Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story


Filed in Memoir, Stories, voices, Writing :: July 31, 2011

I’m still sleeping only intermittently, and mostly only on the couch, with Gracie.

I’ve lost track of the posts I’ve started based on this photo.

One of them was inspired by Mary Virginia Winstead‘s blog post about what she’s not writing about in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s death.

I am writing, though, but not in  my usual defined-goal-driven way.  Sure, there’s a goal: the draft of my memoir that will be the draft of my memoir.

I have accumulated two completed sets of drafts.  The “flashback” drafts became my MFA thesis last year. Their voice tended toward the reportorial, choking on even telling its stories publicly for the first time. The subsequent 2010 “chronological” drafts risked becoming a series of “and then, and then” chapters. The voice was closer to “mine,” but not quite there, still hesitant, still wary.

The current draft is neither overtly flashback- nor chronologically based.  It is a series of scenes, as yet unarranged.

I am working my sleep-deprived and barking-interrupted way through a list of scenes that recur in my memory, scenes that show me who I was, that show me the marriage I write about, that tell the story.  I generated this list as quickly as I could write it, and I write by hand in my notebook.  Some days I write three scenes; some days I write one; some days I write none.

By not writing in chronological order, I’m not trying to get from one scene to the one that in my memory comes next.  Instead, I can fully explore each scene and go where it leads.

In some cases, it leads to small questions whose answers don’t matter and can never be known.  For example, I write in the margin of my notebook: “call Linda.” But why should Linda tell me whether she was his lover?  Or whether he went to her on the night he avoided the police?  Do those things even matter to my story now?  Did they ever, really?

Last Saturday morning, while  I was leading a writing workshop, based  on Pat Schneider‘s method, I realized that I had created the same format for myself that I create for my students: open-ended prompts that can lead to unexpected writing.  The list of scenes becomes a collection of flexible, strong containers for memories.

I’m continually surprised by where these pieces go–the bigger questions and themes that are appearing, now that they are unbound by a particular predetermined form.  Some days I am happily surprised, energized by these doorways.  Other days I think, oh, no, I don’t want to go there, but my pen leads the way.