The Unpublished Memoir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.

Relatively Resemblent… Take 2


Bringing in another post from the archives while waiting for the muse to wake up.


A few years back I was trying to train a new hairdresser. One day…
Hairdresser says: How about something a little different?
Note: This is the 2nd time she has cut my hair.
I say: OK whatever.
Wash…rinse…snip snip…gel…hairdryer…gook…teasing…hairspray…I look in the mirror.
Hairdresser: Do you like it?
Me: hmmmmmm
HD: Well I’m not letting you out of the chair until you say you like it.
Me: Do you think you can tone it down a bit?
Note: Is Aquanet back in vogue?
A little tugging here and there…actually she pulls on one hair and they all move. She pats the sides of my head but the mass just springs back into form.
HD: Better?
I look in mirror:

Me: It’s fine


I’m walking down the street. I look in a window. I see my mother


I know what comes next…



I’m twenty years older than my mother would ever be. Soon I’ll be as old as my mother’s mother. Say it isn’t so.

The Grandma Pose

Not So NaNoWrimo

2019 wasn’t meant to be a winning year for NaNoWriMo. I signed up this year for one purpose – distraction. I didn’t want to face the fact that my writing mentor-neighbor-friend would die before Thanksgiving. She questioned my decision to sign up for this challenge, insisting that I was avoiding the publication of my memoir, the memoir that she had finished editing a couple of months ago. “Just publish the damn thing,” she said about the 9th of November. Instead, I went home and added more than 2400 words to the NaNoWriMo project.

Things turned for the worst the next day. My friend began to fail. Suddenly bedridden, she looked out her window at the autumn leaves. “Do you remember the story ‘The Last Leaf’ by O. Henry?” She asked. When I admitted I had no recollection, she offered a brief synopsis. I followed the gaze of her eyes to see only a handful of leaves on the branch outside her window and asked if she was watching for the last leaf to fall. She smiled and closed her eyes.

The next few visits were painfully silent as that one last leaf swayed in the wind. On the 21st day of November the final leaf drifted slowly to the earth as my friend took her last breath.

My takeaway here is not about not finishing the novel. It’s about making the right choices for each moment. Time is precious and I was blessed with the time to sit at my friend’s bedside during those final days. Sad as it is, she died with peace, grace and dignity – just the way she lived her life.

The Proof has Arrived

Homeless Bound

I knew this would be the day thanks to Amazon’s tracking devices. While meeting with my writer’s group, I kept my phone next to me, in silent mode, glancing at the tiny screen with each vibration, stalking the texts. “Your package has left the facility.” A while later, “Your package is out for delivery.” And then, “Your package is two stops away.” I tried to listen to everyone read but the distractions kept coming. Buzz, buzz, buzz.

I would be a useless critique today, my head following the path of the Amazon delivery truck, but I tried to be a good listener. The phone was silent for a bit. I looked back at the last message. Two stops. They should have delivered it by now. Maybe they got lost. Maybe they lied.

It was my turn to read. “I didn’t bring anything,” I apologized. “You see, I thought I would have my proof copies to share.” I held up my phone. “They’re two stops away.” I used my allotted time to talk about keywords, back of the book blurbs and the benefits of self-publishing.

Buzzzzzz. I looked down at the phone. “Delivered.” Suddenly it was real. I could run home, rip open the box, and hold the proof of my efforts. And so I did.

I ran my fingers across the shiny cover. I flipped to the back side, read the blurb. It needs some editing. I checked the interior. It needs some editing. My job is not done. But even scarier, as I hold this piece of work in my hands, I think, is this something I truly want to release out into the world?

Memory Triggers Inspiration

Sometimes it takes just a little bit of luck and sometimes you just happen on to something that brings with it a whole flood of memories. Thanks to someone I met two years ago at Silver Lake Sandbox when I visited Michigan, I stumbled on her FaceBook post announcing this new book by Ann Chandler. Terri was kind enough not to just get Ann to sign the book for me but also put us in touch with each other. Two days later I held the book in my hands.

Yesterday I dug through a box of old photos from my dad and found a bunch of shots from the early 50s. Then came the memories. Dunes, dune scooters, swimming, sunburns, bonfires, the lost village, rowboats, speedboats and platoons and my little green toy truck lost under all that sand. Strange sometimes what comes to mind.

Meanwhile, there is a short reference to the Silver Lake dunes in my upcoming memoir. It’s a meditation of sorts that gets me through difficult times:

I was six years old when I first climbed the razor back dune behind the cottages where we spent our summer days. I never once gave up in my climb to reach the top of that shifting sand and that struggle later came to represent the struggles in my life, literally two steps forward and one step back, but  it was that stubborn step forward that counted.

I sit on top of the tallest sand dune between Silver Lake and Lake Michigan and feel as though I have reached the top of the world. To my right is Silver Lake, a mirror shining within a frame of small cottages. To my left is Lake Michigan, big as an ocean stretching into infinity.

I feel the warmth of the midday sun, burying my bare feet under the hot layer of sand. I lie back and sink into the fine white sand, cradled in its soft formations, snug and safe. I close my eyes.

I am quiet as my mind clears, letting go of the daily trials, giving them up to a power greater than myself. I listen patiently, waiting for some guidance. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. It will happen in God’s time, not mine.

My mind is at peace and my body follows. I am safe, comfortable and everything is good. I know that all will be well.

Gently I return to life, opening my eyes ever so slowly. I roll to my side and push off, tumbling down the dunes, free from my burdens, ready for action.

As I rise to standing, I look up to the top. Then turn and walk away knowing that I can return anytime, anyplace.