The Unpublished Memoir

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I wrote a memoir. Well, I thought it was a memoir. I simply took a couple dozen journal entries I had made over the years, imported them into one document, put them in calendar order and added some chapter titles. Done, I thought.

Peaked by an interest in publishing, the next step was to attend a memoir writing class just to confirm that I had already completed my memoir and it was ready. 

We began by making a list of all the turning points in our life and then taking that list and placing every turning point along a mountain shaped curve. Of course, the biggest turning point would dominate the top of that mountain and our resolution would be an easy slide down the other side. My first issue. To my mind, all the chapters stood alone, and no chapter was any bigger of a turn than any of the others. Obviously my book would have more of a wavelike curve – just a bunch of small lessons learned in life. “Wrong,” my instructor commented. “You must come up with a theme.” She told me my homework was to find that common thread and then things would fall into place.

The following week, we all showed up with our themes. Well, everyone else showed up with themes. I was still insistent that my little vignettes were all that was needed. The instructor went on to explain the difference between a memoir and an autobiography. “A memoir has a theme,” she began. She continued, and I swear she was looking directly at me with her next comment, “an autobiography captures your life.” I left the class fearing the next week’s meeting where we would share the first piece of our work.

I picked what I determined to be the best of my chapters, made eight copies to hand out and prepared to read. One by one, my classmates volunteered to read. We all got our chance to offer friendly suggestions, not critiques, after which the instructor came up with her comments. I sat in uncomfortable silence while everyone shared their first chapters, from downright boring to brilliant. I waited until someone made a suggestion that I could agree with and then jumped in with some trivial remark. When I was the only one left to share, I picked up my paper with the confidence that my story would fall somewhere in the middle between boring and brilliant. I read all two pages. Silence. The instructor looked around the room and then at me. “Okay then, it is a well-written piece, but I want to emphasize that you are writing a memoir. It has a theme. It’s about you, not those around you. How did you feel? Show don’t tell.” She went on, but by that time I was too embarrassed to absorb the rest. My homework – come up with a theme, add emotion and bring it back next week. 

I signed up for a workshop meant for those who were already in the process of writing their memoirs and was taught by someone with a little more experience. We were to turn in our first 2500 words and she would then walk the group through an honest critique of our work. It turned out we received our work back with a few comments in the margins and some copied excerpts from each document. After a full day’s workshop, I came home with the exact same advice from my first class. Show, don’t tell. Find a theme. Put in some emotion.

I joined a writer’s club and soon became a part of a critique group. Here was my chance to share my work with actual writers, get some authentic advice, and join the ranks of the published. We all brought short pieces to share each week, read them aloud, and offered feedback. All in all, it was a positive experience, but I began to hear some familiar responses. “You are a good writer.” “I can’t believe that happened, but isn’t a memoir supposed to have a theme?” “Shouldn’t it be about you, and not those around you?” “Maybe add a little more emotion here and there.”

As we progressed through our work, I began to hear, “You really need to publish this.” “People need to know.” “It will help someone not feel so all alone.” Bolstered by these new prompts, I was ready to click the “publish” button on Amazon. I ordered five ARCs (advanced reader copies). I found a couple of willing readers and waited for feedback. One person thought I had missed an opportunity and gently told me the book was not a book about me. One didn’t say much but leant it to a friend. One suggested I go into a little more detail about this and that before I look for an agent. I got out my red pen and a couple packets of post-it flags. I ran out of ink and had to buy more post-it notes. I set the book aside. I waited a couple of years, picked up the book, looked at the flags, read through my notes,  and thanked God I had not pushed the final publish button… yet.

