the problem with being trans is cis people. The problem with being queer is straight people. The problem with being disabled is abled people. The problem with being Black is white people. In other words, prejudice.
I doubt anyone writing a childhood memoir is not writing, at least peripherally, about some kind of trauma. We have to, after all, have an issue at the center of our self-inquiries. Of course that may be an illness, an unusual death, or any number of other topics, but childhood memoirs are often quite focused on troubling events from the past, and, sometimes, how those reach out to affect your current life.
Certainly mine is such. I can’t even, people advise, tell the complete story, for it is, they say, too awful to read. This infuriates me. Reading it is, to living through it, as a puddle to an ocean. However, nevertheless, I’m constricting it. Jury’s still out on my third attempt to land at a workable first draft. I’ve just edited and printed the first 100 or so pages, so I’ll see how they read, whether I’m getting anywhere at all or just making things worse.
Probably I won’t read it. Probably I’ll just use my headstrong energy to go ahead and make more mistakes I’ll need to repair.
Hard to be enthusiastic these days. No matter how hard I push to keep up, I seem to fall farther and farther behind. I haven’t snapped back from June surgery the way I should have yet. I’m dragging myself from event to event, and because I haven’t felt this much fatigue in a good while, I’m going to go out on a limb and call this a flare. In any case, nothing personally catastrophic is happening in my life so I’m going with that! Very concerned about the general conditions in the world (is this the beginning of dystopia? Is Cdn healthcare going to be gone in six months, once mpx hits hospitals hard? Is war going to ever stop? Where are the vaccines? Anne Heche! Etc etc. I find myself thinking about the kiddos from Uvalde, both the victims and the survivors, a fair deal). What are we doing to ourselves? What are we doing to our world/our globe?
As for writing, it’s going well. I finally had my book printed the other day (I thought I’d changed the font size but I had not, so it’s all printed in 18 pt, what a waste of paper) so that in case the web goes down permanently, I have a copy of sorts (of sorts). I made a chart of what’s happening in each chunk so I can keep track. I’m beginning to “read” it though I’ve never been good at reading my own work. I work on it as I go instead. Not very far into it yet.
Meantime, the enormous project of getting some artwork on paper ready for my new website has concluded! Hurrah! Now to build the site!
Not at all looking forward to this week. It has some challenging pieces to it.
Hope your week is looking fabulous. Have a good one!
What do I have to say for myself this week? I last saw humans Tues when the family (daughter and kiddos) dropped by to give me berries and peas from the market. Otherwise, I have been head down, working hard, and sometimes fighting sickness. (Was quite ill at points, unknown cause.)
Every boiling day I’ve been managing to get a snippet of gardening down. Can’t ignore watering during heat waves, alas, and that’s my least favourite thing to have to keep up with every day. Otherwise, it’s time for the Shirley poppies to go. I’ve been waiting for them to go to seed first. Now the seed’s collected and away their brittle brown corpses can go, down the hillside. I’ve lost the young man who did an astonishing good job cutting my grass (to a job!), so I’m trying to at least weed-eat the dandelions before they seed, though the battery isn’t properly charging so this is tedious. Otherwise working on the already seeded weeds. How did I let them get this bad? A question I ask every summer.
Since I don’t go to the nurseries (covid, inaccessibility), I don’t have my usual filler annuals. It is already looking very brown out there and once it’s clean, I imagine that will be far worse. I’m trying to be chill about it.
I’m controlling the heat in here by keeping curtains drawn most of the day and then, when they’re open placing fan in front of open door facing house, with bowl of ice, to cool the place in the evening. The heat spell is said to be about to break. I’ll be glad.
Have barely painted, and I just don’t know what to say about the mess I’m making of this memoir, so I won’t say anything. Working hard when I can on getting images of paintings sorted, named, measured and web-res’d to go up on my new painting site.
Hope your weeks as summer ends are good ones, with satisfying connections and summer play. Tonight I’m taking the girls to see (swim in possibly) phosphorescence (masked in my Flo Mask, of course)!
