The Making of a Memoir... an Aftermath...

Virginia Woolf, courtesy Wikimedia

I wrote a memoir for my mother, her lifelong wish that I lay down in words my rather unique and idyllic childhood, but as my life has tended to unfold, the idyllic is always wrapped up in emotional horrors.

My mother wanted me to extract the good and trash the bad and write it from the point of view of me as I lived it — those well remembered moments around ages 5 to 8.

A scientist will tell you, distillation is work that takes much time and know-how and focus. No different here. Every time I began a vignette from those times, a bad memory would bubble up and my writing would go to hell in a hand-basket, along with my emotions.

Some five-ish years later and several restarts and I finally made my mother’s dream come true… three years after she passed away. That I didn’t complete the work in time for her to read it is, in and of itself, a constant source of failure, one which I’m sure will linger inside me until my own death. I can only hold out hope that fate or karma or kismet or luck or a 1–800 direct number to Heaven exists so she can know I completed the work for her.

Nobody tells you how rough memoir writing will be.
And nobody is there to pick up the emotional pieces that end up being your psyche when it’s done.

My memoir is merely a collection of childhood adventure vignettes sorted by the seasons of the year, so the delivery is light and gay and funny at times, so you’d think I would have been feeling those same feelings while I wrote it, and I did, to an extent, but sorrow and loss and anger and rage and frustration and disappointment roiled underneath. If difficult, fearful events come to pass in a child’s life and that child had little to no control, the negative emotions aligned with those events never really go away, even when you gaze into idyllic visions and smile.

I don’t sit here as an author and throw around blame, for stuff happens in life, good and bad, but when it comes time to retell such tales… well…

Nobody tells you how utterly emotionally destructive going down Memory Lane can be.

The book is done. I finished it last week. It’s now a living, breathing thing and I’m spending this week recovering from the tremors.

Beyond the memories you face and have to distill, therein can be a recognition of loss, for in my case, all the adults in my world at that time are now dead and gone. Every. Single. One. And there’s no escaping remembering that as you write tales from a half century ago.

You see in your mind’s eye those adults when they were healthy, happy and full of life, and after you lay down those wondrous visions, you remember those people and their final outcomes. It’s a feeling, experience, almost like burying them all over again, and I’m simply left with words on the page and an empty heart like a highway motel where all the rooms that were once filled with laughter and light are all empty and abandoned now, and I as the owner hang a Vacancy sign which will never come down.

Nobody warns you of this.
Nobody says how lonely you’ll feel.
Nobody tells you crying won’t help, talking to friends won’t help.
In your abandonment, you struggle to breathe, to live, and discover only writing more, on anything else, helps.

As I look back on my literary struggle, the emotional tearing of my soul, I guess it was worth it. I’m rather pleased with the result, and I think others will enjoy the tales, too, so that would make my mother happy, I know.

But am I tired, wrung out, and in a rather lingering funk? Yes.
 “People” say this, too, shall pass… I guess.

But I have a feeling I’ve walked through the looking glass and slid down the rabbit hole.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be how I was before I began this book.
Some things stain, people. Some things permanently stain.
There are now indelible imprints on my soul and those words wrapped in their crevasse-depth-like emotions will never completely melt from my mind.
For better or worse, I am changed.

If ever you are considering writing a memoir, take great care and weigh the costs. For me, I felt honour-bound to fulfil my mother’s wish. But if you ask me, did I really want to “go there”? No. And I can’t say for certain, but I think I shall never pass that way again.