"How Many Side Roads?"
Last month I wrote here about a book that I've been writing since 2010. It has grown into a much larger writing process. It started with my father's letters from WW II. A mentor suggested that I add in my mother's story and put my own memoir of the family, and the changes I've been through, on top and around their story.
Mom wrote several different stories about her childhood and her very large family over a period of 20 years. Some stories are more coherent and some details differ from story to story. Mom asked me to put all her stories together into book form, and she's delighted that I'm doing it now. Unfortunately, her memory isn't good enough for her to help me with this process.
So, I took time out from writing the book to scan and transcribe all her stories. Her stories stop before she met Dad. I found a number of letters from Mom to her father, and i have a box of letters from her that I've kept for the last 40 years, and I thought there might be family stories in them. I'm about half-way done with reading and scanning them. I've added details to the family tree and relived a lot of things about my own life that I'd forgotten. I made a time line to help me date the undated letters. I even got in touch with a cousin I've never met. We have a lot in common and have been sharing family stories and photos. She sent me a photo of her mother as a litte girl, sitting outside our mutual great-grandfather's store. I'd never seen a picture of his store, though Mom wrote about it in her stories.
What I haven't done is made much progress on my book.
My focus has changed to the family archive. For some reason, I'm the keeper of the family treasures and I'm doing the archiving. I hope to get all the documents scanned, and then send the papers to the appropriate family members. I don't want to have to keep all 10 boxes of documents and photos. So, I've done a lot of sorting and scanning this summer.
I have been keeping notes about my reactions to things I've read, and that will help me write my memoir for the book.
For years I thought about making a time line for myself, where I lived, what cars I owned, what pets I've lived with etc. Well, that's done now. I'll add to it as the letters reveal things that I've forgotten. Over the weekend I relived about 15 years of my life.
But I seem to have lost focus on the original project.
Now, I could drop the archiving, focus on Mom's stories, and rush to finish the book.
But, I believe that things happen when they're supposed to. And now, I feel like I'm supposed to work on the archives. I'm getting support and encouragement from my cousin. I'll be able to get some of the boxes of papers out of my office. I'm doing some things that were further down on the to-do list. And, I'm collecting material for the book.
I wrote a poem over a year ago. It had some good stuff in it, but it didn't work. A friend tried to modify it into a song. I liked the song, but I thought it could be better. He took it to his co-writer and they further modified it, into a different song. It was pretty good, but it was completely removed from my poem.
I took the first co-written song and the original poem to a one-on-one session with Steve Seskin in August of last year. He suggested I go back to the original poem and change the ending to a totally different emotion. That took me by surprise. I had to rethink the song, and I put it aside.
Last winter I read a Larry McMurtry book with a character who would have come to the end of my poem with the emotion Steve suggested. Aha! I let that character live in my mind for a while, then went back to the original poem, a full year or more after I first wrote it. I re-wrote it with that character in mind.
Now I have a poem that works. It needs some tweaking, maybe some editing. I'll take it to one of my songwriters critique sessions this month and see what feedback I get on it. It will go through another revision, but I know I'm on the right track.
That wouldn't have happened if I'd pushed to finish the poem last year. I had to wander to find the character who would show me the way to make the poem work.
And, as that character says in the poem, "It seems that I have wandered, but I was always on my track."
So, I'll continue to read letters, scan papers and work on the archives until it's time for me to compile all of Mom's writing into a story. And, by then, I'll have the memoir with the emotional changes to put on top and around the other parts of the story.
When I was doing Dad's letters last year, I was inspired to write a love song, from Mom to Dad. Maybe I'll be inspired to write another song.
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