Writing Memoir Goes Like This
February 2, 2022 § 27 Comments
By Cassandra Hamilton
You decide to write about a topic; let’s call it orange. You embrace writing about orange. Near the end of the first draft, you realize you’re writing about rainbow.
Excited about this rainbow discovery, you begin anew, throwing yourself into the passion of writing about rainbow, the thrill of researching rainbow, of waking invigorated by rainbow dreams. You’re tickled noting rainbow synchronicities (“Oh wow! A car drove by with a rainbow sticker just as you said, ‘Fluffy crossed over the rainbow bridge!’”). Soon you’re making non sequitur rainbow references and irritating loved ones by spying rainbows where there are none (Grandma was especially cruel barking, “Enough, Dumbass! It’s impossible to see a rainbow in a drought!”).
Feeling misunderstood, you hole up in your home and fall into your writing. Between stints, you doodle rainbows on checks, bills, and grocery lists like NASA shooting recordings into outer space seeking alien connection. You long for a rainbow connection; are depressed that none materialize.
You resort to eating boxes of cereal in mixing bowls. Keep on courting this rainbow obsession until one day, without warning, you find checking your dog’s poop for worms far more interesting than rainbows. Worse, you note you’re slightly allergic to thinking of rainbows.
Daily, you smear Calamine lotion over angry hives multiplying on your chest as you struggle to press on, rough it out, cough up even the bleakest jumbled words on rainbows. You pull your hair. Stop showering. Fantasize about burning every damn page you wrote on rainbows.
You develop an ulcer. One night, popping twice the antacids your doctor recommended, you realize your piece isn’t about rainbow; it’s about crystal. No! It’s far more complex. It’s a crystal representing a quantum equation. Your mind fills with exclamation marks. You whoop, pop a cork, slug fizzy drinks—until the exhaustion from birthing this work hits you like a prize fighter’s left hook.
You fall into bed. Sleep for twenty-six hours.
While you dream, a black bear ambles onto your property, scarfs your bursting blueberry bushes. You like bears. In theory. As symbols of wild power in pictures on your phone. But this bear, belly bursting, enters your dream. Crawls into your bed. Spoons your spent limbs. Whispers in your ear, “Utter ‘rainbow’ or ‘crystal’ again and I’ll come back to eat you.”
You bolt awake! Stumble distressed into the morning, out into your yard, straight to the bushes. Seeing the branches stripped of fruit, you get goosebumps. Right then, you divorce your obsessions.
But now what else is there to write?
At your desk, you yank out fresh paper. You decide to write of the familiar: how Great Grandma smoked cigars on the porch of the log home she’d built by herself; how on the weekend when Mom got a kitten from Allen Ginsberg, Great Grandma made bear stew (the most savory meal Mom ever tasted); and how years after Mom died, you found her gnarled elbow of driftwood, nabbed the day she left Italy and said goodbye to the man she’d dated, a real, bonafide prince.
Oh! Writing’s grand! Bliss.
One day while brushing your teeth and staring at the bags under your eyes, it dawns on you: you’re writing about love.
You think of a man you loved who’s phoning again after years of silence. He may/may not have the capacity to fully love you. You spit in the sink. Time for a new draft!
You write on loving this man. Conjure memories of late nights reading side-by-side in bed, comforted by the fur on his toes, his feet rocking back-and-forth like a metronome. Your heart feels soft and mushy and you nearly pick up the phone to call him, you’re so enamored of those furry symbols of home—until you remember the old scathing arguments, books snapped shut in disgust, the bookcase empty when he packed and left.
You rip into tiny pieces the last thing you wrote. Take a walk to cool off. Watch dragon shaped clouds.
Here, you feel the wind that’s carried your fire. Feel so clearly what set you ablaze through orange, rainbows, crystal, the quantum equation and, yes, even the man.
At a fresh page, you step into cracks within. Open inner doors to the universe. Write in dragon trails so hot, so true, reader’s palms will sweat holding your words.
Yes, this is where you surrender to your story. You accept the story is boss. The story decides how it wishes to be written.
Cassandra Hamilton is a disabled artist/writer with traumatic brain injury and central vision loss in one eye who creates from dreams, shamanic journeys, and life. Her writing has appeared in international literary magazine Beyond Words, Brevity Blog, 101 Words, The Door Opener Magazine, Rivereast News Bulletin, The Glastonbury Citizen and three Writing It Real anthologies edited by Sheila Bender. While working on a memoir, she teaches Active Dreaming (a synthesis of dreamwork and shamanism), including workshops on Dreaming and Writing.