June 6th, 2009

I’m finding that writing my “autobiography” in 2400 words is more difficult than I imagined. Not only in trying to compress a life into such a short form, but also in trying to describe my life in a new language, new vocabulary. I think everyone gets used to certain stories they construct in their minds about how they grew up, stories they tell themselves or people they meet. It’s not necessarily an untrue version, but it does tend to become ossified over time or fall into certain cliches or set pieces. Maybe the story is “My happy childhood” or maybe it’s “My tragic childhood” — wherever it falls on the spectrum of experience, we tend to assign everyone roles that over time become mythologized in our minds. Deconstructing that story in order to see your life with fresh eyes is like teaching yourself to write with your left hand if you’re righthanded. For instance, I’m resisting writing about my relationship with my mother, which was complicated and unresolved on my part when she died. I tried writing it straight on, but it sounded like something out of a therapy session. I had to sneak up on it through little flash memories from the past, like the walks she took us on in the fall on the dusty back roads of our town, where we collected dried flowers and plants to put in the house. Especially branches of bittersweet berries bursting out of their shells–a happy uncomplicated memory. My mom reverting to the country girl she’d been. My mom who loved nature. My mom who knew the names of so many plants. Not the mother who found it so difficult to show affection. Not the mother abandoned and empty after my father left. Not the sadness I didn’t know was coming. Bittersweet.

5 Responses to “Bittersweet”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful. I'd say you are successful in this attempt. I want to sign on to your homework assignments…but I fear. I want to control the outcome. I want to put my family in their little boxes, but they don't fit. Anyway, I'm admiring your strength to face and surrender to freshness.


  2. V-Grrrl says:

    Every Christmas, members of my family choose a theme related to our shared history and each of us write an essay around it. Some years we've written about holiday memories, vacations, or memories related to the kitchens. Old memories from our original families, "new" memories from the families we've built ourselves. It's always interesting to see how my older siblings cast their subjects and how uncomfortable some family members feel if anything negative is mentioned.

    The story of my life keeps changing as I mature and view the past with different eyes. Remember last summer when I revisited old journals and wrote blog posts based on my observations? I only got as far as 1990. Maybe this summer I'll pick up where I left off. I learned so much about myself reading/writing my life as if it had happened to someone else.

  3. Anonymous says:

    V-Grrrl ooh. two more assignments. I tried to get my siblings to write with me…but after the first few essays they got skittish about anyone else reading them…like parents or neighbors or unknown boogey men. I'm going to read up on your blogs last summer to see how you did it…I've got tons of journals I've been wanting to transform.

  4. frida says:

    I love the idea of having family members write on a theme. Of course, some of my relatives–my brothers and father– would scoff and think I'm just being weird. And my family seems to specialize in secrets that aren't easily revealed in words.

  5. V-Grrrl says:

    My sisters don't participate in the family history project. My two brothers do, one sister-in-law (the family geneaologist), and three of my grown nieces.

    I don't post essays written by my family members, but the pieces I wrote based on my diaries are under the category Story of a Grrrl on my blog. Just keep scrolling down…

    There are some stories I've written about my family on my professional site: