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.
In my second blog article, Three Steps to Creativity, I said about step 3, which relates to lesson 3:
The word DESIGN fascinates me. Like the Kindergartener building a fort, the designer joins his imagination and knowledge to create something for himself, but that others can see and use. “I designed an energy efficient city,” an eighth grader said. I designed the set for a play,” a ninth grader said. How can the designers ever forget how they have used their minds, if the process to get to product was so energizing, so thrilling? The designers also had to deal with ideas that did not work, before they came up with the ones that did. They learned to handle frustration because they were invested in “seeing” their product, and having others “see” it. Have you ever watched a kid build a structure from blocks only to knock it down, and start all over again?
Lesson 3: Understand your failures build your success.
After using all your energy and resources, take a break.
With my memoir, Jewels that Speak, I am now the writer (designer) struggling with questions of “ideas that might not work” to make sure they do work, “invested in seeing my product and having others ‘see’ it”.
Eventually, I’ll also get a break.
Besides my own, which voices should I listen to as I rewrite my memoir? The New York editor gave me important things to consider in revision, Laurie Wagner Buyer told me what she liked about the memoir and offered editorial suggestions, an agent gave me a critique, my husband Paul weighs in over each draft, my adult children listen to snippets here and there and give me their thoughts, my cousin Dorothy listens over the phone. I have also been given feedback from my writing group at the lake, the two young KU MFA’s I mentioned in my blog Feast for Seven Women, and my friend Jo, who is the subject of my next blog.
Here’s my problem. They don’t all like the same things about the memoir. Some like the family stories from when I was a kid, some the famous relatives and their effect on me, some the depiction of jewels and their connection to people, still others my journey to find my way as an adult. The only thing they all agree on is this: there’s a wealth of information to draw on.
Why am I revising again? Because the book is not quite there yet.
And I know it.
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.
The other night I was in a truck driven by a man who wasn’t driving. I knew I was going to be killed. As the truck went up a hill, I opened the door and jumped out.
It amazes me the wherewithal I can pull off in my dreams.
I was in a real accident once. The man driving the car I was in hit a car standing still in the high-speed lane. I did not jump out. When I was able to open the door, I fell out.
It took a year of my life to recover.
In my youth I had, what I call, reverse dreams. I’d be on top of a building. Someone pushed me off the roof. My eyes popped open, my stomach hit my gullet. I knew I was going to die, but then…this falling happened ever so slowly. I landed softly, like on a cloud. I’d wake up in a sweat and think…I’m here!
Then, I’d get up, brush my teeth and put on my school uniform.
What is a pale noun? A word with no vibrancy? A word that is shocked? A word pasted with makeup? I can see her face now, and by her looks, I would say she is young but has already been hit by life…so she’s hiding. She doesn’t think it’s safe to shimmy too seductively, to laugh too loud.
She does not want to dress herself up with adjectives. They might give too much away.
She’d rather bury behind the action in a verb: danced, succumbed, poured, seared, died. Such words carry the reader on one’s back, looking over the writer’s shoulder so he can see what the writer sees.
Pale nouns camouflage a writer’s intentions. Words like bed, dresser, rug, blinds, suggest an interior but that is all. We do not know what is lurking in the room that contains these objects…not unless the writer decides to tell you.
During the past weeks, I have been desperately seeking places with quiet, good Karma, and the least possibility of interruption in order to complete revision 7 of my memoir, Jewels that Speak. These places turned out to be a studio room in the Ozarks for a week, and my bedroom at home, with strict laws posted–“Do not knock, enter, call through the door, phone in, or in any way try to contact me from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m.”
Of course the harder one turned out to be my bedroom because, even without words spoken, I could just feel the family vibrations on the other side of the door.
The good news is the revision is complete and I am satisfied with it. It is off to the copy editor. The bad news is that I have to find a publisher–a tricky business. After all, did I only write this book for myself? But, I shouldn’t end with difficult news. Back to the good. It’s an incredible feeling to have planted a seed for my memoir on March 8, 2006, and to know–exactly four years later–that the idea has bloomed.
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.
After reading a June 4, New York Times article by Sarah Kershaw “Therapists Wired to Write” my cousin Dorothy sent me last summer, I decided that for my writing to grow optimally I needed most particularly a support group. In the article’s first paragraph the following words caught my eye “The six psychotherapists…make up what may be the most nurturing and deeply connected creative writing group to arrive on the literary scene.” The words “nurturing” and “connected” jumped out from the page.
I emailed my friend Jo in Lawrence and asked if she was interested in such a venture. She responded quickly. Yes.
We were quite formal at our first meeting. Two professionals, we sat over our note pads and wrote down ideas and possible goals. She read the New York Times article and made a few comments. She liked certain parts of it but not others. She would think about what she might like to write. Having been in a women’s group with Jo for five years, I already knew her essential character: knows her own mind, smart, deeply committed to humanitarian concerns, goal setter and achiever, reliable, a good listener, kind.
We decided to meet once a week on Thursday mornings for an hour to read and discuss what each of us has written. We have kept it up, taking turns. These meetings hold me accountable for producing new work each week. Now I look forward to listening, reading, sharing, and commenting with Jo. I can count on support, nurturing and a feeling of connection for the writing process.