I want to say something about writing books, which I am somewhat new at but I think I have discovered something worth sharing about my process that certain other writers might find interesting or useful. This impulse to articulate my process and track my learning curve as an author (of what I call self-reflective nonfiction) came up when I decided to try to talk my brother, Dave, into writing a memoir. I thought it was time, not because he is on his last legs but because I think every writer in the second half of life should set aside some time to tell his / her story.
My last post was about cleaning out a storage unit where we were keeping stuff that my recently deceased parents left behind. It was a grueling process that took a few years of conscientious sorting, using various kinds of scales and litmus tests for determining what to salvage.
Anyway, as we took up this work recently, for the last time, hell-bent on finishing, unexpected stories came up. (I have learned that there is a difference between memories and stories, stories being memories that have a soul or that touch us all in some way or another.) When we were done we felt good. After posting a brief account of this experience, I received lots of affirmations from people I don’t normally hear from and even complete strangers, who identified with the work we did and how we approached it. I learned that not only do our family stories need to be remembered and respected but the context of the stories deserves to be preserved if possible. This is very challenging work that borders on artful because sometimes all you get is a flood of memories that are not necessarily share-worthy, so the sorting can take a very private turn. Some branches of the ancestral tree are missing and some have died! (Just for example, there were two miniature tintypes, beautifully framed in little hinged, gold-plated cases of two very old people — brother and sister? Husband and wife? We have no idea who they are, and probably never will, but I know that good money was spent on these photos and the frames, money that could have been spent on food or clothes.)
Accomplishing this labor dovetailed with the release of a book I’ve been writing for the last year: 13 Seeds: Health, Karma and Initiation. (Available at indiebound.org) In this book I tell stories of my own rites of passage, beginning at age 10. I am happy with it and I guess I was hoping my euphoria of publishing some of my stories would rub off on my brother.
I have always taken my brother seriously as a writer. Dave is a successful author of several books and managing editor of a popular leftist internet journal, Thiscantbehappening.net. He believes in the power of writing and in writers. He founded the National Writers Union. But he does not have that much to say about himself. And yet he has lived a full and active life, and he has never not been outspoken about what he believes in. He has always had the courage to uphold his convictions and words have served him well.
But Dave, Don’t just dismiss this idea of writing your story. (continued, read Part 2)