I have been doing the best I can to wake up at 6 every morning. Mondays I write my blog, or polish it if I wrote it the day before. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I have been trying to write my memoir. I want to write a novel that tells the story of my life with the loss of Naomi and the subsequent years of recovery after. It’s not going how I thought it would.
I have discovered this: A memoir is like a river. As fond as I am of the road motif, this writing is not like a road. There is no fixed centerline that I can set my sights on and aim for as I stride away. No, this writing is like a river that must take its own course. It moves forward, sometimes gaining speed and power is it rushes down. Other times it ambles along so slow that stagnation gathers that I have to skim off. But like a river, I have not been able to direct this story, not yet. It is meandering all over the place and I have to follow it.
Keeping with this river analogy, there is something else that this writing project is doing. A river will cut through existing earth and rock to make its way, sometimes exposing things long hidden. As I write this and allow it to go where it will, fascinating little nuggets are appearing.
I wanted the memoir to touch a little on my childhood. There are a few things from my past that decidedly shaped who I am. I thought I would write about them. And I haven’t stopped writing about my past. Most days I will sit down and think that by the next day, I’ll be ready to write about Naomi. It hasn’t happened yet. What I do have are a jumble of incidents from my growing up. Whether or not they make it into the final draft is not important now. This is a very rough first draft.
I was writing about when my sister was born. I’m sure my parents were very aware of how a child could feel alienated when a new sibling enters the family. I don’t remember feeling anything negative then. What I do remember is that my dad gave me a Matchbox car. It was the larger sized car, about the size of an adult fist. It was a gold colored Cougar. I loved cars back then and it was probably one of my favorites.
So as I wrote about my sister being born, the story turned to a gold colored Cougar. Then I remembered living in Hawaii years later and telling my dad how I didn’t have the car anymore. I might have left it in Arizona when we moved. But I couldn’t remember having it there the last year or so. My dad told me that it had probably been lost in the sandbox. Then my dad launched into an imagined scenario where the grandkids of the pastor living there would be digging in the sandbox. They would see a glint of the car and shout that they had struck gold. They would be cheering for joy and then pull the gold colored Cougar from the sandbox. Oh well, it wasn’t gold, but at least they had found a treasure anyway.
I was amused by my dad’s story. But I knew at once it wasn’t true. I never took my die-cast cars outside to the sandbox.
But if, say my buddy Chuckie had taken it out and in fact, buried it in the sandbox, which was possible, I knew no-one would have found it. I buried a dead grasshopper in the sandbox once. A few days later I dug where it was to check on it. I couldn’t find it. I dug and dug and searched all over and the dead grasshopper was nowhere. I was baffled and frustrated. And I had no notion of decomposition.
Writing my memoir is like a river going where it wants and uncovering things that I thought were gone. Last week the memoir struck a glint of gold. Is the story significant to the memoir in anyway? I don’t think so. But it reminded me of something else. I was convinced that the Cougar was not in the sandbox. Only Tonka toys that were meant for outside went there, never the nice little cars. I knew who I was, what I believed and what my character would and would not do. To me, knowing all of that is absolutely the most important thing in writing.
Everything that goes into what I write is a communication of who I am and what I believe. This first draft that I’m working through is mostly stories that the final draft will never see. But this is still something I feel I must do. The river of the story is producing stones that will form a foundation. And I am learning more about who I am by what shaped me in the past.
It’s slow going. Last November I wrote the same in three or four days as I have written so far on this in a month. And I’m concerned that the second draft will be harder work than the first, where it will be time to be more structured. The centerline will need to be staked. But for now, it’s still a voyage of discovery. Even though I will never know what happened to the gold colored Cougar.