…and have a lot of medical appts to wade through, it never happens that I can clear my schedule for a week. It seems baggy and luxurious, like an emotional space I can fit into for once.
Moving has never really been as bad as now, since if you don’t find a place before you to have leave, there’s literally nowhere to go. Not for the wealthy, I know, but for we serfs.
So, I had a week where I could cancel a couple last things and just feel the space around me. I motored through a partial draft of my memoir having no idea if I was hitting the right direction or losing it even more entirely than I had in the draft where that was allowed. I’d laugh except the daunting task of reading this one-third book has not happened yet. I dread finding out it doesn’t work, again.
What are you writing this week? Are you getting through in a project that’s been giving you pain? Any successes to report?
…that I am no further along in unlocking the mystery (infrastructure) of this memoir than I was seven days ago, and not for lack of trying. It’s me that’s my impediment. I would give a lot, some days, to be a different writer with different skills, though then I’d likely pine for my original skills, right?
How are all y’all doing? It’s difficult with BA.5 on the romp, I know, since it’s our most infectious variant yet, and transmissible even outside–and how we want to be maskless outdoors! I suspect everything will worsen until governments realize the “let ‘er rip” plan is ruining lives, creating mass disability, wrecking the economy from record numbers of days-of-work lost, and put back in effective measures and education programs. We must protect ourselves from dirty air just the way we protect our water. We must get serious about cleaning our air!
Hope you manage to have safe and good weeks, folks.
I’m hard into composition this week, trying to crack open a roadmap to the memoir, here at the (perpetual?) start to draft 3, which is really going to be the third-go at a draft 1. Once I get that infrastructure and feel it’s working, I think I’ll feel released, but I’m not there yet. I was reading this morning about research that confirms that autistic brains are 42% more active than NT brains, and this doesn’t surprise me. But how to capitalize this extra brain power to create a work that is readable, compelling and fresh?
Are you an autistic writer? How does this work for your brain? I find I’m all about complicating things unnecessarily, because the *entire* story must be told. Which isn’t what a book needs, of course.
Every reader contemplates this; every memoir writer agonizes about this. We understand the research on how flawed memories can be, and we have to balance this out with our worry about accurate representation. We want it. We go hunting for it. We put ourselves into trances, or pick up writing exercises to prod what’s stuck in our grey matter so that it burbles again to the surface.
Is what we say accurate? If we’re twenty years from the events? If we’re fifty years from the events? More? We surely hope so. Even if the other people in the scene are dead, we hope and pray we are not distorting events as we recall them.
Recently on twitter, a thread appeared where (mostly) readers discussed just this, and their consensus seemed to be that memoirists could never reproduce dialogue accurately and should therefore leave it out.
I don’t concur. Those who’ve read my memoir “No More Hurt” can see that I want to take the reader into my experience as I lived in. How else to impart the true flavour? In my case, as an autistic person, I have an excellent memory for dialogue–it’s one of those things that sticks. Yet I’m sure people would argue that some of the dialogue isn’t accurate, because I still took what resonated with me and others took what resonated with them away and store it into memory. Picking and choosing illuminating bits even in the moment.
Sometimes writers include notes about what they’ve done in regards to these matters, and one of these I’ve recently seen is writer Maryann Aita’s frontispiece to “Little Astronaut: A Memoir in Essays,” shared with her permission.
A Note on Truth, by Maryann Aita
“Most names in this book have been changed, and some identifying details adjusted to protect people’s privacy as much as I can without losing story. Dialogue, dates, and the narrative arc of events in my life may not be precise because I am not a computer. These are pieced together from my memories, which may be different than the memories of my family members. But memory is all we have to build the foundation of ourselves; it is possible for multiple truths to exist at once. I’ve done my best to capture my emotional truth, which may mean I remember rain on a sunny day. A weather report could prove me wrong, but if I was crying, isn’t it still a kind of truth?
