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?

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Delay Can Last a Lifetime

This piece by a student is about writing memoir. It was written in response to a discussion about The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit. I am always touched by these, especially since Rebecca Solnit herself writes about the act of writing memoir in this memoir.

At our quarterly Read and Write, we first read aloud from the book, weaving around themes and understandings. Then we pick passages that make good prompts and write from those for a bit, then share with each other.

The selected prompt here is "A delay can last a lifetime," which provoked many of my students, who tend to be women in their late 40's, 50's and 60's. We discussed Malcolm Gladwell's article Late Bloomers from a 2008 New Yorker, which has come back to my attention a few times recently. This is a huge topic in the "boomer" generation and in the world of growing interest in memoir. How late is too late? Ever?

This whole piece is a lovely contemplation, but lines such as these really struck all of our attention: "The heart has a hard time hiding truth, hiding joy, hiding pain,""I have begun to fill them as my memories leak out like poison gas from that box," and " Like Mohammed I will be the messenger of my memories’ tales. I will tell them in their voices word for word."


A delay can last a lifetime... (prompt from Rebecca Solnit - The Faraway Nearby)
Student Writing
By Christa Bruhn

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Wisdom of Adolescence

Me, age 14.
I've been struggling with re-writing the teen years aspects of my memoir. It's so easy to say things I did or others did were mean, which I know is minimalizing and inaccurate. How can I depict, exactly, what happened between A and me, when I consciously thought she was "not cool" and so distanced myself, and yet, underneath, I also knew something I couldn't articulate for decades: that she also triggered me, was too close to my own trauma?

Last night, reading the latest issue of the New Yorker (don't be fooled - I am not caught up on its weekly overload. I just happened to pick up the issue that appeared in our mailbox and started there) I saw this passage in an article about John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars:
Green told me, “I love the intensity teen-agers bring not just to first love but also to the first time you’re grappling with grief, at least as a sovereign being—the first time you’re taking on why people suffer and whether there’s meaning in life, and whether meaning is constructed or derived. Teen-agers feel that what you conclude about those questions is going to matter. And they’re dead right. It matters for adults, too, but we’ve almost taken too much power away from ourselves. We don’t acknowledge on a daily basis how much it matters.”

Friday, May 16, 2014

Memoir and Mystery

Watching the mystery of flight 370 on CNN at the airport, I think about how it is even possible that a plane can disappear. It seems apt, for me, writing a memoir called Bermuda Triangles, and I suddenly flash back to my mystery phase of peri-adolescence, that time of tween-ness when life itself seemed mysterious and so did the world. I read a lot of RL Stine and Chrisopher Pike, graduating to Stephen King once my father died.

During this time my dad was dying of cancer. I can't help but think, though I know plenty of tweens go through phases of fascination like this, that part of my seeking had to do with that: wanting to cure him, figure out the universe. My parents were, for the most part, both rationalists. They poo-pooed God, and any kind of religion, declaring that if - IF - some kind of spirit exists, it is unknowable by nature. Things happened for reasons. Though I don't recall ever actually discussing The Bermuda Triangle or ghosts or other apparitions with either parent, I am certain I did not bring these up because I sensed that in our house they were seen as conspiracy theories or delusions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Haunting Joy

This is a memoir piece by a student in response to a prompt asking about joy. This student, Donna Stapf, went with a strong memory that popped up in response to the prompt, as soon as her pen hit the paper. It just poured out.

As always, this is rough draft, not edited. Enjoy the pure energy of this piece. In particular I love her contemplations about the haunting quality of joy. Asking about the difference between highs - joy - celebration - happiness. In particular, I appreciated (as a former theater person) her analogy for a relationship: paralleling it to the acts of a play.

Donna Stapf 
I see myself as a sophomore at UW in Bascom Hall, 2nd floor, outside the door to one of the theater department offices.  Door closed--dark inside--hall empty--the list is posted on the door: “Juno and the Paycock” by Sean O’Casey  Cast List:  Juno…..Donna Stapf.  Heat and tingling rushes through my body.  My stomach is doing somersaults with joyful nausea.  All is silent ‘cept my heart banging beats.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wilderness of Sexuality and Poetry

This is a lovely memoir piece, in rough draft form, written by one of my students. She wrote it in response to a weekly prompt, which was "Wilderness" - to be interpreted any way your mind wanted. Kathy, the author, didn't know it was going to come out this way - at all! The surprise makes for juicy, invigorating memoir writing.

This line is so powerful: "Two secret, or rather undiscovered parts of myself - pulled to the surface by this magnetic force."
The poet and lesbian part both being seen as wild, as undiscovered parts, simultaneously emerging, inter-dependent.Both have what she calls in the last line:
the courage required in any wilderness...a synthesis of all the feelings and forces named above. Courage to step into this other place knowing it’s unlikely I’d be able to completely return.
This is powerful rough draft, and full of many places for her to discover/open up themes/enrich.

Thanks to Kathy for her courage to share in class and now online!
It was a very hot summer night sitting on cushions in Kirby’s living room trying to stay alert while listening to the mini-life stories of the dozen or so women who surprisingly all wanted to join our group. The group was a conscious raising group and we needed new blood, new members, but not twelve of them.

She was one of the last to talk and suddenly I was awake without effort. I felt pulled without any idea why. A very intense pull. Her story, interesting but not exceptional, her looks intense but not beautiful.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mother Memory and Spiral Cycles

Cracked Spiral, Albuquerque NM 2009
When does the crack appear between my mother and myself? Is it when I am born, taken from her womb, and she sees I am female, and wonders if she will have to compete with me, like she does with my father’s mother, for his attention? Is it when, after giving birth, she doesn’t lose the weight, stays fat, resents me for the gains and losses she’s made? Is it when Dad has to work more, to support another child, a third one, when he is fired from Lawrence University because he doesn’t have the PhD he lied about getting to her and everyone, and has to work for a tech college instead?
            Is it when I leave the carrots behind the National Geographics, rotting? Is it when I fake a fever to stay home and she catches me in the act? This is not a game of blame, figuring out if it was my fault. Because it was our fault, and a fault that began long before either of us existed. A crack deep in the earth between daughters and mothers, started the generation before me, between mom and her mom, and probably the generation before that, on the plains of North Dakota, out of boredom, out of necessity, the split between young and old. When I get close to my dad’s mom, that seems all the more betrayal. Then it is just the two of us.