I almost quit blogging
When you write a blog you need to choose, according to the common wisdom, a topic about which you are passionate and upon which you have a great deal of expertise. For me, this narrows down to two subjects – one, my own life story, and two, love & committed relationships, my field of scholarly research and teaching.
A few years back I wrote a few sample blog posts upon the latter topic and submitted them for review to a small group of fellow writers. These colleagues, members of a Portland writer’s workshop strongly preferred the stories about my personal life to the essays on family life, love, romance, and marriage.
everybody is an expert–at something
Other writers, they stressed, already commanded the stage on the topic of committed relationships. And, frankly, these commentators told me, those bloggers did a much better job of elucidating that field than I did. On the other hand, many of my short tales about my life as a wife, student, teacher, and mother were quirky, warm, and captivating. Upon that subject, I was clearly the one and only expert.
So, following their advice, for two years I’ve devoted my blog, here on my website, “JuleWardWrites,” to vignettes of various moments in my life. Most of these stories focused on my time as a wife and mother, but a few reached back into my childhood. None have, however, examined my life since my daughter Kristy died in 2015.
blog posts as the “trailer”
That’s because while I’ve been writing the blog, I’ve also been working on a memoir. Through the memoir, I am trying to share with others the struggles, the failures, the mystery, and the moments of great joy that filled the forty-five years of my life I shared with Kristy. She was only nine months old when she experienced the first symptoms of what would prove to be an unpredictable, devastating neurological disorder. The scientists called it “Progressive myoclonic epilepsies/neurodegenerative encephalopathy,” but that is simply a description of what the patient suffers and not really an explanation of what causes the disorder. The known causes are many, but most of the time the cause is unknown. The disorder strikes like unseen, unheard lightning.
it just wasn’t working
I have submitted drafts of the memoir to writing colleagues for critique. And I hear familiar comments, not unlike those leveled against some of my blog essays. The blog posts, a friend claims, isn’t honest. “It only tells the good stuff.” The memoir, fellow writers tell me, doesn’t dig deep enough into the narrator’s emotions. It portrays a protagonist who always seems to be in control despite the complex challenges she faces. And they don’t believe that could have been true. And they are right.
Last week, I read an interview with Rebekah Taussig, author of the new memoir new book, Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body. Rebekah, paralyzed since toddlerhood, has already gained audience for her book through her Instagram account, Sitting_Pretty. The interviewer praised both the Instagram account and the book, a collection of essays, for the way they were able to create an intimacy with the reader. One felt, she wrote, as though the memoirist had “hooked elbows” with you to walk you through her life.
come, walk with me
Reading the interview affirmed a resolve I had made earlier this week. Just nine days ago, one of the people I hold most dear in this world, my brother-in-law, Marty Ward, succumbed to Covid 19, despite being fully vaccinated. Marty had been quite healthy and had a long bucket list of grand adventures planned. People in his family usually have long lives. His totally unexpected death cracked my heart. It also jolted me awake to the fact that I could no longer dilly dally about writing my memoir. Kristy deserves to be remembered. Only I can tell her story. I must get going.
Like Rebekah, I plan to take you with me. For the next year, the blog will take a new turn. It becomes the story of my journey into the depths of my heart and soul as I struggle to give an honest account of my years as Kristy’s mother. This means it will include the challenges any writer faces such as dealing with critique, the hard work of rewriting, again and again, the difficult task of finding an agent, and the search for a publisher.
lots of questions, but also some answers
The blog will be full of questions that I’m hoping you’ll be willing to answer. I am open to critique as well. I don’t write simply for the positive feedback. Let me know what engages you and what leaves you cold. In return, I promise to share with you everything I learn about writing a memoir. I believe you probably have a story to share. Taking this walk with me might be the inspiration you need to sit down and begin that book you were always “going to write.”
September, the start of the school year and the month of my birthday, has always been a time of new beginnings for me. Next week, my first post of September will bring you up to date on where I am at this point. I’ll share examples of wisdom I’ve culled and how that’s working out.
Let me know what you think about this new twist.
- You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. ~Anne Lamott