“Since writing this book, I’ve learned my sister remembers being diagnosed with anorexia at 13. She also told me she was probably restricting her eating before then. I, however, remember learning about it when I was eight, and she was 15. Memory is deeply fallible. My memory is probably inaccurate. Her memory could be as well. Every time we recall something, even in our own minds, it changes. The facts of memory are not equivalent to truth. I’ve decided to keep these details as I remember because they are my truth.”
There’s been a lot of chatter on twitter about whether it’s okay to include dialogue in cnf. Some people have great recall for dialogue, some perfect. I have better than usual, myself, because of my face blindness. Ask me 30 seconds after seeing someone what they looked like or what they were wearing, and I generally couldn’t tell you, but ask me what someone said? Yes, I have excellent recall. Speech contains a lot of unspoken language, too, or sub-text, ones the speaker may not even be aware they’re using. Dialogue develops character in ways no other convention does. In my opinion, memoirs will suffer if there isn’t dialogue that is faithful to the emotional truth of the original convo.
Here is the start of a twitter thread you can search to join the discussion:
My kid had a birthday and took her children snowboarding for their first time–lucky ducks. They both loved it, and staying overnight at a hotel, too. The older child, 7, has fallen for independent reading in the worst way, doing exactly what both her mom and I did as kids, walking around with her book clutched in her hands, not willing to exit the story long enough to eat or interact.
I find that thrilling, I think because reading’s always been such a joy for me as well. “She reads a book a night,” her mom said, so I asked how she manages to keep up with the demand. “The library.”
Me, I’ve finished prepping the garden beds for spring thanks to a lovely sunny day yesterday, which thrills me except I’m so stiff I can no longer walk. So good to dig my hands into the loam. I swear I’m hungry for this by March, but the earth is usually too damned cold. Not this year where I live and love.
Next for power washing and a dump run and the outside will be in tip top shape. I moved my canvases from inside to the storage shed, where they’re set up with a dehumidifier. Glad that’s done. Next step is moving inside, where I will declutter, de-spider-web, and give the place a good going over. That should take some weeks.
Spring cleaning. Or should I say accounting avoidance?
I just got buzzed by a hummer telling me it’s time to change the nectar in the feeders–quite rightly. They know. So the new nectar is cooling in the measuring cup on the stove.
I have to create a grant application in the next couple weeks. I was trying to come up with a name for the new project and I realized I’d thought up a great title for a book a couple weeks ago and noted it down. I was wondering what the scope of the project should be–its defining scaffolding, if you will–and I went in search of that book title. There it was, not just the title, but as soon as I read the title again, the book itself announced itself, its range, tip to toe, where it begins and where it ends.
I got a cheque for royalties for my old memoir, too. Good to know it’s still selling!
How are things down your way, here on the spring equinox, when days and nights are the same lengths? At least at this time of year we have the beautiful resurgence of spring. The first cherry blossoms here where I live are popping! They are perhaps my all-time favourite and most cheering sight.
I hope you see them where you are and I hope they give you hope and forebearance.
It’s late at night. I made Colombian coconut rice tonight. I mention that only to bring up the fact that I’ve been writing about Colombia of late in my memoir, which of course reminded me of the delicate rice and generally how amazing Cartagena was. But it also reminded me of attending three bullfights when I was fifteen, which sent me down more than one research foxhole to make sure I was getting the sequences and names correct. I read part of Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” and his “The Sun Also Rises.” I had to really firm myself up to re-enter that world, but, generally, the behaviour around animals in my childhood was not exemplary, and I’d seen gore long before I ever saw my first bullfight. As an autistic person, it often takes me a long time to absorb things and understand how I feel about them and this was true in the bull ring, too.
One night in Colombia, I was out walking along a beach with a boy and the power went out in the city. For a few minutes until it was restored, life was what it always should be. Mystical, expansive, full of stale light from the stars and wonder.
I hope in your life that you have moments like that, despite everything.
Anyone else feeling the pinch of the longest month of the year? God, it drags. Never sure I’m ready, though, for how life escalates after February until, by April, it feels like a race. Not sure it’s possible to get back the feeling of endless summers I had when I was a kid (“Mo-oo-om, what’s there to do?”).
