normal lives.” This is good for my writing because I can focus primarily on that. A retired teacher, I am used to an academic schedule. I am used to setting goals and meeting them. My present goal is to have Jewels that Speak in the editor’s hands in six weeks. In writing time, that can be very little time, or a lot of time depending where you are in the writing process and what kind of writing you are doing. Given what I mentioned in my last blog, The Scheme of Things, that’s not much time for me.

The clock ticks as I do some research. It tocks as I write a new paragraph, delete or change a word. It ticks as I re-read my manuscript, tocks as I blog about writing. Let me see, today is January 14th. The end of February is going to be here in a whoosh.

You might ask why my goal for completion is set for this date. It is an arbitrary goal set by me. It keeps my writing engine revved up and running at a steady pace. There are so many ideas I want to explore in writing. And, I believe in the value of finished products.

The Scheme of Things

For any writer out there struggling with the problem of creating two competing voices in the same memoir, this blog is for you.

Right now I am dealing with the uncertainty of how to keep the original narrative voice with its own naturally flowing arc in the book, while I at the same time include background information about some of the people in the memoir; this background information will help the reader come to a richer understanding of the behaviors and actions of these people and their effect on me.

I have tried various different methods to make this all come together. I don’t know yet, if the one I am trying will work. Presently, I am putting all background information as footnotes so that the information is there, but does not interrupt the voice of me as I grow up. However, as I do this, I realize that not everyone reads footnotes in size 8 font. Hence, my uncertainty.

These footnotes could also be done as sidebars, so the background information would be on the opposite page of the main narrative. The font could stay in size 12.
My husband Paul, who does academic writing, favors the sidebar approach.

To be honest, I’ve completed this method, have read it through, and I am thinking about it. I am listening to my own voice, but it has yet to give me an immediate answer as to whether this separation approach works, or whether the separation works better using footnotes or sidebars.

Beginning of My Writing Life

My writing life began when I sat down with a legal pad and a pencil at my desk facing the Delaware River ten months after my son was born and wrote the words: gifted, or just your average weirdo? I had just moved into a charming house on the water after ten years of living in NYC apartments. New mother, new house. But, restless with ideas shooting around in my brain. It had come to me the year before (when I was teaching at Hunter College Elem. School–NYC’s public school for gifted children) that I wanted to write a book about a gifted kid with identity problems. Here was my opportunity, squeezed in between breast feeding, diaper changing, and walking my baby in the park.

Six months later I had what I thought was a book, just sixty-seven pages. One of the first editors I sent it to was Dick Jackson (Judy Bloom’s editor) at Bradbury Press. In speaking of the main character he said, “I read Michael’s story with much sympathy for his plight.” In a follow up phone call, he added, “Your novella needs to be at least 110-120 pages.”

Oh, I can do that, I thought.

But, of course, nothing comes that easy.

Another editor suggested I attend Margaret Gable’s writing class at The New School in NYC. I put my Gifted, or Just Your Average Weirdo? book aside for the time being and began In-Between Summer at Old Black Point, a story for middle grades about a direct honest eleven year old tomboy confronted with feminine peer expectations. Her rock turns out to be her blind, deaf great-grandfather.

Each week with a new chapter typed up, I took the train into the city to attend Gable’s class. There were some wonderful writers in the group like Patricia Reilly Giff. And each week my chapter would come back with pages of single-spaced typed criticism on thin blue paper–concrete things to think about. Margaret Gable trained me to sit down and revise.

Many years, three more books, two children and a teaching career later……

Jewels that Speak is the memoir I wrote over the last three years since I retired from teaching. It addresses the most compelling conflicts and puzzling parts of my life that, simply must be heard.

A jewel can mean more than the enjoyment of dazzling sparks of light refracted through colorful minerals when it is given to you by a beloved in life, or is bequeathed to you after death. It can represent the thrill of romance, the horror of betrayal, or simply sister-love.

The hidden personal meanings of jewels is woven through my chronicle highlighting my passage from little girl growing up amongst powerful family names like Tiffany and Freud to a woman/teacher/writer/wife/mother in a self-created life.

I am presently working on a short light piece of narrative non-fiction.