A Sense of My Ending/How Will I Later Recall Writing and Promoting Pieces of Me?

I saw the movie The Sense of An Ending recently, and this quote jumped out at me.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts?

And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around us to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but–mainly–to ourselves.”– Julian Barnes, The Sense of An Ending.

The last sentence. –Told to others, but–mainly to ourselves,” really sticks. As I wind my way through different towns and states promoting my memoir, talking to many wonderful others, I think about how I’ll remember this process in my final memoir.  I suspect it will be published in my seventies if I’m fortunate enough to last that long, covering the process of healing where the last book left off, following getting to know my extended family, and the publishing my first book. What will I think then about this process of storytelling when it’s a memory?

I borrowed heavily from old journals, newspaper articles, and ingrained memories of awful events to write Pieces of Me. What comes later will be different, a more normal life.

What I hope old Liz will remember to tell about the one in her fifties is that both writing and promoting her book was a complicated process. Not glamorous as imagined in years past. Filled with extreme solitude and then extreme socializing. Many sleepless nights, worried about the feelings of those included in the book and those who weren’t,  and hoping I did due diligence at each event to make it worthwhile, gnawing concerns about money, thank you cards needing sent, and emails needing care. And I hope the old gal will remember that in the midst of all that, there was an outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and strangers, and that people were empowered to tell their own stories,  because a sacred atmosphere of vulnerability is created in writing memoir, and an understanding that everyone has a story, and every one of our stories is indeed important.

On this current trip, I’m so grateful to the University of Washington Bookstore and their staff, to friends and family and strangers who came out to show support, to my new friends I made at the Seattle hostel,  and to King5 News for covering my book and the event. I loved seeing my  dear friend Ira, who found my father for me so long ago.

At the University of Toledo’s Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women, I’m grateful to the passionate staff for including me in their mission to empower women, and for creating an elegant event that was covered by WGTV13abc and filmed for university students for later video streaming. I adore my friend Billijo for driving from Minnesota to Ohio to join the event and spend time with me before and after. And great thanks to my friend Jennifer Jarrett for coordinating this, and for tonight’s Meet the Author event at Luna Pier in Michigan and for being my host family. I’m indebted to my youngest daughter for caring for my home and cats and for her work to stop the flooding in my kitchen after a pipe broke.

If you’re interested in telling your story, I’ve long enjoyed the National Association for Memoir Writers. There are free coaching sessions run by Linda Joy Meyers, a therapist and author. It’s a gentle way to get your feet wet.

Thank you for stopping by.

 

From Past to Present/Dusting Off My Manuscript to Answer the Real Questions

A few weeks ago She Writes Press announced a cool new contest for memoir writers.

Simply put, women writers can submit a query letter and the first couple of chapters of their memoir and compete for an agent with Serendipity Literary Agency. Check it out on She Writes Press.

I may have mentioned I shelved my memoir about domestic violence and child abduction  for many months after a few drafts, more than a few rejections, and much much more than a few hundred dollars spent on editorial services.  I was positively sick of it.

Then I listened to a recorded tele-seminar from my National Association of Memoir Writers membership and heard author Linda Watanabe McFerrin give tips on writing memoir. She mentioned that in a memoir, the protagonist has something they want which is the external plot, versus something they truly want,  the internal which has emotion.

And just like that, it made sense. What do I say I want, and what is really driving my actions? That’s what needs to be in the book.

I’ve also been re-reading the artful memoir Swimming with Maya again by Eleanor Vincent, and realized I need to re-write my first book in the first person to experience the emotions long buried.

So here are my first couple of pages. Does it work for you written in present tense?

I’d love to hear your reactions at liza8m@gmail.com. It’s due on August 31st.  And soon, Eleanor Vincent has agreed to be interviewed for the blog. Stay tuned!

Chapter 1

I brush Marianthi’s hair as fast as I can without upsetting her. My oldest daughter, like so many firstborn, seems in tune to my every mood since her birth. Just six years old now, she senses my wave of anxiety about her father’s impending arrival for weekly visitation.

“Are you scared, Mommy?”

Marianthi’s voice sounds like a munchkin from the Wizard of Oz, as small and sweet as she is.

“No, sweetie” I smile. “I just don’t want to keep Daddy waiting. You look beautiful.”

And she does. She’s wearing her blue dress with the floral collar that matches her liquid blue eyes. Her straight brown hair is neatly held back by a barrette. Now I direct her to her coat and boots while I work on getting her little sister ready.