But I appreciate all the garden changes–the buds, the bulbs shooting up, the snowdrops, the crocuses blooming. The idea of clean-up. Getting compost on the beds after being indoors all winter.
I’m not able to work efficiently at this time because of health issues keeping work at bay, but I’m able to work steadily, a little at a time, without taking any days off–what would I do with them? I’m in lockdown–and bits accrue, they do. Up to about 35,000 words in the memoir-in-progress now, looking to March as a possibility for finishing the first draft, leaving me a few months for hopefully making my way through two more drafts.
All very pie-in-the-sky hopes at the moment. But, dream big.
Dream with me, won’t you? Pick a dream and let’s dream it with me in Feb and March. I’ll dream that I’m somehow able to stay in my house another year and with that dream get a dependable car.
We’ve had a nastiness of snow where I live and rotten temps that finally, in their last hurrah, killed all the hummingbirds. Or they went back to where they came from. Maybe the latter. I like to think the latter, since I only had 4 or 5 when the cold hit, and suddenly there were 20-30, what with my feeders. In any case, there are hummers here again, but not the juveniles. Haven’t seen them again. I am not sad that I don’t have to do the constant thaw and freeze, bring in, hair dryer, take out routine any longer.
January has been a bugger for covid. Governments are now routinely behaving badly–letting their populaces fend for themselves in a pandemic, figuring they’ll only deal with hospitalized patients when they have to (and maybe no one with pre-existing conditions? Yes, I’m outing you, hospital personnel, triaging out a constitutionally-protected group of people.) I rant about government lack on twitter, where you can follow this.
If it’s art you’re after, try @hamiltonart1000 on IG. Posting daily!
I’ve had a dear beloved down with covid the last couple weeks, and kiddos back at school without effective mitigation, and so many friends with covid I can’t count, and friends worried about their little ones. None of us will come through this psychologically unscathed, I don’t believe, even if we manage to miss getting long covid.
My writing is going okay. It’s the first time I’ve written a book without regulating my output (2000 words/day, 1000 words/day, poem a day etc). I thought it would be dangerous. I just write when I want to; what I’m finding is that if I can make myself start, and stick to it for about two hours, the rest will flow pretty easily and I can put in a good six hours or so before I conk out.
I hope you are managing out there in these tough times. I wish you the easing of your burdens.
Omicron is raging and where I live, kids are going back to K-12 tomorrow without the proper mitigations to keep them safe. No HEPA filters, no CO2 monitors in every class, no N95 masks. It’s terrifying. At most, only partial vaccination status. Teachers too without N95s. I wish every one of them well.
Did I say I turfed my essay collection in Dec and decided to re-jig and re-write as a typical linear memoir? I’ve had a month with it now, and while I’ve had major health problems during this time, I manage to sit with the ms, now about 20K words, most days for at least a little while. That’s one of the benefits of being on perpetual lockdown, I guess, and it’s important to find satisfaction in that ugly situation where you can. So that’s me. Always a dollar short and a day late, but struggling along, doing my best.
I continue to be passionate about advocacy work and educating others about ableism, homophobia, transphobia, fat phobia and violence against women/enbies and children. I put a lot of time into twitter these days trying to undo some of the damage of government covid policies. BC is off the rails. I can’t get BC back on, but I can link to some of the people whose work very well could.
Happy new year, everyone! It’s been a rocky holiday season for me, busy as I was having a PET scan in the omicron soup of Victoria, BC, and waiting waiting waiting for results. Meantime, with family just up the road, I stayed in lockdown. Been painting. Been working on my memoir. Been watching TV. Been switching out hummingbird feeders during out sub-zero weather and snow dumps. One feeder belched nectar and the hummers stuck to the perches and had to tear feathers, and, I presume, skin off to get free, even as it was -12C. After I realized what had happened, I was able to improve this for the future by bringing feeders in and running water over the perches. But it’s been a struggle, made partly so by the birds’ extreme aggression. At the start, I’d guess I had 20-30 birds here; by the end, I was only seeing maybe five. There were new fledglings, too, and surprisingly, they seemed to manage better than the adults because they weren’t scared of unknown feeders and fed well. Now that it’s warmer, I haven’t seen the littles again.
