The Unpublished Memoir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.

Themestream

It’s no secret that I have had a raging case of writer’s block since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s not just me according to the rest of my writing group. In our case it’s a matter of all or nothing. Some of us refuse to sit in front of a blank screen so we don’t even bother turning it on. Others are filling up page after page. I must find a way out of this so what could be more inspiring than finding the first (and only) payment I have ever received for my writing expertise. Don’t laugh now. This was over twenty years ago when Themestream paid writers a penny for each time someone read one of their posts. In digging through my archives, I managed to find eighteen of these articles. So here’s the plan. Since I have not been successful in coming up with anything new, I’ll just pull one out of the archives and write a THEN and NOW. Here goes the first one:

Lipstick          

THEN

“You need lipstick,” Mom used to say.  I was only thirteen and I didn’t think I needed it. When the Avon lady showed up and agreed with Mom, she shuffled through her bag. She lined up several little white sample tubes of pale pink lipstick.  “Try these,” she said.  I assured her I would try them.

I snuck into the bathroom and tried on the first pale pink shade. Ugh I thought as I tried to smear it off with a piece of toilet paper. Six tubes later I emerged from the bathroom, lips bright red not from lipstick but from removing it with scratchy toilet tissue.

Mom insisted I wear the Rose color to church the following Sunday. She always wore rose so therefore I must look good in Rose. I don’t think so. I licked my lips all the way to church hoping every tiny bit of evidence would be gone by the time we got there. I rushed into the bathroom and removed the stubborn traces. Mom came in and offered her tube of lipstick suggesting a fresh coat.

I never could get used to lipstick. I just never felt right. I never know – is it too pink, too red, too purple, too white, too orange, too brown? Is it me? Nothing feels right. I hate to see old ladies with red, or worst yet bright pink, lipstick. It is shocking against their pale white faces. I wonder what others think of mine.

My husband always asks me to wear red lipstick. Bright red lipstick. One time two of my friends joined my husband and I at our favorite Chinese restaurant in SF. I brought a tube of bright red lipstick. One by one we got up from the table and went to the restroom coming out with bright red lips. My husband never even noticed until we all started giggling.

Every time one of those offers comes around where you get free cosmetics, I jump on it. I must have collected hundreds of lipstick samples over the years. Each one I try in front of the bathroom mirror. Each time I feel thirteen again as I wipe it off with scratchy toilet paper.

NOW

Twenty years later, I am the old lady I used to think looked horrid with lipstick. You probably guessed by now – I just cannot bring myself to go beyond Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer. Looking past the wrinkles, I definitely don’t feel thirteen again.

2021 Optimism

Optimism

Drumroll please. My word for the year is… Optimism

Because 2021 just has to be better than 2020, I choose not to reflect on last year and instead approach the new year with an empty page. No resolutions, no goals and no vision board (one only has to scroll past the last four posts to see how that turned out).

So tell me… what is your word for the year?

P.S. for those who are concerned about the physical and mental health of Herman and Myrtle, please remember @mzbull loves to exaggerate reality and names are changed to protect the innocent.

1 Word Prompt Challenge January 2020

Sometimes we need a little challenge to get back into the swing of writing. In December I placed a post-it note on my screen “Butt in Chair – Write.” That didn’t work. January would have been a good time for a writing resolution but I snubbed that idea right out of my radar. Instead, I figured one little 31 day challenge might just do the trick. Only 50 words a day based on a one word prompt. After 31 days we were supposed to have finished one story, chapter by chapter. Being the rebel that I am, I concluded it would be perfectly fine to just post a daily post featuring “Herman” and “Myrtle.” Here you have it, exactly 1,550 words. Ending in a cliff hanger, of course. Gotta have something to keep me going.

Follow me @mzbull on Instagram. And if you want to join the fun, sign up for the February challenge #1wordpromptchallenge

Warning: Sometimes it takes longer to write exactly 50 words than it does an entire story.