“It is clear we must embrace struggle. Every living thing conforms to it. Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance. We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us.”– Rainer Marie Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet
Writing memoir is like pulling water out of a deep well, and sometimes you get a cupful and sometimes you get a bucket. Sometimes, you get nothing.
Writing memoir is like digging underground, and you don’t know if you’ll extract a fistful of dirt or recover some forgotten treasure, or some of both.
At the end, you’re exhausted, sweaty, drained, and you’re standing there facing all of these fragments and pieces. You now must attempt to put all the pieces together in some kind of coherent fashion.
And you know this is only part of the story, but there is more, much more. But this is the part you can tell right now.
You know what it takes, what it will take.
At the end, you’ll know what it took. Because usually, a memoir isn’t all about the sunshine. It’s opening up old wounds and getting scratched, stung and split open again by memories. And I’ve only just begun this process of writing not just pieces of my story, but my mother’s story, and Lord willing, others’ stories, too.
I reserved time early this week to regroup and prepare my mind and heart, because I will have some time later in the week for uninterrupted (I hope!) alone writing time (which I have reserved and planned in advance) and I do not want to rush into it out of breath, although it does take some planning and effort to set aside the time.
It is a happy coincidence to me this little writing retreat falls when it does. Last week was something of a momentous occasion for my brother for a special new job. My entire side of the family attended (except my daughter who is in college) to watch the ceremony and celebrate afterward. The official announcement came out just a couple of days ago.
I was looking through the pictures upon returning and that lump began to form in my throat, just as it did when I was there last week. I can’t explain what it was: a mix of emotions, I suppose. A mix of thankfulness, gratitude, and of course, feeling proud of him and his accomplishments. And more. Just more. An immigrant family- stepping off the plane- he wasn’t even born yet- not knowing the future. It was moving. I also know it took years of hard work and time and sacrifice, so it was all of that as well. It isn’t a job for anyone or everyone. It will be challenging, emotionally draining, and gut-wrenching, but also rewarding, and I know he will do it to the best of his ability. I know the interview process took two years, too. Even just writing about all of this makes me a little emotional, and I am still processing all of it.
Writing memoir: it means pressing on. So, I continue to press on with writing and to think about what it means to embrace the struggle. I am especially concerned to get my mother’s words written down and it is proving quite difficult to get it accomplished given the distance we live apart. So difficult. Time is very limited. I need time, and that seems to be the hardest thing to obtain. Why? The things that are among the most important should take priority, and it seems that in this life we so often have it all switched and lopsided and backward and we spend more time on insignificant and piddly things. It frustrates me… and I have to figure out how to balance all of it.
Maybe, and this is what I think it will be: it means I will have to go there for more frequent periodic visits because she cannot keep up the pace of travel. When I’m there, I’m more likely to spend quality and focused time on getting all the stories down. When she’s here with me, I’m so busy and distracted by the million things I have to do here.
My prayer: Lord, help me to get it all turned around and find a way to fulfill this task she asked of me – and because it is important to get her story written down.