Spurred on by my longing to get back in touch with the “creative” in my writing, I recently enrolled in an online memoir writing class . Why memoir? What about fiction?
Maybe it was Rosie turning to me during our long drive to San Diego and saying, “Mom, you should really write a memoir.” I’d pooh poohed that suggestion for years (it’s not the first time she’s urged it on me) because it didn’t seem possible that anyone would really be interested in my stories of growing up middle class in a semi-dysfunctional family. I mean aren’t most memoirs about individuals who have triumphed over incredible hardships?
My Catholic school childhood traumas seemed pretty paltry compared to those.
I finally realized, who cares?. Even if I write a memoir and no one but Rosie, Ciel and a few other loved ones read it, it would still be great practice in creative writing. Or maybe I can fictionalize the whole thing and write a novel.
Mostly, it just appealed to me on the night that I talked myself into parting with some hard-earned cash for an unknown online class.
But there was one problem. Although I have several starkly solid memories of my childhood and adolescence – traumatic or funny moments, stories that I’ve told over and over again, so they are as clear and sparkling in my memory as events that happened last weekend – the rest of my childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood are lost in a fuzzy haze.
Our first lesson was titled “Mine Your Memories.” Well, my mom’s gone, my dad’s no help, my younger sisters remember even less than I do. In my zealous bouts of clutter-clearing I’d thrown out so many old letters and cards thinking, ‘why hang on to stuff?’ (Luckily I do have a small stack of letters still to mine.)
But. Oh yeah, there’s that big stack of old diaries and journals I toted around all those years from household to household. Stuffed in their box, I’ve barely given them a glance since Ciel was born.
They embarrassed me so much. The long prosy ramblings, the loopy handwriting, the ridiculous poetry.
So many years ago, in one of those clutter-clearing sessions I took the box out to our barn and deposited it in a shadowy corner. At the time I doubted I would ever want to read them again. Such bad writing. So many painful memories. The childhood slights, the taunting classmates in junior high , my first love who broke up with me only to ask out my best friend, the man who took my virginity and almost my sanity before I managed to escape his psychic abuse.
I’d moved on. I was a different person now. A grown up. No longer Sally, but Sarah.
And at that time creative writing had moved way way off my radar.
But, hmmm, who knew? Years later I revived that old dream of writing. But still the journals languished. Life was busy – how could I ever find time to actually read through them? But now I’m thinking memoir. And – oops, are those journals still out there? I cringed at the thought of the mold and mildew they’d probably been subjected to for the last decade plus.
See, in addition to being a storage shed for every random thing that doesn’t fit in our house, the Barn is really my husband Tim’s playhouse. There’s a pool table, a smoking-room, a piano, a small stage. periodically our camping gear, gardening equipment, home improvement supplies, holiday boxes – all get shuffled around and moved. Although I enjoy an occasional game of pool, it’s not my space. I can never find anything.
And it’s damp and dank out there. Spiders abound. Boxes of clothes intended for Good Will that I’ve set out there “temporarily” have mouldered into garbage during the intervening forgetful months.
My god, I berated myself. How could I have just tossed something so precious out into the void of the Barn? Those were pieces of myself. Those were all the memories I had to mine! What was I thinking??
But Tim said he thought he’d seen them.
“Yeah,” I said, “but they’re probably all falling apart and mildewed.”
Basically I was sure I had blown it. What an idiot!
So, tonight, when he tromped into my office, flashlight on his forehead carrying that dusty old box I was almost scared to look inside. Would they be intact? Would they all be there?
They were. All 23 of them.
Granted a little stinky, but all readable.
And not even any spiders.
I’ve spent the last couple of hours trying to decipher what year I was in as I browsed the pages (still cringing at some of my wordy prose and silly longings – but there I was!) I labeled each cover with a date range. I read a few random entries. I laughed, I teared up.
I found Sally again.
So I guess I might find that memoir in me too.