In the third grade, I read The Little House in the Big Woods series of books. You could write about your own life—what a revelation! I wanted to do that. But also, a disappointment—my life wasn’t as interesting as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s. Mine was a normal life. Two parents and two sisters, a house on a cul-de-sac, school a half-mile walk away.
In the fifth grade, I started keeping a journal. My first entry read “January 8, 1976: My promises are I will not pick and bite my nails.” The thing with journals is that they are private—words are scribbled down to vent your feelings whether happy or sad or angry. Words that document your days, the things you do, the things you leave undone. These words usually don’t form a narrative arc. At least not in a way that would hold a reader’s attention.
Enter the memoir. The crafting of memories and journal entries into scenes, chapters, blogs—a whole book even.
This September is Bellingham’s third annual Whatcom Memoir Writing Month, or WhaMemWriMo, a month-long odyssey to write 50,000 words of memoir. During the first one, in September 2015, I wrote 40,000 words, starting with my first memory: Riding a tricycle on a sidewalk in a suburban neighborhood when the surroundings became unfamiliar and I felt hollow inside and stopped pedaling. In my memory, I am utterly alone, though I’m sure that I wasn’t.
Almost thirty days later, I finished with a write-up from a workshop the night before: Tame Your Inner Critic taught by the amazing writer-mentor Cami Ostman. I volunteered to sit in front of the medium-sized crowd and let Cami interview my inner critic. I answered as my inner critic, referring to myself in the third person, letting my critic tell all present why Laura was not a real writer, why she shouldn’t write. This was an emotional experience and recalling it was almost more difficult than recalling that surreal tricycle ride forty-nine or so years ago. The take-away for me that night: the voice in my head no longer spoke the truth and the way to silence it was to keep writing, no matter what.
I started September 2015 with this opinion on writing memoir: “All these years of work to let the past go, to live in the moment, to not drive myself crazy with woulda, coulda, shoulda, and now I’m expected, encouraged, and must dredge up the past, again?! My emotional side cringes while my logical side lectures: I’m dredging up the past with a different view in mind, a productive purpose. My fingers refuse—it is mutiny as they type out the memoirs of some fictional characters instead.”
As the month progressed, I realized that writing about the past “leads me closer to things I don’t say, things I don’t write about, and as I write this memoir I see how healing, how freeing it has been, dredging up old baggage and seeing it from the vantage point of now, filtered and enlightened with everything that happened between then and now. Which leads me to believe that writing about the things I don’t want to would be helpful but the resistance is strong.”
In October 2015, I launched my website, and this blog, to proclaim I Am A Writer and to craft blogs—mini memoir pieces. These blogs are supposed to be monthly. Apparently that is not a realistic expectation for me.
A whole year passed before I committed to writing a book-length memoir in the fall of 2016, and it was January of 2017 when I embarked on that journey. A journey I plan to be on for however long it takes. I am a slow, distracted writer but I’m heartened by Ray Bradbury’s adage: “You fail only if you stop writing.” I shall not fail.