Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Memoir Back on Mind

Up and Down, Jefferson Flea Market, 2014.
Hello all. Sorry for that little almost-two-month spate of not posting.

I've been working on a book with my Miksang teacher. We are in the final stages of editing and whoo-ee. Does that take all my writing energy! No blogging and very little work or play on memoir.

But now I am back, and it is back: my memoir, Bermuda Triangles, erupted some insights in me as soon as I sat down to teach a small writing retreat this last week. Then I taught a writing retreat all this last weekend and out came some insights, how to get through the next bump, and more.

The next bump?

Here's the story:

I started this memoir, Bermuda Triangles, because I was already writing one memoir. Really, Miriam? Why two? People often look at me askance when I tell them I am writing two memoirs. At your age? I've done a lot of living, I answer, vaguely, and feel a bit embarrassed. There are many famous writers who have made awesome quips about only having to live through adolescence in order to have enough material to write memoir. Then there's this favorite of mine by Maya Angelou (RIP):
“To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflict than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
In fact, BT centers on adolescence. And at first I thought it was about my sexuality.

You see, the first memoir I started - and which is currently resting in repose for now - is about my marriage to a transgender woman. Half way through writing that, I realized that I had things to say about how I got to that point - to the point of this marriage, about my sexuality and sexual orientation. After an entire rough draft, revising fifty pages with an editor and getting some really inspiring rejection letters (including from Seal Press, which I thought was my ideal), I felt stuck.

So I started a memoir critique group with some of my students, and half way through those fifty pages, on retreat in France with Natalie Goldberg, I realized my book wasn't about sexuality. Due to feedback from my students, and some insights into how I tell my own story, I realized it is about victimhood. In fact, the title I came up with so many years ago, Bermuda Triangles, suddenly seemed very auspicious. I had meant it as a mysterious, water-based title, mostly based on imagery that came out of a Shamanic journey I did regarding healing with my mother in my twenties. However, victimhood is linked to "the triangle" - victim, perpetrator, rescuer - a psychological construct to explain codependent relationships. Perfect.

Almost too perfect.
Over time, that structure has proved a bit too tight.
Exploring victimhood itself, however, is endless and rich.
In writing my experience of being a victim and playing with that role, I walk a fine line, wanting to show being a real victim of some things, but also wanting to depict how I, and others, got attached - get attached - to "victim" role as being a "good" thing - manipulative, self-righteous. It's delicate to write about. That shows me I am doing the right thing.

Weekly writing classes begin again this week, and since I am traveling less in the fall, so do the memoir feedback groups. I promise to get back to more weekly-like posts. So much more to say.

Thanks for reading. 

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