Best wishes as we move a bit further into January and more inane, ineffective mitigation policies from what is supposedly Public Health. Happy creating! It helps, being creative. It takes the edge of fury off about all the unnecessary suffering.
I don’t know if I mentioned this, but halfway through my memoir writing time, I decided to punt the book and start over. Something had been niggling at me for months, and that something was suggesting it wasn’t working. It finally barrelled to the front of my brain and I began over. I frequently do this with books, which is why I’ve written 3x more than I’ve tried to have published. I already have 10K words done. This week could be a washout, though, due to other challenges.
I hope your holidays were good ones. I don’t really celebrate Christmas, but this year is snowy and desperately cold and I’m certainly watching the weather, at least and hoping the power doesn’t go out. The wind just came up, one of the forecast gusts, I guess. Most of my time seems to be used bringing in hummingbird feeders to blow-dry them into thaw before setting them back out. The hummers–must be 20-30, all squabbling–are desperate.
As always you can follow daily paintings on IG at hamiltonart1000 and also join my Patreon for weekly chats on writing and painting (Hamilton Art)!
We are swiftly approaching the shortest day of the year, but, today, everything where I live feels springlike and I feel that awkward-in-December urge to get out and start spring cleanup. Summer roses near the warmth of the house are still blooming. The hummingbirds asked for a change of nectar (they come hover in front of my face when they need my services), which I provided. They are feeling gay and glorious and I think their instincts may be turning them toward nest-building. We’ll see. I hope they hold off. I hope I do.
I had one of those burning bush moments last night, an epiphany about the structure of my work-in-progress. These work epiphanies are double-sided: fabulous because hello, solution; difficult because it means a ton of work ahead, right? I got out of bed to go retrieve my computer and set things up on Scrivener so I’d have a scaffolding to follow in the morning if the idea held water.
I’ve been reading author Carmen Maria Machado’s new memoir ‘In the Dream House’ this week. Luminous, queer, wry, broken–it’s smart and vulherable about IPV in queer relationships. Fragment to fragment, it builds a sharp wounding story.
Some of her anecdotes, though, have been hard on me.
Some anecdotes Carmen described are similar to ones I experienced. In particular, I remember one night where my ex raged and stomped so hard and long that I, terrified, locked myself into my office. This infuriated her and for about 4 hours she pounded the door. That night, I thought she was going to kill me; I didn’t know whether to call 9-1-1 or resist (I’d been warned off it by my lawyer who said the cops wouldn’t support me; in the end, there were about 5 times I needed police or ER help but didn’t call because of that advice). In ‘In the Dream House’ Carmen says that if there had been a gun around, she’d have been killed by it. Me too. I’ve been relieved I lived in Canada, where household guns are rare. That night, I gauged the ridiculous awning windows we’d had put in that opened only about 8″–wondering how I could slither my fat, disabled body out onto the second floor roof. My ex carried on for so long and at such volume, pounding the door, yelling abuse, wheedling, that eventually I had to pee into my coffee cup, and when I did, a pure vein of hatred for her erupted. I had never hated her before. I didn’t again. That’s what Machado understands. She gets it when you are too beaten down for hate. Hate is beside the point. Horror, incredibly sadness, the fall-out of love’s betrayal, the realization you could die–those are what replaces hate. My ex finally stopped trying to pound the door in and things grew quiet, but that was the most ominous thing yet–had she quit? was she waiting until I turned the knob?–and I went back to shaking and waiting, waiting. Waiting for what I didn’t know. Waiting for something to happen.
