Reconstructing MYSELF

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:

Nothing is less real than realism.
It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis,
that we get at the real meaning of things.

~Georgia O’Keefe

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…


5 thoughts on “Reconstructing MYSELF

  1. I remember Greg saying that. I was stunned and pissed off at the same time. But I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your current realization about reconstructing yourself. It’s beautiful, Jenn. Simply beautiful, just like this post. I’m so proud of you. Keep writing. Don’t stop. I want to read that dissertation as soon as it’s done.


  2. hah! it may be awhile before it’s done 🙂 but I’m happy to have you give it a read, just as I am eager to read your next draft.


  3. Jen. How I wish I call talk with you and tell you that you do not need to “reconstruct” yourself, just “chip away the marble,” as Joe Crawford said. I am sure that inside you is still that beautiful little blond, tanned child I knew in Hawaii. You were very lovable with a beautiful smile. Larry stayed in D.C. with your father for four months and they talked about your mother. You sound as is you have grown into a bright, strong young woman with a sister who loves you, many friends who care about you, and old acquaintances who still think of you fondly. When your book gets published, let me know, I promise to buy a copy. Good luck with the job


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