Tuesday, June 16, 2015
How rare it is, in the process of writing memoir, that we find evidence.
Evidence that our version of the story was true, or not true.
Evidence that something we remember happening happened, and, more keenly, happened the way we remember it.
The fact is, most of the time, we are composing in the dark. And as we write, our understanding (hopefully!) changes. Therefore, our story changes. All of this I have written about a lot on this blog. But today I have something new and powerful to share.
I recently found evidence I hadn't really been looking for.
My parents and grandparents were all active correspondants. In my attic, where our family ephemera is stored, there are dozens of bankers boxes full of letters, Christmas cards, photos and writings. Mom and her dad (Bapa) were known writers - Bapa was published in a few serial newspapers during WWII, often featuring my mom as a fictionalized small girl character. Mom wrote a novel in high school, lots of poetry, and kept up her writing even in minimal ways well into her adulthood. Ditto Bapa, even more prodigously.
So the story goes, has gone especially in my life lately: in publishing Looking and Seeing, I published a book: a thing that the two big writers in our family never did. I resolved for our family a generations-old validation. In the last two months since publication, I figured I was resolving Mom and Bapa's craving only.
I mean, a lot of people wrote letters in mid-last-century. One didn't have to identify as a writer to do that. Not then.
But then I found a journal. Not a journal from Mom or Bapa, but a journal written by Dad, our father. A computer programmer, an articulate man, a punner, a joker - but never identified by anyone as a writer. I certainly never, ever in my life thought I'd find a journal by this man.
The journal is so personal, so real and honest and raw, though the writing can be formal sometimes - "one doesn't think," etc. He did it because Mom suggested they keep mutual "books" right after they got married (wedding gift from Mom?) and so for the first year they were married, a lot in the beginning and then sporadically for the second half of the year, he kept a journal.
What is this evidence of?
Not so much that "he was a writer." It's more so an evidence that I was starting to realize I needed to look for. I just wasn't sure how.
For awhile now, I have been meeting with Mom's childhood and college friends, those who are still around, asking them questions and sharing stories. I have not, nor have I felt compelled to, do the same for Dad.
I asked myself this question about two months ago, and hadn't come up with a satisfactory answer. Only that Mom's friends are on Facebook and actually contact me and we heard about them or met them growing up. In other words, it was easy. Most of Dad's known social life, especially as an adult, was co-workers and colleagues, not with close, personal, life-long friends.
And then there's the fact that my relationship with Mom was hard, and my relationship with Dad was relatively easy. Or that's the story I've told. But when I look back over my own journals, things don't look so hard with Mom. And when I read some of Dad's journals or even letters, I realize I missed - still miss - a complex part of him. I missed it then, and now I miss it again, meaning now I mourn Dad I never quite knew, who seems to have all but disappeared by the time I was born.
My first response was to fear losing him, them, all over again. But after a therapy session, I am finally starting to integrate the richness of finding parts of them I likely wouldn't have access to if they were still living.
Here's my chance - the balance. No living adult relationship, but lots of evidence of them as adults before me. Not everyone gets this evidence, this trade off. It is rare, and I am starting a whole new memoir project about it. So powerful - to have this to work with, to make a we-moir about these writers and "non-writers" I come from. So grateful to be able to touch their minds in this way, an intimate way, via the form of communication and creativity I most prefer.
Evidence of my roots as a writer.
Evidence of their humanity.
Evidence of their minds and hearts.
This is not the evidence I was looking for. But rarely do we look for the right clues when we look. The looking itself can block true seeing. Luckily, in my case, it was right under my nose, waiting for me to be ready to open the box and see.
Now I am curious to find more, try and track down the people who knew Dad who are still living. Even if I never find them, I have this journal. Evidence enough that he existed before me, and of the parts of him I suspected were there, even if I rarely experienced them directly.