Maybe It's Not the Right Time
I've been a bit paralyzed in my writing life recently (like, for the past ten years). Trying to write this memoir/novel monstrosity in a million little fits and starts. Sometimes I get what feels like... this close, and then it evaporates again. I can be thrown off by the smallest things.
I am reading Francine Du Plessix Gray's "memoir of parents," titled Them. It's gorgeous, beautiful writing, mostly centering on her glamorous, narcissistic mother and equally intense stepfather. But something in her Introduction stopped me short, and has been revolving around in my little pea-brain for a week now:
To write truthfully about anyone who is still alive is a Utopian task, suspect at best. So I bided my time, looking on a projected family memoir as one of several distant ventures. And not until a year after my cherished stepfather's own passing, did I reach a stage in the process of mourning that allowed me to write this book.What will ever allow me to write my book? Do I need to, as she says, bide my time as well? I am writing a memoir of four parents: one dead now, one living under the same roof as me, one distant and yet with an inordinate amount of influence, who would severely disapprove of my writing such a book, and one whose living status and whereabouts (and identity) are completely unknown.
This weekend I decided to bide my time and put it to good use. I unearthed a pile of ancient photos and took them to the photocopy store: my grandfather's Manhattan restaurant from the 1930's and 40's, actually quite glamorous looking, photos of relatives in Japan, stern and kimono'd, a tiny photo of my mother on her first day of kindergarten in Brooklyn. Maybe these next years are not meant for writing at all, but for gathering, for memory-taking, while the memory is still good. I want stories about that restaurant. I want to know what it was like for her to go to kindergarten. Did she walk to school, at five? Did she take a lunch? I want to know it all.
I also received an email from the Other parent, my birthmother, and it succeeded in enraging and seducing and paralyzing and aweing me all at once. It's difficult to describe what an effect this person has on me. At seventy-plus she is still co-leading trips around the world with her artist husband: India, Ireland, Peru. Since I had not heard from her in several months, part of me was in the process of disengaging, for the hundredth time, of insisting that she did not, does not, matter, not so much. And then a screenful of words on my computer, and I collapse again.
I'm biding my time. Waiting for what, I don't know.