Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Is it too soon to tell this story?
I attended a writing conference last weekend. All 25 participants had a specific writing project in mind, either needing further refinement or ready for publishing. My project, still in conception, is to write about Mom, Alzheimer’s, and to tell my family’s story.
One thing I realized is that I don’t know where in the story I currently am. The conference presenters talked about book length in terms of word count and chapter summaries, and I honestly don’t even know if my whole story, which I will eventually write, has even happened yet. If I write a book, does it end when Mom dies? What a horrible thought. Does it end with her diagnoses, so I only focus on the “good years?” No, I don’t think so. What makes all those years good is knowing how much of Mom’s sweet spirit is still intact, even several years in to her diagnoses.
When I think about memoir, I usually think of authors as archaeologists, excavating artifacts and fossils of memory. The events worth writing about seem to be buried, embedded in layers of sediment and sandstone. But in my case, the topics and events I want to write about are still occurring My fossils are still wet and green. Nothing is petrified in this scenario.
The paleontologists at the beginning of Jurassic Park are working in a desert, covered in dust, using small brushes and delicate instruments, practically tweezing away the solid earth, encasing Velociraptor bones. This might be taking the metaphor too far, but instead of working with brushes in ancient burial grounds, I see myself as an author with a pitch fork in hand in a backyard garden. I'm still turning the compost of my life experiences, letting worms in for aeration, making sure raw materials have enough water and light and time for proper decay.
Maybe it's too soon to write. Do I have to know the beginning, middle and end of my story before I can begin to tell it?