Do I want to spend this November feverishly trying to write 50,000 words for my own personal satisfaction, and to show myself (and maybe the world) that I can do it again? My manuscript from last year is still in my computer, with one of the main characters (a fictional daughter by the name of Madison) occasionally pounding on the lid of my laptop from within, demanding that she be let out. I haven't revisited the manuscript nor Madison - it was a work of mental healing, a fictionalized "what if" of my life, something never really meant for public consumption.
But, how can I resist another heart-pounding competition against myself? Bravely, earlier this month, I decided I would be a rebel and write my memoir. (This is a fiction competition, and memoirs aren't fiction. Hence, I would be a "rebel") I've made a couple of stabs at this memoir - back when I didn't know what was involved in writing a memoir.
I have tried to educate myself recently and realize I have a long way to go in actually writing a true memoir.
The doubts were gathering, like grey lake effect clouds on an upstate New York November afternoon. Do I really want to gaze into the navel of my life? (especially if I use cliches like that). Can I do it and write something worthwhile? Oh, that devil, insecurity.
I don't have delusions about this being marketable. I wasn't raised in a dysfunctional family. I didn't survive a war. I have never been an alcoholic or a drug addict (unless you count chocolate as an addiction). I am not famous, not even in my dreams. I have always felt there was nothing significant about me. I'm just an average "Jane" from New York City.
Apparently, I am wrong about being average.
Last night, I listened to a TV interview with the author Malcolm Gladwell, You may not have read his books, but his ideas have entered the modern consciousness - from tipping points to outliers. I read the book "Outliers", and enjoyed it very much. I love the concept of "things aren't necessarily what you think they are." Some critics feel Gladwell oversimplifies, but this isn't meant as a review of Gladwell's ideas. Rather, it is about something Gladwell said in last night's interview.
Gladwell has written a new book called David and Goliath.
To quote the New York Times, the book is " about the advantages of disadvantages — and the disadvantages of seeming advantages.". (One example Gladwell gave is the disproportionate number of successful people with dyslexia - something that caught my ear as one of my cousins has dyslexia.)
Then, something else he said had me suddenly thinking about my memoir-to-be.
Quoting again from the NY Times:
"..one of the most unconventional theories in “David and Goliath” is that for certain people, losing a parent early in life can be an advantage. He cites the work of Marvin Eisenstadt, a psychologist who did a study showing that “of the 573 eminent people for whom Eisenstadt could find reliable biographical information, a quarter had lost at least one parent before the age of 10” — and 45 percent had lost a parent before the age of 20."My Mom died (suddenly) when I was 12. And I would say that yes, that loss was the defining moment of my life. In fact, I have never written about it. Some memories of that night in November of 1965 are too painful for me to write about, even nearly 50 years later.
Was having my Mom die at age 12 an advantage for me?
Strangely, in some ways (am I disloyal to my Mom to say so?) I would say "yes".
I now have the theme of my memoir: loss and coming out, a different but better person, on the other side. Loss of a mother as a child. My childhood neighborhood, which turned into a slum when I was still growing up there. Loss of a dream of rural self-sufficiency in Arkansas.
In some ways, we are all survivors of loss. Or, will be survivors of loss, if we live long enough. What can be a more human theme than surviving loss?
I have registered on the NaNoWriMo website. My working title is "An Insignificant Life", in honor of the late author Frank McCourt.
If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this year and if you want to be your writing buddy, you can find me under RamblinWritr (no "e").