keeping a promise
two heads are better than one
Every class contributed immensely to expanding my understanding of memoir creation. All the discussions were lively, supportive, and inspirational. But the shining moment of the class for me was the one-on-one hour that Ellen spent with me. As a component of the course, Ellen scheduled a one-on-one hour with each student. She encouraged us to choose whatever aspect of writing we believed was giving us the most trouble, that we found the most discouraging.
I told Ellen I struggled with how much of my story of parenting two children with profound disabilities to share. The narrative covered so many years and so many different challenges as Kristy and Johnny’s needs and capabilities changed and shifted. The work felt encyclopedic. Where did I begin? Where did I end? What could I leave out and still be authentic?
caught in a maze
I knew my obstacles were not unique but did not see an effortless way through the maze. Ellen asked one question. That question turned out to be the key to the locked gates between me and a finished draft. “What,” she asked, “is your mission in writing this memoir? Are you hoping to inspire or help other parents of children with similar disabilities?”
“Absolutely not,” was my immediate response. “I can only tell what happened to us and how we muddled through. I can’t pretend to have the answers other parents might be seeking.”
seek your mission
“That’s totally valid,” she replied. “I completely understand, but there must be something driving you to tell this story. You need to be able to name that very clearly. That’s the only way you can discern the parts of the story that must be written.”
I knew why I wanted to write this memoir. But I had not thought of it as a “mission.” “Kristy and Johnny were such special kids,” I told her. “And I mean that in ways that go beyond their special needs. They were unique and wonderful, and they gifted the world with their presence. I do not want the people in our family to forget them. I’m writing this story so that their niece and nephew, cousins, and the many other folks in both our families and among our friends can remember them as the extraordinary human beings they were.”
there’s your focus
Ellen’s face crinkled in a big, bright smile. “Wow, that’s a mission for sure. It also definitely tells us where the focus of the memoir needs to be.”
“It does?” Her claim perplexed me. It did not sound like it limited the span of the story very much to me.
“Without a doubt,” Ellen stated, “You have to tell the stories that make them come alive. You need to make Kristy and Johnny pop off the pages of your memoir. Choose to tell the things about them that were unique and stood out. Let the reader really know them.”
still caught in overwhelm
“I see how this theme could be a good guide, but it still feels like a lot of material,” I objected.
“That where there’s a trick of the craft that comes in,” Ellen explained. “Limit yourself to a certain number of scenes – much like you were writing a play. Then choose the action that would bring those scenes alive.”
Ellen noted that this is how she was able to bring clarity to her own memoir, Seven Springs. https://ellenblumbarish.com/tag/seven-springs/
That work covers forty years of her life, yet she focuses on seven specific springs during those years to tell the whole story. I knew and loved Ellen’s book. Picturing how it laid out, I could envision tackling my own project in a comparable manner.”
“Sometimes,” Ellen said, “certain numbers have a particular meaning for us spiritually and emotionally. Working within the confines of such a number can inspire and enlighten us.”
She advised me to sit with that notion and discover my number. Once I knew it, I could start working out what the “scenes” of my “play” might be.
This approach has galvanized me. I have plowed ahead – not creating scenes just yet but recording down all the best information I can about Kristy and Johnny. Once I have that in mind, I will let the contemplation begin. I’ll let the number emerge. When it happens, you will be among the first to hear about it.