Next memoir post: The confession

Next memoir post is up.

My ex-husband confessing to his affair was one of the first scenes I wrote for my memoir.  It was a pivotal event that bisected my life into before and after – before I knew about his affair, and afterwards.  Normalcy, then disaster.  My own little 9/11.

Next I wrote about the days right after, and right before.  I described taking care of his mother, and when Joe and I first met.   I looked back in my journals and saw there were things I had forgotten, like when Joe first told me about Kimiko moving in next door to his parents’, and how in that moment, a terrible feeling washed over me as I remembered years earlier his telling me that a fortune teller said he’d marry a woman who had been born in Japan.  Back then I had thought, Where would he meet someone like that?  All the Asians he knew were American, like us.  Now here she was.

Some people might think writing a memoir is easier than writing a novel.  Fiction you have to make up from scratch while you’ve lived your life, now write it down.  But what to write down is the hard part: just because it happened, doesn’t make it interesting or pertinent to the story you’re trying to tell.

So how do you know what to keep and what to toss?  Fresh eyes help.  Readers, especially ones who don’t know you, can tell what’s irrelevant and what’s missing.  They also give you perspective.  For instance, I was resistant about including the parts about my sister-in-law, Olivia, because I thought I came off as bitter.  But my classmates in a writing class didn’t think I was at all, and that those scenes added to the story.

One of the most common questions when starting a book is where do I begin?  I always say, “Start with whatever is foremost on your mind now.”  You can always reorder later.  Once for a writing class, I volunteered to have my piece workshopped first.  Although I had a draft of my memoir, I didn’t think it was polished enough.  The morning of the day I was supposed to email everyone, I still hadn’t written anything.  Where to begin?

The night before I had a dream about my ex.  I decided to begin there:

I dreamt about my ex-husband again last night.

I had gotten him out of the house, but somehow he was able to get back in.  Somehow I took him back.  He was very happy.  He went around smiling and laughing, which he only sometimes did in real life, rarely at the end of our marriage.  I pretended to be glad but really I wondered how I could tell him without hurting him that I needed him to leave.

This didn’t end up staying in the book, but it kick started my creative juices and I was able to keep going.

Now that I’m writing more essays, I’m exploring topics, like memories from childhood, that I’ve written about before.  I remember struggling in high school and college to tell stories and not just summaries of events.  It’s encouraging to feel that my skills have improved since then, that I have a better feel for what to include and omit, and creating scenes out of memories.

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