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Memoir or Autobiography?

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Some folks assume that writing a memoir or autobiography serves as a catharsis.  Not always so.

With the impetus of Nanowrimo, I wrote in earnest, every day for thirty days.  My earliest memories took me from perhaps 3 years of age until about 11 or 12 years old.  Was it cathartic?  Hardly.

There are those folks who write about their experiences to heal themselves, to expose themselves, to shock, stimulate or educate or simply to gain notoriety.  My reasons?

Partly, I would like to educate, to show that some children are capable of deep thought, are deeply sensitive and have the potential to become great healers or scientists or anything of their choosing, given the love and guidance required.

Further, looking through the eyes of a child, through that child’s point of view, or thought process gives pause to the question of nature versus nurture.  How does a child come through unscathed in the face of adversity?  How does another child come through damaged, broken?

I believe that to see the world through my eyes as a child is to learn what that, or any child thinks, how she thinks and what she was capable of.  Or not.

Writing the first draft was quite challenging.  I resisted editing as well as speaking in adult terms, with my own commentary as an adult.  I found it difficult at first to keep within my own challenge to BE the child that resides within me.

The thoughts of a child in any situation are mostly unknown.  We can all look AT our childhood experiences.  Delving more deeply into the thoughts seemed more elusive.  We have to become the child again and so the past and present meld into one.

Children don’t have the language or freedom to expose themselves fully.  Living through the experiences again, complete with thoughts, is a rare glimpse into an adult’s mind. Savvy or otherwise, adults wouldn’t have the time and shouldn’t have the inclination to expose themselves and every thought.

Quantum physicists believe that the past, present, and future all exist at once.  Though I haven’t fully grasped the concept of the future existing as I write these words – perhaps a cursory look at the idea will bring understanding – certainly I can say that writing from the perspective of the child I was and being in the present, (now past) while doing so, the past and present do exist at once.

Writing a memoir, or, a work from a specific part of one’s life seems more relevant. A work on a whole life is impossible as a whole life would include a death or the end of life.  Logically then, no once can write an autobiography as one’s death would have to be included.

I’ve let the first draft simmer for nearly a month.  I’m ready to move into a review and rewrite.  The teen years are speaking to me and my list of prompts grows every day.

Why did I write?  I had to.

Who will read?  You.  Me.  Someone.

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Little Stories from Life – Black and White

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c. 1959

The photo above came from a collage that my mother made many years ago. This project, done with the desire to ‘glue’  lives together, especially her own, fragmented and troubled.  All the photos altered or cut up. When my mother handed it to me, she said, “This is your life.”  I made no comment, took it dutifully, and thought, “No, this is not MY life at all.”

I found the selections odd. I’d guess that it was cathartic for my mother, an effort to put together something that never was and probably never would be.  At least, it existed visually, a span of time in her life. I nearly tossed it away years ago, as it sat in the loft of my barn in the desert for over ten years, deteriorating in the dust and heat.

As it turns out, I brought it north, and it’s a support for my genealogical research.  I’ve  torn off the corrugated cardboard backing and gleaned many fragments. Those that are salvageable will be restored or renewed and digitized.

We were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 327 Allston Street,  with my stepfather’s parents.  I’m the oldest of my mother’s offspring.  The smelly, stubbly, cigar smoking old man was Portuguese.  Nana was a nurse,  Dutch.  Today, a listing for the address shows the house as built in 1969.  Perhaps the old house was torn down.  The park across the street still exists, sans the metal merry-go-round, on which another little story from life, spins.

Photographs speak.  I’m smiling, dressed nicely. My mother must have crocheted lace for the sleeves of my blouse. I’m not looking at the photographer, and my body posture shows constraint.  Shoulders lifted, arms tightly pulled in, I’m trying to shrink into my skin. The dutiful smiles, along with the squishy face my sister made, end the moment. I’m certain of my discomfort.  If someone looked at me, it might mean something bad will happen.

It was during that time that I began to notice differences in how black people were treated versus white. I lived in a mixed neighborhood, mostly whites, some blacks. The color of skin was still a source of oppression, even in the northeast.

My mother would send me up to Fairmont Street to buy bread – the prospect frightening.  On my obedient way, I noticed a white woman, wearing rags, in a run down house – a shack, really. She was seeing her husband off to work and he was very black. I noticed the affection between them and felt happy.  Another time, she smiled at me when I passed by.  She never moved past the open door and I never saw her again.

I heard Grampie (step-grandfather) talking about the blacks and in particular, this couple.  He didn’t call them, blacks, though, they were ‘colored’ or worse.  I recalled only the smile, the love, the rags, the shack.  My mind was my own.

I worried about people, even at my young age.  Perhaps, through the horrors of my young life, I could sense oppression and how wrong it was.  How could anyone be a bad person, if she smiled at a child?  It hurt my heart to hear, and I became skilled at blocking out what I didn’t want to hear.

In retrospect, I wonder now if the woman was, in fact, white.  She may have been a light-skinned black woman.

That couple will never know that their presence in the neighborhood was the beginning of my understanding of how people viewed and judged others, based on criteria that should not be factored in.  Inquisitive and capable of using logic and reasoning, I formed my own opinions, without help.  No conclusion ever included prejudice against blacks.

