Posted by: jeanne | November 16, 2010

about my memoirs (nanowrimo)

it’s past the middle of november, the traditional national novel writing month, when several people take on the task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.  i’ve done it for 3 or 4 years now, and it’s resulted in 3 almost finished  unpublished novels.  yay.

this time i’m working on my memoirs.  and i’ve had to do something extraordinary to make it palatable to me, my major reader.  well, my only reader, because it’s in longhand, and nobody can read that shit but me.

i’ve been working since the beginning of the year on my memoirs, but only the salacious early part:  my years on the run with my ex the ax murderer.  but there’s so much more.  i’ve given up writing about my childhood.  it’s so far back i can only make up stories about it at this point.  and my 20s aren’t really accessible, but i’ve told the story so many times all the nuances have been committed to memory.  my married life is kind of a fog, kind of like a sitcom, a reality show, watching someone else’s condensed life.  it’s my current period that i’m most attached to, the part where i have cancer and everything looks different.

but that’s not what anyone’s going to want to read, so i’m trying to slip it in.  in fact, i’m trying to write my entire life all at once, all three periods jumbled up together.  it makes it easier to swallow.  it doesn’t make it any shorter to write, because i still have to write all three periods.  it may make it shorter to read, and it will guard against someone reading it just for the salacious parts.

but no interviews.  and a percentage goes for aid to abused women.

it’s not a problem writing about the salacious past and the current present.  i can write myself in as the writer of the memoirs, and even kill myself off in the end (without affecting my actual health or prognosis please god).  i can remark on the things i’m writing about, i can attempt to embellish the story, i can be seen lying, i can fill in things i left out.  it’s a bit of a problem writing the middle period, tho.

at first i thought i’d write it as a sitcom, but my middle period is only sort of funny.  and it’s not at all sitcommy, in that it changes location every few years, and supporting cast every few years.  of course, we could make that a formula.  it follows a woman, and her family, for a decade, right thru the divorce and right up to the very brink of a cancer diagnosis.  sitcoms don’t do that.

Q:  how many breast cancer survivors does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  that’s not funny.

then i thought, just this evening as i was finishing up the 7th episode, why don’t i make it a reality show?  i had briefly thought of making it a miniseries.  but i hate dramas, and i don’t recall any funny miniseries except that one about cinderella.

voiceover:  we followed one woman on a decade-long journey thru life.  love, laughter, tragedy.

that way i can describe the scenes and the action, and continue to comment on it with my usual wisecracks, and i don’t have to think of snappy sitcom jokes i can make about corporate america or married life or small town values.

i always thought of my life as a reality show, shot from somewhere over my shoulder, narrated by me.  so why don’t i just write the boring part of my life as it was, anesthetized and normal, and make fun of it for my snappy jokes.

anyway, its really difficult to put all three streams together into one narrative.  but it’s enriching, because each revelation in one strand can have a concurrent ripple in another one.  like when my tv character gets her invasive tumor diagnosis, this will prompt the me of right now to recall how difficult it was to get past having only one breast.  and it will feed back to the story of my ex the ax murderer – how?  when the earlier me thought i was pregnant and he said ‘send me a postcard’ and i had a talk with the spirit, who came back a few years later when i was in a better place.

i can do this.  my poor editor, my old friend who has agreed to have a look at this when it’s finally legible.

in transcribing it to computer, i will have an opportunity to shuffle a lot of pieces around to make a coherent narrative.  right now one thing leads to another, with parenthetical notes to myself and all sorts of extraneousities.  all three stories are going to get told at the same time, but they’re not going to all start at the same point in their arc.  but even the way i described it a paragraph or two above isn’t right, because when the reality show star gets cancer is the end of the show, which occurs near the end of the salacious part with my ex the ax murderer, and close to my own deterioration and demise.  but we’ve known i have cancer since the beginning of my talking about writing my memoirs.  ah, but it’s the first bout with cancer i had at the beginning of the story (i’m talking to myself here).  the second one can occur relatively late in the story because i get to be happy and productive and have a wonderful life with jim to establish before i can lose it, and the end has to be swift because…

or not.  i can linger on and write long after the series is over, stretching out the salacious tale until the end, recalling this or that atrocity of abuse with my dying breath.  but from the time i know i’m dying to the end has to be quick, because if i’m dying i’m not going to be sitting there writing all day, i’m going to be in the hospital, or sick in the bathroom or in bed doped up.  i can write under the influence of morphine and rave.  or i can just cop out and stop writing, leave all the stories hanging, and end up with an obituary.

anyway, all that’s in the second draft.  right now i have to get it down, and i have half a month and half 50k to write before leaving it off for the next project (getting ready for xmas and continuing work on my public art project.  it’s boring, but there are topics that i have to cover and points i have to make that will take twice as long to polish for the second draft.  this could take years, of finishing one little bit at a time and then editing the hell out of it until i have what amounts to another first draft…

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