Here’s the proof. We have been married for 49 years as of today. Trouble is, the DMV won’t give me a Real ID because they don’t believe I’m really married.
Two weeks ago I arrived at our nearest DMV promptly when the office was supposed to open at 9am. I was eighth in line, standing in pouring rain carefully protecting all my important documents under my raincoat, for ten minutes before the door opened. Two hours later when finally called to window #9, I handed over my original social security card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, soon to expire driver’s license, two proofs that I still reside in the same house I moved into 49 years ago, and an expired passport. I waited with great patience while the clerk checked front and back of each document. She handed back the passport. “This is expired. We can’t use it.” She handed back everything but the marriage certificate. “These look good.” And then…
She flipped the yellowed marriage certificate a couple of times and held it up to the light as I watched a crinkled corner drop to her desk. I cringed when she did the unthinkable – she taped the corner back on the document with non-archivable tape. “This won’t work. It has no official stamp.”
“But, that’s the certificate I used when I got my passport,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “Maybe they would have taken this but we can’t accept it. You’ll need to get a certified copy of your marriage license. Do you want a driver’s license without a real ID,” she asked. My next attempt to persuade her that the expired passport along with the marriage certificate that the US government had accepted as proof that I did indeed get married 49 years ago was futile. I walked out with a temporary driver’s license and an assurance that I could upgrade to a real ID once I obtained an official marriage license.
After a full day of searching twelve boxes of archived, photos, diplomas, grant deeds, 49 years of tax returns, insurance policies, and receipts for 49 years worth of purchases, I gave up. I contacted the county where we were married. No record. I contacted the county where we have lived for 49 years. No record. Maybe the preacher (Dad) never sent in the license. Since California does not observe common law marriages, what will I tell my illegitimate children?
Resolutions, intentions, goals… whatever you might want to call it. For me, I decided to pick one word for 2019. And the word I picked was clarity. I had it engraved on a ring and placed it on my finger before the new year began. I was wearing it at a retreat over the weekend; a retreat where we focused on “Finding Your Life’s Deep Current.” I was always curious when I drove by the place called Spirit Rock, but perhaps a little fearful of what might be behind the gate.
A friend of mine told me about this retreat at Spirit Rock. “It’s a writing retreat,” she said. Always looking for the next step in my writing world, I leaped at the opportunity. Okay, let’s be honest. I studied the website. I tried to read between the lines. I probably read through the entire program at least six times before I found the courage to click on the registration button.
We breathed. We meditated. We listened. We wrote freely at several prompts. And then… we shared our writing with a complete stranger. Not just one stranger. Each prompt was to be shared with a new stranger. Journal writing an be a powerful thing. Standing up to what you have written, sharing with another human being whose path has never crossed yours is emotionally draining yet liberating.
But here’s the thing. As I read my piece to the last stranger, I noticed she was leaning in just a little closer, truly listening to each word. It was her turn. I listened to her read her words and found myself leaning in a little closer absorbing every word. We looked into each others eyes and it was as if we were looking into a mirror. It wasn’t just that we were close in age and our outward appearance was similar – we shared the same inner truths. But that’s not all. I asked her name. “Marge,” she said. “But that’s my name,” I said.
So what does that have to do with “52 Pieces of Me?” I’m not so sure but I have a feeling if I share 52 pieces of me, I might just find some more “Marge’s” out there.
And about the ring… I have abandoned the idea of having only one word for the year. I wore this ring for only a couple of weeks and I can see more clearly now. I could wear a stack of words on my fingers (and I might) but the truth always comes from within.
If one writing group is good, would two groups be great? I discovered the power of a writing group a dozen years ago when I thought I was ready to write my memoir. The group was warm, welcoming and inspiring. But I wasn’t ready.
Last spring, following an e-mail signature-line link, I discovered a memoir class at a local library – exactly the push I needed. Several classes later I knew I had found the right place, a compassionate group, gentle critique, and a strong coach. Problem is, after eight weeks, the class was over. Eight chapter drafts sat untouched on the edge of my desk for the entire summer. Guilt began to sink in. I couldn’t risk letting another dozen years pass before I picked up the pieces – by then I might be too old. When September came and I found out the class had morphed into an official writer’s group, I grabbed my pink notebook and a couple of my favorite pens and headed to the library.
I am comfortable with this library group. It gives me a safe space to write and share that crappy first draft. I trust and accept the feedback from this group of eight women and one man. Our individual stories may be different but they all peek into the souls within us, all the way down to the soles of our feet.
But I still have that tough inner critic who tells me I am not author material. So I joined a second writing group, one made up of authors (by my definition, writers who have published their words). My thinking – wouldn’t this be the perfect place to take the draft from the memoir group, clean it up, and share with these “professionals?” Two chapters into it, confidence grows with positive encouragement.
Now I begin to reflect. This group is a mix of fiction and memoir writers. There may be some truth in fiction but as I reveal my story to this new audience, I wonder if I have the strength to share the whole truth. And, beyond that, do I really want the world to know? The answer comes. I have a story to tell. The grace to tell one’s experience, strength and hope, gives others the courage to tell their story.
Where does your memoir begin? Where will it take you?
I begin with the Anne Lamott method – a sh*tty first draft. No one lays eyes on this piece of work. It will be tweaked and trimmed before I dare to read it to my memoir writing group. I am fortunate to have found this group of eight willing to listen and share each others stories with an openness and nonjudgmental sense of loyalty. We critique with compassion for each other, gently making suggestions – what to leave in, what to eliminate, what needs to be expanded.
There are times we hit a rough spot and we bring in the same piece of work week after week. Usually I take my piece home, make a few notes, and move on to the next chapter, keeping in mind that this is still not the final draft. It gives me the freedom to work through the cathartic phase of writing a painful memoir in a safe environment. This is where I learn what happened, where I gathered strength, and figure out where will I take the reader.
The original plan to hold off on writing this memoir until resolution is conceived was procrastination on my part. I didn’t want to write down the gritty details. I wanted to come out looking like the person who exists on FaceBook – the one always smiling, looking good, enjoying a wonderful life. The more I write the more I realize the truth – I am that person portrayed on FaceBook. I am in a good place. Perhaps resolution comes within the process, a slow mining of the gold within a story, growing from the experiences, and knowing there is much more good to come.
Admit it. We all like to hear a juicy bit of gossip. As long as it is not about us. Or our family. Or our best friend. The important thing to remember, however, is that most gossip is simply idle talk or rumor.
Writing memoir requires cautious editing and removal of anything which could damage others. Quidnuncs are invited to read my memoir. They may be disappointed.