Imagining

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As one of my favorite writers, he has simplicity of thought and an unwavering ability to observe and reflect from his time in the woods near Walden Pond. As a writer of memoir, I take Thoreau’s lead by weaving my own reflections from observed experiences to pen Under the Birch Tree.

how i finished my memoir

When I was a young girl, a small glass ball threaded by a thin plastic rope through a pinhole hung over the lock of my double hung window in my bedroom. When the brazen sun enveloped the plant vase and took hold of the gnarly roots, I wouldn’t just see budding foliage, but tiny rainbows upon the refraction of light.

599b43bb6bd1302ad7089929dd43c688Sometimes we don’t always see what’s in front of us.

I didn’t see the obvious until after over ten years of writing my memoir and examining my events and experiences ad nauseam. I didn’t see what was in front of me because I was too focused on finding complex meanings.

My memoir began with a chronological structure, a timeline of autobiography of events and experiences. Though I understood it didn’t make a memoir, I didn’t understand how to turn it into one. I read all I could about memoir including books and blogs and I listened to presentations by professionals. I rejected reading other memoirs because their writing was different from mine in theme, story and structure. I didn’t have an illness, a tragedy, a loss. I didn’t necessarily have a “thing” happen to me, about me or with me. I made no references to pain, per se.

I persisted in examining my words and looking beyond their meaning, trying to read between the lines as I compared my writing to others’ strong themes that spoke clearly. I reasoned my memoir couldn’t be like theirs. Because it wasn’t. And because of this, I saw the difference work for me, not against me. I saw a clarity I had yearned for. This simplicity was in front of me.

I began my story when I was a young girl when my mother insisted my photo be taken on my first day of kindergarten in front of the picture window of my house. I obliged her because my favorite tree was near, plotted in the center of circling greens where it stood tall and arabesque in front of me, as if to say “look here and smile.” My scene continued, my birch buddy and its branches not shading my eyes squinty from the sun’s high noon rays, my pixie haircut aglow in sun-bleached hair and my tanned body offsetting my navy dress, patterned in tiny white polka dots, with an appliqué of paint brushes and an artist’s pallet in primary colors at the hem. My dress was too small and my chubby feet were crammed into blood red Mary Janes. But I stood at attention with my feet together and my hands folded in front to pose with my heels brushing against the yellow marigolds in full bloom.

But my story was not just about me, my surroundings and a tree. I tried to look for deep meanings in my early memories and after many rewrites and flushing out themes and through-threads I realized meanings were not deep at all, but at the surface, right in front of me. I realized I had a connection to trees and to a specific birch tree in the corner of my front yard that the association was central to my theme. Connecting with my birch buddy made the irritations of a too-small dress and short-strapped shoes diminish as my buddy’s arms welcomed a toasty blanket of sun overhead. It was my tree that ushered a smile on my face and a squint in my eye allowing my contentment to win over my physical discomfort and adversity.

When I realized what was in front of me, that I was present with my house and my birch buddy, that I was at home; I knew I had my story.

Looking back on my overall memoir writing experience, I wrote every 78,000 plus words of my experiences and adventures, the people I had met and the conversations with them as enriching my life. Whether discovering a new place, engaging in a conversation, listening to music inside and the harmonies played outside, tasting the bitters of food to mouth or touching a numbing cold, discovering the simplicity of living life through my senses was key to finishing my memoir.

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When I explored the very connections learned as a young child beginning with a birch tree, I realized just how my life inspired me to see what was in front of me.

A sighting of my tree buddy spurred memories when I sought to be at home. Trees became a metaphor for living, a guiding symbol for finding home and the beginning for my story. My tree had a purpose.