Stay tuned for more Little Stories from Life.

Terrible Prospect – Part One

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The little girl and her family moved around and through the city of Winthrop, Massachusetts.  Above sea level now, the water tower nearby became a regular fascination – sentinel for the bluff over the ocean, and a prohibitive drop down. In the tiny, warm, bright foyer of the apartment on Prospect Avenue, she felt safe. The slamming screen door pushed her inquisitive thoughts stiffly and the moments in the foyer became nothing more than specks of time.

She contemplated life, and often sang songs to it – little ditties formed as inquiries about who she would be, what she would look like in 1995, or if she would exist in 2010.  With curious gloom, she wondered about the world, herself and whether eventually, it would exist at all.

She never expected answers – the questions were just questions, ruminations, thoughts.   The little girl couldn’t entertain the obvious – talk to someone understanding, or thoughtful, in response to her queries.  Expose her thoughts, even though she’d never heard anyone speak of such things?  Shame and Despondency stood tall and strong at the other side of the gate of her inner sanctum.  Her special companion was Fear, waiting for her.

She visited the water tower several times, and failed to get inside the safety of the fence, in order to stand with the structure that stood alone, as she always had.  Having no entry, she visited the edge of the bluff to engage in her thoughts. The prospect of falling into the ocean, or dropping intentionally, reminded her that no one would care. She knew that if she did drop, someone would surely notice her young body and pick her up.  She had no concept of the finality of death.

Soon came a surprising invitation! An opportunity to visit twin girls who lived in the neighborhood!  Puzzled, she wondered why they had chosen her – she had never been invited to anyone’s home before! She was allowed to go, even though the twins were older than she.

It was awkward and lovely inside their home. The twins introduced the little girl to their mother, who greeted her

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the protagonist of...

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the protagonist of Jackie O (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

kindly, and the little girl could see the kindness as a sparkle in their mother’s eyes.  The Mother, neatly dressed in a lightweight sweater, below-the-knee straight skirt, Jackie Kennedy dark hair smiled and followed behind the girls to their bedroom.  There was an unfamiliar softness within these walls, and a quiet she hadn’t heard outside of her own thoughts.

All four entered the girls’ bedroom and Mother’s offer of cookies took the little girl by surprise.  She’d never had such an offer before, one delivered with genuine sweetness – the kind of sweetness that gets baked into a cookie, but comes from the heart. The little girl didn’t know how to accept, but the twins knew exactly what to do . As the twins thanked their Mother, she turned neatly, and closed the door.  Time stood still at that moment, and the little girl felt the crushing blow.

POSTSCRIPT: These are childhood memories and to the best of my recollection, are true.

Celebrating 25 – The hundred child steps

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Winthrop's Yirrell Beach, looking north from D...

Winthrop’s Yirrell Beach, looking north from Deer Island (photo taken in August 2003) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the longest time, I knew a frightened, awkward, inquisitive little girl with freckles and blue eyes –  the only brunette in a family of blonde children.  She was the oldest child, and often wondered where she came from, why she was treated differently than the others and if anyone loved her. She had keen senses and was nearly always alone with her thoughts.

The discovery of her favorite number 25, happened around the time she lived on Deepwater Street, on Point Shirley, an area of Winthrop, Massachusetts when she was about 8 years old.  Next to Point Shirley, jutting out into the sea, was Deer Island. She wanted to know something about the people who lived there and wanted to go there, to find out why the house was so big and far away from everyone else. The tall, metal link fence with rows of pointy wires on top, circled the entire castle, with boxes of lights perched high on round poles.  The people didn’t want visitors, she thought. She tried to understand the whispers from the adults, but couldn’t.

Her back door was about one hundred child steps to the road which led to the beach, where she often went, alone. Inside the house with the back door were tears and hurts and fear, and when she walked the hundred child steps on the gravel road, she floated into a joyful place in her mind.

Directly across the bay was Logan Airport in Boston, and she was sure that one day, a silver plane would hit the house,

Logan International seen from Deer Island in W...

Logan International seen from Deer Island in Winthrop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and kill them, or the roof would shake so hard that it would rattle off of the house and everyone would be too cold to survive. She worried for everyone, even the ones who were always angry.

Once, while walking along the edge of the bay, heading for a tide pool where tiny crabs hid under rocks, she noticed a glint in the sand.  Without hesitation, she dropped to her knees and dug.  Buried treasure! She had found a few quarters and held the damp, sandy coins in her small hand, studying them.  The little girl  had dreamed of becoming an archeologist when she grew up and was blinded with excitement! She quickly relinquished the lovely thoughts and felt guilty and filled with shame.  The coins weren’t hers, after all. She painstakingly considered what she should do with the treasure.

Throughout her life, she continued to find quarters wherever she went. “Guess what I found today?” she’d say to her family. The answer was always the same and remains so.

Oddly, instead of the story above, I had planned to write about my lucky number 25 and what makes 25 a unique and special number.  I then noticed that I had written 25 blog posts.  Ironic, wouldn’t you say?

The story above is true and a memory from my childhood.

For fascinating, factual and disturbing history of Deer Island, please click the link here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Deer_Island_%28Massachusetts%29&oldid=435894946

Map of Massachusetts highlighting Suffolk County

Map of Massachusetts highlighting Suffolk County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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