Testing Windows Microphone

I’ve been listening to a lot of tech podcasts lately. Today I learned that if you click the windows key and the letter h, a little box pops up with instructions to click on an area for text and begin speaking. I fired up google docs and this unedited script happened:

This is a testof the windowsdictationmode. So let’s seehow this

And thenuntil you learn to use thiswill it be truly beneficialI’m still not surespaceI said I’m still not sure spaceand then it typed the wordSpace space space

How do I get this program to make a spaceand not type the word space?Will it automaticallyinclude a space after the end of a sentence?It appears it won’t do that.New sentenceso saying new sentence doesn’t work eitherI could send the program just types new sentence.Nuisancenew sentence instead of new sentencethat’s pretty funny. Oh well this is my first attempt to try to dictate into Google.Maybe it’s exactly what’s expectedwhen you useWindows 10.Perhaps I should upgrade to windows 11.Would that resolve the problem?

So this is my first attempt.It may be my last attempt. Another thingI’m in the middle of a sentenceand all of a suddenI heara small little beep.Guess what happened?Dumb Mike shut down. WellI guess if the mic is going to shut down this isn’t going to be totally hands-free.Now I have to move my little cursorup to the box where it says it’s listeningand once again click on it to begin over.Well I see there are several places that are underlinedwith those red squiggly lines. Basically Google Docs has decided that those are not acceptable wordsso it looks like my next step would be to pick up my mousehighlight every area where that has happenedbackup backup backupohGang that beat againI guess you don’t tell it to back up so that you can correct your errorsbecause then it only writes the wordback upbackupbackupTacooh and by the waythat came through is3backupsas2 1/2 words with a Taco in the middle.

So they say you have to trainwindowsto understand your voice.I don’t thinkI’m muffling my voice.I don’t think I’m stuttering.I don’t think I’m mumbling.Isn’t this interesting that now that I’m suggesting I don’t muffle stutter or mumblethis seems to be working correctly.The syndicatespossibly windows has finally figured outhow I speak.

Another annoying beep.Of courseI was in the middle of my thoughtsand the annoying beepdistracted meenough so that I forget what I was writing about.Obviously I won’t be using this to write my Great American novelor my dysfunctional family memoir.

Sorrow

I weep at the sight of the casket. 
Friends and family pass by his body.
Memories spoken. 
Words rip painfully into my chest.  
His bright smile, belly deep laugh, compassion for life.
The glue of his family. 
A young life cut short by one last heroic feat. 

Six best friends, white gloved, gently lift the casket.

I selfishly grieve as if it were my child,
Admonishing myself.
Another mother lost her child. Forever. 
Six young men buried their best friend. 

And then it occurs to me. 


My son lost a best friend.
He would have been there,
had he not taken a different direction. 

For My Valentine

I feel the stirring on his side of the bed. I don’t move, Not even an inch. I slightly open one eye and peek at the clock. It’s only 6am. I concentrate even more not to move. I pretend to sleep.
He inches closer. I feel his warmth against my back. Please, not now.
I feel his nose against the back of my neck. Don’t bother me now. I’m tired. The alarm will sound in twenty minutes.
He tickles my ear. I’m not in the mood. Just let me sleep.
Five minutes later he moves closer again. If I move the slightest bit, he’ll know I’m awake. I breathe softly from years of practice. Even breaths. He moves away. I doze.
He snuggles up again. My right arm is numb. My fingers tingle. I try to move my arm ever so slightly out from under my head. He cuddles up. I groan. Let out a big sigh. Lift my head. “Just give me 15 minutes more.” I purposely sound half-asleep. My head hits the pillow with a deliberate thud.
He backs off again. I begin to feel guilty. He wants attention. He deserves attention. But I keep my eyes closed and do not move. I want to be left alone.
He nudges. I open one eye to glance at the clock. Ten minutes. He knows I’m awake. I move slightly away. He gives up. Sleep is impossible now.
The alarm sounds. I jump out of bed. He leaps out of bed and follows me into the bathroom. He watches as I shower, dry my hair, get dressed. His persistent prodding annoys me.
He follows me into the kitchen. I fix his breakfast. He is momentarily pacified. I drink my coffee.
I’m ready now. I reach out for him.
He turns away, casually struts to the back door, and meows as his paws reach for the doorknob.

Originally posted on Themestream long ago in the year 2000