I push Meredith’s plump calf into her boot. She groans. “Point your foot down, baby.” Slowly, the boot slides on. I run my fingers through her baby-fine brown ringlets and inspect her round face for remnants of Rice Krispies.

Meredith is the antithesis of her sister. At two, she lost grasp of her helium balloon, silently watching it float towards the clouds. “God stole my balloon,” she had announced. At three, she told a bald man that he had a baby head. And now at four, Meredith has learned she could belch as loudly as a college boy at a frat party.

My daughters are absurdly cute. I’m not the only one who thinks so; four separate couples have requested the girls be in their upcoming weddings this spring alone.

“Ready just in time,” I tell them as their father Grigorios, Gregory for short, pulls up in his dented, bright blue Jeep Cherokee. A male passenger I don’t recognize is sitting next to him. I try to get a closer look without upsetting Gregory. The passenger catches me, and I avert my eyes immediately. What guy would ride along with Gregory to pick up the girls? And why?

“Momma, will you pick us up tomowoh?” Meredith asks. I dread the day she’s able to pronounce her r’s.

“I’ll pick you up on the tomorrow after tomorrow, remember?” But of course Meredith can’t remember the court- appointed visitation schedule. She’s only four, and her father visits are irregular. She doesn’t know that the court only recently lifted the supervised visitation requirement that has been imposed during a restraining order, or that I pick her and her sister up at the daycare for the express purpose of avoiding unnecessary contact with him. And she shouldn’t have to. Neither of them should have to know of the grim details of their parents’ divorce. They’re still little girls, after all.

I feel like I have spent my entire twenty-nine years of life walking on eggshells. It’s March 13, 1994, and I’m four years out of my violent marriage. But despite the passage of time, my fear of Gregory is as strong as the day in March of 1990 when I got back up off the floor, collected my baby girls and fled in a taxi. The scratches and strangulation marks healed after several days, but his parting threats haunt me: “I would rather kill you than let you leave. That way you’ll die knowing the girls will have no mother and their father will be in jail. Leave and you’ll never see them again–I have nothing to lose.”

That was by no means the first time Gregory had threatened to harm or kill me. Not even close. In our marriage, he’d isolated me from friends, had taken my car, and at the lowest point, limited my access to food while I was pregnant. Eventually, he wrung my neck. And all the while, he delivered the same message, over and over. “You are worthless, stupid, and helpless. I am the only person you have to rely on. Without me, you are nothing.”

But it’s his threat to take the children and disappear to his native home in Greece if I left him that got to me. He knows that I could never live without my children.

I remind myself that our circumstances are different now. Yes, things are still hard, even though four years have passed since our marriage ended. I have no family around to help with the girls or with the house. We live in Alaska, a place where one battles ice and snow and long periods of continual darkness that is followed by short periods of constant light. It’s a place suited best for those with money. Money to buy a four-wheel drive. Money to buy lots of insulation for the house and to buy fancy winter boots and coats, and money to buy airline tickets to leave the state once or twice a year for a warmer climate. All of the things

But on the plus side, our divorce is final now and includes provisions in our custody arrangement to prevent him making good on his threats. I’ve earned my journalism degree. I have a promising job, and I’m determined not to feign independence through remarriage and further dependence. We are out of low-income housing, and off of food stamps. And more importantly, the girls are smart and healthy, and they how to respond if anyone, including their father, attempts to take them away from me. There is no reason to be afraid.

“Don’t forget your blankie, baby,” I remind Meredith. I hand her the paper-thin quilted blanket that she’s loved since birth. Life for everyone around Meredith goes better when she has the comfort of her security blanket. While her sister is the sensitive, pleasing child, Meredith’s attitude is that if she has to suffer, then so should the entire community.

The doorbell rings. I hug the girls and open the door. Gregory is standing there in his hooded blue jacket and baggy khakis. His dirty-brown hair looks even thinner than the last time I saw him, and his cheeks more hollow. Though he’s a half -inch taller than me at 5’8,” I outweigh my former husband by an easy fifteen pounds despite my frequent crash diets. This stupid fact has pissed me off over the years as much as the legitimate reasons I have to hate him. And yet, his gaunt look makes him appear more scary and desperate to me somehow.

Gregory wordlessly takes Meredith’s hand. She in turn grabs Marianthi’s hand. They carefully step over the ice and snow that has yet to melt in the extended Alaskan winter, and Gregory lifts them into his Jeep. They both looked back at me before he shuts the rear passenger door.