A few Christmases ago, two fathers in BC killed their families over the holidays. We like to think of familicide as uncommon, but it isn’t. The next fall, I started a book that takes place 10 years after a family homicide. I’ve been considering this novel as my winter rewrite (I work on several). Like Carmen’s book, oddly, it is written in fragments. And it’s illustrated. (Or at least I have envisaged it as such.) I decided to just write a novel I wanted to write (and read). This is how my experimental ‘The Grey Closet’ came to be.
Now I’m going to crawl into bed with the last third of Carmen’s luminescent masterpiece.
…Carmen Maria Machado’s “In the Dream House.” It releases Nov 5. What’s one of our least-discussed social problems? Intimate partner violence in the queer community. We avoid talking about it. We even avoid acknowledging what a problem it is. Everyone understands how fragile queer acceptance is around the world–how can we start saying that our relationships are (in this way) just like straight relationships, subject to domestic violence and rape? So we pretend. When a queer woman assaults another queer woman we know where that’s going to go … right under our big rainbow queer carpet, where we’ll all keep tripping over it, getting up, dusting off our knees and going about our business. What lump under the carpet? What the heck are you talking about?
The offender will not be held to account. The victim will be spurned, just like straight violence survivors often are.
Here is the Publisher’s Weekly starred review of “In the Dream House” in its entirety:
“In this haunting memoir, National Book Award–finalist Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) discusses the mental and physical abuse she was subjected to by her girlfriend. The book is divided into short, piercing chapters, in which Machado refers to the victimized version of herself as “you.” (“I thought you died, but writing this, I’m not sure you did.”) Machado discusses meeting the girlfriend (her first) in Iowa City, where Machado was getting her MFA. She masterfully, slowly introduces unease and dread as the relationship unfolds. The girlfriend turns threatening if Machado doesn’t immediately return her calls, starts pointless fights, and inflicts physical discomfort on Machado (squeezing her arm for no reason, for instance). The hostile environment turns utterly oppressive, yet Machado stays, becoming further disoriented by someone who inflicts harm one minute and declares her love the next. Machado interestingly weaves in cultural references (to movies like 1944’s Gaslight and 1984’s Carmen) as she considers portrayals of abuse. She points out that queer women endure abuse in their relationships just as heterosexual women do, and queer abusers shouldn’t be protected: “We deserve to have our wrongdoing represented.” The author eventually leaves her toxic relationship behind, but scars remain. Machado has written an affecting, chilling memoir about domestic abuse. (Nov.)”
I have my own stake in the topic. I was battered in a long-term queer relationship. A few years later, I was raped in another. Once, I tried to get enough submissions to edit an anthology of essays about queer IPV, but there weren’t enough writers. Still, that was how I was introduced to Carmen Maria Machado’s fine writing. Now you can be, too, and you can stop to think about how her writing represents all the rest of us who’ve experienced domestic terrorism in our partnerships and marriages. Now we know. So let’s work on effectively dealing with it.
I love that slowly, slowly, we build a literature about disabilities written by the disabled themselves. Pain Woman last year by Sonya Huber is one such book. Another is the upcoming Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Dorothy Palmer, well-known for her clear reports/retorts about/to UBCA, has a memoir coming out this very year.
Now here is an interview with author Kim Clark on her book A One-Handed Novel. Her narrator has MS. Can’t wait to read this.
The BBC ignited fury after having 3 able-bodied spouses on to talk about the hell of having spouses with disabilities. I have threatened to write an essay about the hell it is to have an abled spouse.
My novel Weekend with one disabled character and plenty of romance wouldn’t pass my own Bechdel Disability Test, in that it is a romance, and there’s just one character with a disability, but Clark nevertheless recommends it as a good read.
The atmospheric disturbances that are part of a coupled union … most of us know them. In Atmospheric Disturbances, Maggie May Ethridge, a talented US essayist and memoirist, takes our hand and walks us into the abyss of her long, abiding relationship to a man with bipolar illness. Because of Ethridge’s soaring talent, this portrait of a disorder becomes a searing, raw chronicle at the closing shutters of marriage, and their re-opening and re-opening and re-opening.