“Developmental edit is complete,” Annie, my editor said. These words were not expected so quickly after my rewrite from her first edit. I’ve cleared a major book writing hurdle, one I’ve been working to overcome for years. I hope to publish next year, completing my vision for my memoir. I have learned it is about the journey, it’s about enriching our lives by living the moments. It’s about seeing what’s in front of us.

riding the wave of a writing contest submission

letterwavedetailLast fall I won a writing contest for The Magic of Memoir edited by Linda Joy Myer and Brooke Warner of She Writes Press. This was a first time I entered a writing contest and a
first win for anything that had to do with my writing. A win at anything says it all, a handshake in welcome, validation that you’re writing well, and self-confidence to keep going and tackle another contest perhaps. I decided to ride a wave of a newly diagnosed writing karma and consider submitting to another writing contest.

Starting to write an essay from a blank page, no, really solid, bright white, is paralyzing. What’s more daunting is the word “contest.” It’s like you know you’ve got a test coming up and you better start cramming now so you’ve got plenty of time for your best answers to shine at the time of the test – the submission.

I’ve never been one to enter writing contests just because of the competition. I know the level of my writing, what I’m capable of producing and I admit it’s probably not competitive enough with the writings and writers who have been the contest submission route many times and have published. It’s taken me 15 years and unmeasurable hours of practice to now consider I’m ready to submit another time.

My main consideration to submit is the topic or theme. The writing contest I am considering asks writers to write about any aspect of the writing life. I like the topic; I have a few ideas. But when contest guidelines require an essay about a topic I have neither interest nor knowledge, even the best research I could do would still not yield an effective essay. My lack of contest submission track record could be explained, for example, in a guideline suggesting my interpretation of a given word, such as “adaptation,” as I recently saw in one magazine’s contest announcement or a niche theme such as the supernatural. My lack of connection to my topic or word would be evident in poor writing.

I can write a more effective essay when I have an immediate reaction about a topic or word that catches my eye. I know it happens when, upon the first few seconds I read the contest guidelines, a thousand bolts of ideas strike my mind. I know I’m on to something when I need to scramble to type the ideas on that big white space before they dissipate from my head.

My writing life is the memoir. I can draw from my memoir writing experiences – rewrites, development, editing, self-discovery, connecting – and write that which I know. Writing from the heart, from personal space and from a core knowledge developed from my writing experience is all I need to craft an essay.

Memoir writing gives me the opportunity to tap into the unexplored and find meaning of what is discovered. It also presents a universality when reading a paragraph, a sentence or just one word results in an, “ah, yes!” in birth of a connection from writer to reader.

Perhaps writing about the supernatural or your interpretation of a given word strikes you with the right chords to compose a winning essay. I’m sticking with that which I know and have learned over the years of practice – the writing life – to submit my chances for another win in a writing contest.

“The Magic of Memoir”

My memoir writing journal unfolded without an analytical thought granted to the actual writing process. I had been a journaler, starting when I was fifteen when my mother showed me a pink book with shiny darker pink letters “My Journal” were engraved on the cover. She handed me the book telling me, “It’s yours.” I eyed the clasp as I took it from her, acknowledging my words could be sealed, closed within its pages with a click of its fastening.

My earliest recollection of my writing on those first pink pages was a poem I wrote, “To A Tree” where I realized I had a place in this world and that my tree had a purpose. I encouraged my curiosity by reading all I could about themes of discovery, our relationships we have to others, ourselves and to our outside world. And then I read “Summers with Juliet,” by Bill Roorbach, an inspirational, understated adventure where I saw an interconnectedness among all relationships we share. I became curious about my meaning of home and how connections were created, broken and reattached throughout my life.

My story began to write itself. It was not to be complicated but rather simple and understated, just as I knew a memoir could be in “Summers with Juliet.” And my memoir”Under the Birch Tree” was born.

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My essay, “I Called You a Memoir” reveals my heart-to-heart talk with my memoir on how I created her along with 37 other inspirational essays in”The Magic of Memoir,” out today.

As I continue to put the final connections together on my memoir, I hope you can see your relationships, even the magical one with yourself, in “The Magic of Memoir.”