Thursday, January 21, 2016

Digging into the R-Rated Version

January is about 2/3 done, which I'm okay with, and I've been writing A LOT but not here. I started on January 1, writing my NaNoWriMo book, typically done in November of every year, but for me it was this month. I'm 31,400 words in, and plans are to hit 50,000 when January closes shop.

Books on writing will tell you that remembering makes you remember. They're right. It also helps if you have an older sibling to remember with you, or for you. As I've worked to get a timeline for our family's 18 moves in 13 years, my older sister has been a tremendous help in nailing things down. She'll remember something that happened, and then I'll remember, and on it goes. We've had mostly fun going back in time and it's been interesting to see how the perspective is different when less than five years separates your ages. Of course there are literally worlds of difference between an 8 year old and a 13 year old, and planets separate a 13 year old and an 18 year old, as it should be.

One of my writing books says that the first thing almost every writer writes is their childhood story. It doesn't matter if it's memoir, as mine is. They might do a mystery but it will have elements of their childhood, or humor, or whatever genre they choose. It's the book you have to get out of the way, then you write. So I'm writing about lying on the San Augustine grass in our front yard, hunting for four leafed clovers, picking the stems and making them into necklaces. About learning to play jacks, tossing that red rubber ball up in the air to just the right height, so I can sweep my hand down and pick up all the foursees, about building tents under the clotheslines with our mother's freshly washed sheets, and only now as an adult, seeing her sacrifice in letting us do so.

 I'm looking on google maps and seeing the streets of our neighborhood, where I ran wild and free on Halloween night, going along with the kids who suggested we egg the houses whose lights were out. Still feeling ashamed about it, knowing likely there were old people inside who weren't up to answering the door 100 times that night. A remembering that I should have said no, done the right thing, but I went along with the crowd, and still regret it 50 years later.

January has never been my favorite. I actually don't love any of winter very much, dislike being cold at all, and my definition of 'cold' is anything below 60 degrees. I'd much rather sit and sweat in the heat of the sun, than have to bundle up in puffy outerwear and go slide down a hill over cold, wet snow. But I was right in choosing January for a time of reflecting and getting it down on paper. The days don't hold a lot that has to be done, the weather outside isn't calling my name, and projects are easily put off for another day.

I've also read that the first, rough draft of anything should be poured out, not sifted much, and the R version - the truth that nobody will read. There was a lot more to our lives than a carpet of green and clover. Once February comes, with a shorter calendar, I'll put my writing away and start looking forward more, rather than back. Right now, I've got 10 days and 18,600 words to get down, and because I'm writing chronologically the hard parts are still ahead of me. I'll have to think back, trying to see when the tide changed and our family went from eight people joined together to offshoots where chaos began to reign. Or maybe the splinters were always there, too small for any of us to see, but it was inevitable they would grow and spread and split us apart, so that it was a miracle we survived, and some of us did so barely.

There's value in looking back, but it's also okay not to stay there forever, to turn your head forward and look to the future. We used to live in a house that had a walk in attic, a huge rambling room where I could stand up in the middle but had to duck down in the corners. We lived in southern Illinois at the time, and the heat and humidity would just about suck the life out of you at times. Because the attic was big it became the holder of many things. Over the year it would become a discombobulated mess of things we didn't quite know what to do with. In January, when I'd inevitably get a rotten cold I'd choose that day, when I felt miserable already, to go up and clean out the attic. It was my thinking that I felt terrible already, so use that day, rather than wasting a day when I felt well, to go up and do the dreaded task.

January still feels right to me for writing the R version of my life. From the very start until I was 25 and my life finally took a radical 90 degree turn to the good. That memoir, when my life took on hope, would be better written in June, when flowers are blooming, the days are sunny and warm, and taking the dog for her daily walk is something to look forward to, rather than something I have to talk myself into.

The truth is February isn't generally that great either - here in Texas it's more sunny but we get crazy ice storms and it's the coldest month of the year, but I'm not going to dwell on that right now. I'll never say this time of year is my favorite - but it serves a purpose. I just have to dig deep. Doing so will make March even more of a joy.

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