I’ve been working on this project, Reconstructing My Mother, since 2005 when I signed up for a memoir class at the Taos Summer Writers Conference. The instructor letter said, among other things, “Send 10-25 pages of your manuscript…. bla bla bla”
Yeah. After the word “manuscript” my vision blurred then my brain went into panic mode. MANUSCRIPT?! I’m supposed to have a manuscript?
And even six and a half years later I still sometimes hear that voice in my head that says MANUSCRIPT?! I’m supposed to have a manuscript? Only now I really have to have one in order to complete this MFA.
When I describe this manuscript I have some nice little marketing spiel I’ve come up with that explains it:
In RECONSTRUCTING MY MOTHER we follow Jennifer’s journey to get to know her mother who died when she was 13. Set against the backdrop of turning 40, watching her only sister battle breast cancer and losing her father, ultimately the book is about Jennifer getting to know herself.
I remember in that first workshop at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference Greg (who is now my adviser at UNM) said in his critique (outloud in front of everyone): ”Jennifer is searching for something she’ll never find.” He wasn’t being mean (though it did make me cry and think what the F*&% does he know?!). He was enthusiastic about the story potential in my work. I can’t even count how often since that first workshop I have heard him say something along the lines of: ”If a guy goes on a journey to get something, and everything works out great and he gets it…. it’s not a STORY.”
But the more I write this thing, the more I realize it is not only about “getting to know myself” it’s about RECONSTRUCTING myself. I didn’t understand that many of the obstacles I would run up against would be my own self: insecurity, fear, procrastination, you know, the ones I wrote about in the post from three days ago… I didn’t understand how important ”getting to know myself” is in terms of creating a memoir with an engaging voice rich with reflection and wisdom, sprinkled with a little humor–at least that is my hope for the work.
I’m having to dig deep, go back to dark places in the past, and places that are just gray and muddled, the edges of those memories softened over time. I don’t want to dwell in the past, but in order to understand the present, to understand myself, I need to understand where I come from. I need to cull through those memories, those defining events in my life and determine if they fit in this story:
I am not broken, I am not torn apart in bits, but I need to identify the pieces and reconstruct them into a narrative arc that tells a story, that tell the story I want to tell about loss and what it means to navigate grief, and what happens when we don’t go on that grief journey…