A Stitch In Time, Adoption, Cherokee Trail of Tears, Doc's Place, Fort Leonard Wood, Hawaii, Honolulu, Jane Ann McLachlan, Marcel Proust, Memoir, Memory, October Memoir & Backstory Blog Challenge, OM &BCC, Southernmost Illinois, Vienna, Viet Nam
Writerly Wednesdays are devoted to all things writerly. I may share a favorite writerly nook or share some new found tool, gadget, widget or app. More commonly, Wednesdays are about my creative process.
For the month of October, Writing Space is participating in several challenges. One of them is Jane Ann McLachlan’s (OM & BBC) October Memoir & Backstory Blog Challenge hosted at Join the Conversation. While I juggle the challenges, I will also attempt to keep to my established editorial calendar. If you are particularly curious about my memoir work, check out my earlier entries under the Memoir Monday category. I hope you are enjoying October as much as I am. Remember the best bits of my blog are found in the generous comments. As Jane Ann would say, “join the conversation.”
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~Marcel Proust
6 Month Anniversary
It will be 6 months this weekend that I was sent home from work with a concussion. The common advice is to stay awake to be sure of no complications. What to do? Those who have been following this blog know the answer to that.
I bought larabritt.com, went to work creating Writing Space, and played catch-up with Robert Lee Brewer‘s MNINB April 2012 Platform Challenge. Ten days later on April 16th, I shipped my first post: Still Life With Grams & P.A. Britt, a post that is representative of my third year on the planet.
Writing Space is about discovering my writer’s voice as Lara Britt living in Honolulu, Hawaii. If I am a writer, what do I write about? What are my themes? What are my subjects? What are the modes and the moods? What genre, pray tell?
You Are What You Read
Aside from the literary canon––remember Day #1, Gail gets a job teaching English at Vienna High School––books on philosophy, and anthropology, what do I read most? Histories, Mysteries, and Biographies (Memoir). Let’s face it, the latter three have greater public appeal. If I wanted to write about the former, I’d enroll for a PhD program or an MFA. I actually considered both of those options, but decided that what I truly wanted didn’t entail legions of student loan debt. Instead I’m happier with reams of rejections. I picked my poison…and it tastes pretty sweet.
There is a commonality in my chosen trio. All three involve research, fact-checking, alternate perceptions, deceptions, drama, and the general stuff of life. How much of memoir is personal history? How much is family mystery? How many revisionist personal histories? How many red herrings are laid by well-meaning relations? Skeletons in the family closet? How much is an adult understanding of context is gained by a remembrance? How much forgetting of social norms of times gone by? All these are considerations of memoir that also inform my treatment of history pieces and mystery romps.
Location, Location, Location
Not surprisingly, much of my explorations reach back to Southernmost Illinois because both my ancestral and writerly roots are planted deep in that rocky soil. At first survey, it may seem a barren, hard-scrabble land, but I, like my A Stitch In Time protagonist, Jesse, see the verdant fecundity. Technicolor ain’t nothin’ compared to rainbows of my inner vision. Southernmost Illinois is still relevant to my current biography as my father, Tom, still farms land transected by The Cherokee Trail of Tears.
The creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day.
The Cast of Characters
My family, as I knew it aged three, did not include my father, Tom. I knew I was adopted, but I didn’t know the identity of my original set of parents. Shirley was one of my two aunts for all I knew then and for a decade more.
I lived at Doc’s Place, a farm just north of property owned by my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. To my memory it was a modest old cottage with only two bedrooms, the second one being a tiny thing. I slept in the front one with my adopted mother, Gail. Sharon kept the smaller back room. Sharon came to live with us at age 11. We picked her up on a road trip to visit my adopted father’s parents in Florida. Sharon had lived nearly her entire life with Bob’s parents. Shortly after she joined us, Bob left for a two and half* year assignment in Paris.
Over and over again it was told that Gail was my adopted mother, and Sharon was Bob’s daughter. Gail wasn’t my birth mother, Gail wasn’t Sharon’s mother. Sharon wasn’t family. Sharon came from Florida and was Bob’s. Even as a toddler, it was impressed upon me that Sharon was out of place. Gail was too young to be Sharon’s mother. Sharon’s people lived in Florida. A bit of tongue clucking accompanied the retelling of Gail’s decision to bring her home. Bob’s relations including Sharon’s grandparents (who were definitely NOT mine) lived in the land of Florida. Sharon’s belongings from her suitcase, clothes, and other personal items were exotic coming from both Miami and Atlantic City, resort towns that no real people are supposed to actual live. This added to the surreal quality of Bob’s existence. Where was he anyway? Paris, equally mythological.
Fort Leonard Wood
By the time I was 3 and Sharon was 14, her mythical father was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Not the closest base to Southernmost Illinois. Fort Campbell would have been 2 1/2 times closer as the crow flies. In those days before the web of super highways bypassed downtowns, all routes were scenic byways. A good day’s trip away. He was not so much a part of the family as a stranger who came to visit on occasion, but more frequently Gail made the weekend trip to see him. His tenure was a short one. He hated both Missouri and Illinois, it was said that he volunteered for Viet Nam. My own memories of his stay comes in vivid disjointed images of horrific violence and high emotional confusion. Tomorrow’s entry will attempt to string these into a narrative that makes some sense.
*Many of the facts that I’ve grown up knowing have turned out to be not true. So if I am relaying one that is not easily verified, I indicate the problematic nature with an (*) asterisk. And you thought histories required more research than memoir. Maybe for some, but not for me.
Side note: Many decades later in life, Sharon moved close to my relatives who had relocated in the Dallas area. She is much closer to them than I am at present. Gail finally adopted her (I believe within the last 10 years). As I gained the perspective of an adult, I became more and more sensitive to how hard those tween and teen years were for Sharon, and why the extended family disapproved. Too late to correct things and who is to say what would have been best this far out. Sharon talks about her “antics” in the comment section of Who’s To Blame? I say, who could blame her then or now?
This is Day #3 of the October Memoir & Backstory Blog Challenge (OM & BBC) being hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan on her blog Join the Conversation. You can track my progress on this and other October Challenges by visiting my Up & Coming page. Leave us your thoughts.