“Goodbye! I love you,” I call out.

“Bye Mommy!” they say in unison.

Gregory glares hard at me before getting in the Jeep. I return his gaze and smile brightly, refusing to defer to his intimidation tactics, and then shudder as the Jeep disappears from view. I close the door, chiding myself. I hate being paranoid, but who is that guy with him? None of your business, Liz, I tell myself. Bad things always seem to happen when I question Gregory about anything, and it isn’t illegal for him to have someone I don’t know in the car. Just get over it.

Time to prepare for the day ahead. I plan to take my friend Julie to lunch at a new sushi restaurant for her thirtieth birthday, and will force myself to enjoy the quiet time without the girls.

Somehow, today feels different to me. A palpable feeling of unrest is in the pit of my stomach for no particular reason.

The climate between Gregory and me has cooled again in the last few weeks. I had always hoped we could be on civil terms for the sake of the children, and was occasionally encouraged when time passed without any hint of coarse language or bullying as we exchanged the girls for visitation. But the peace has been short-lived. In general, it seems that the passage of time has only increased their father’s intentions to possess or destroy me, whichever comes first. And although I’m too scared to cross Gregory unless my and the girls’ safety is at stake, the state of Alaska boldly dipped into a legal settlement of his to collect child support a few weeks ago. Gregory is livid. I can’t help but worry about repercussions. He has strong feelings about paying child support.

“If you need diapers, call me,” he told me after the girls and I got settled into low-income housing four years earlier. “If you and the girls run out of food, you have my number. I’ll do what I can. But don’t ever let some government agency tell me how much I need to pay you to support my daughters. I will decide this.”

And true to his word, Gregory has not bowed to the government mandate of paying child support. Instead, I have learned to manage the financial struggles of supporting two little girls on next to nothing. I have learned how to manage his threatening phone calls, and the image of Gregory in my rearview mirror. I have even learned to parlay my fear of being killed by him into an inspiration to live each day with my daughters as if it might be my last. Because it really might be.

Yet I know I can never learn to live without my daughters, and Gregory knows why.

***

Weekend Roundup

How have you been filling your summer days?

I took an impromptu trip to Talkeetna, Alaska this weekend and stayed at a charming  youth hostel there.  I love the connections and conversations when I’m in a hostel, and caught up on reading and writing.

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House of Seven Trees in Talkeetna, Alaska

Here’s what caught my eye this weekend in the topics that matter to me:

Domestic violence

How to Save Your Kids from Future Abusive Relationships– author Lois M.Collins draws a correlation between children who are bullied or bossed later becoming susceptible to becoming victims.

“Parents should help children build “extreme self-esteem.” Kids who see themselves as capable and loved more often avoid abuse.

Conversations with children about bullies and bossy friends can reinforce the idea that people don’t get to control others.”

International Child Abduction

New legislation to help victim-parents recover their kidnapped children has passed handily in the Senate.

The “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act,” designed to bolster the government’s ability to help parents rescue abducted children taken overseas, now goes to the House for approval.

(For those of you who don’t remember, David Goldman is the dad whose son was taken illegally to Brazil to live with his mother, who then subsequently died. Five years passed before David Goldman was able to reunite with his son.)

“As a parent, I cannot imagine the emotional toll of having a child abducted and taken abroad and feeling helpless to get your son or daughter back,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who introduced the bill with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “I encourage my colleagues in the House to act swiftly to protect our children.”

Author’s comment:  As a parent of internationally abducted children, I can’t imagine that the government’s efforts towards anything other than kidnapping prevention will be useful. The government isn’t smart enough, rich enough, or powerful enough to manage such a complex issue. My past experience taught me the more government inserted itself, the more problematic finding solutions became. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

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Reuniting with Lost Family Members

Always my favorite subject, I love this story about a brother and sister reuniting after 50 years.

Their recognition of each other was immediate as they walked toward each other with open arms. After a long embrace, Roger leaned back and looked at Susan.

“She’s the best thing I ever saw,” he said, planting a brotherly kiss on the top of her head. “She was always my girl.”

And today,  I listened to July’s podcast from the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) Roundtable event about PubSlush, the crowd-funding site specifically for writers. It’s an interesting concept that, according to their website, combines “a global crowdfunding and analytics platform for the literary world.”

If you’re a writer, or thinking about starting to write, do consider a membership at the NAMW. I learn something new every month.  On the column to the right, you’ll find a link I have on my site. It was a great, yet modest investment!

Thanks for connecting with me.