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Michelle's Musings

True Confessions, Part 3

My comments for this third installment of my "True Confessions" posts focuses on the memoir I'm developing, which I alluded to at the beginning and end of installment number two.

 

The beginning and end. For my memoir-in-progress, I have an idea where to begin, and I have multiple options for its conclusion. However, if I'm going to be honest, I haven't yet figured out a through line, although my goal is to inspire others seeking survival and triumph amid adversity. As previously mentioned, I've written snippets or mini chapters of my recollections to get my thoughts down on paper. However, I need to tie them together with a connecting theme so I can provide the reader with a satisfying story.

 

I made an inroad since last month's blog post by contacting an aunt with whom I've had little interaction over the years. I informed her of my desire to know more about my upbringing and possibly gain insights into how I survived a highly dysfunctional environment. Surprisingly, she agreed to answer all my questions. We set a date, and I made the phone call, not knowing what to expect. My aunt opened the conversation by apologizing for anything she did or did not do to help my siblings and me during our struggles, which indicated that this discussion would be cathartic for her. Thankful for her willingness to have this conversation, I told her that no apology was necessary. She then gave an effluent monologue of the first 20 or so years of her life.

 

My aunt hardly took a breath between words as she recounted details of those years, confirming that the little I do remember of those tumultuous times is factual and not post-traumatic figments of my imagination. Then, I filled in details of which she wasn't aware but were consistent with her knowledge. It was the only time she was dead-silent. I could hear the proverbial pin drop on the other side of the phone line.

 

After nearly two and a half hours of back-and-forth and notetaking on my part, we agreed to resume our discussion at a later time. It's been three weeks now, and I've yet to pore through my notes, annotate, and write follow-up questions in preparation for our next talk. But I'm getting there.

 

The moral of this blog post? You never know who's willing to talk unless you ask!

 

Note - This third blog installment turned out to be longer than anticipated (sound familiar?), so I'm ending here and saving a juicy nugget of a revelation from the aforementioned discussion for next month in what should be my final post in my "True Confessions" series. To think that I initially anticipated only one or two installments—I might need a fifth, but I don't intend to write my memoir here!

True Confessions, Part 2

As promised, here is the second of three installments of my "True Confessions" posts.

 

So, the novel is set aside for now, and I plan to resume writing a memoir—though you may ask, How can you tackle something of that length when you just shelved the novel because its length hampered progress with your other projects? The answer is that I'm writing the memoir in snippet format. That is, as ideas come to me, I write an essay-length piece and file it away. When I'm ready for the next "chapter," I sit down to produce another contribution, which may not necessarily connect in linear fashion with the last piece. While each chapter stands on its own, I do intend to pull a unifying thread through.

 

I will also continue drafting personal essays for submission to contests, newspapers, etc. In the meantime, I've learned of my 1st place win in the 2021 SouthWest Writers Contest for a humor piece I submitted! This win is incredibly gratifying; however, some of you who sense that I'm more of a serious-minded individual may wonder when I first entertained the concept of being a humorist. Indeed, I take any work I do seriously and give it my all. I must admit that I've posed this question to myself more than once. I must also confess that I'm not entirely certain of the answer.

 

I have a couple of theories about the development of my humor voice. For one, I've long been able to see the comedic side of ordinary life situations with which most of us identify and commiserate. As an ardent golfer, I often come across scenarios rife with fodder for humor prose—although I don't always see humor in a golf round and end up telling myself that I should never have gotten out of bed! I plan to create a collection of these anecdotes (some of which have already been published) in book form that would, hopefully, find a home at golf clubs or in retail golf shops.

 

The second theory I'll share is that as dark as my memoir will likely turn out to be, and as dark as the novel is, for that matter, humor may have become a form of respite for my writing brain to protect it from being mired in darkness too long. Whatever the case, some time had passed before I understood that others appreciate my quick wit and one-liners as much as I enjoy producing them. Whether my humor represents some sort of coping skill or raw talent, or both, at least others find my work funny. I confess that appreciating my humor means a lot to me!

 

See you next month for installment number three of "True Confessions."

True Confessions, Part 1

For the last several years, I've worked on multiple iterations and rewrites of my novel, Hide and Seek. I just completed another revision, but the truth of the matter is that the time-consuming nature of this process is hampering my progress with other projects that I'm anxious to pursue. While I'm not throwing in the towel, I'm going to shelve my novel for a bit to make time for shorter nonfiction pieces.

 

As I slogged through novel revisions, I learned a lot about myself as a writer, including that I have difficulty focusing on a project of that length for long stretches of time. That same struggle with focus has also prevented me from being an ardent reader, which is something I've been reluctant to admit. If you've read my earlier blogs, you may recall that I attributed these impediments to dyslexia. Looking back over several decades, I better understand why my class studies were more difficult than they should have been and why I heavily relied upon memorization to pass my exams, which I often struggled to complete in the allotted time.

 

Typing sometimes frustrates me to the point that I curse my hands or pound my fist onto my desk because of my inability to get through a single paragraph without transposing "f" with "g" or "v" with "b" or "x" with "z" or entire words, even. The same goes for handwriting. I reread and correct my work ad nauseam, which bodes well for revisions of my writing projects that I patiently carry out until I can read through an entire manuscript without cringing. As a result, my work is fairly "clean" upon submission. But perseveration often interferes with my narrative flow, particularly in a long piece of fiction, which is why I find writing nonfiction more gratifying. The words seem to pour onto the pages. And, oh my, have I got a lot to say...

 

(At the first writing of this blog post, my thoughts and feelings flowed out of my fingertips like a gushing waterfall, and I soon realized that it was going to be much longer than prior posts. Lest you become disenchanted with too long of a read here, I've parceled this tome into three segments. So stay tuned for next month's installment (#2) of "True Confessions.")

 

Happily Ever After?

In 1933 under Nazi Germany, an infamous public book burning took place as a radical display of censorship and intolerance. Blacklisted works by literary and political figures, including Ernest Hemingway, were targeted for the flames. After the destruction of these books, the Nazi regime raided libraries, bookstores, and publishers' warehouses to destroy other works it deemed un-German (cited from Holocaust Encyclopedia, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum).

 

Because the veracity of science is increasingly questioned these days, preservation of truth and science-based facts remains paramount. As disinformation spreads falsehoods in alarming and detrimental fashion, we must remain vigilant and discerning of what we consume from social and television media. We must be wary of those who would stifle our attempts to impart knowledge that discounts such disinformation.

 

In fiction writing, it's rather ordinary to make stuff up. Fantasy and magical realism are popular among readers, and some writers claim both fiction and non-fiction as their genres. Surrealism may be juxtaposed or conflated with realism. In the end, no matter your genre, protagonist, or writing style, the goal is to impart information to a receptive audience.

 

Thankfully, we still retain the protection of our First Amendment right. However, some political leaders have made attempts to squelch that right when it comes to accurate representation of historical facts that are sometimes unpleasant at best. For example, they'd rather we not know the truly treacherous nature of the enslavement of African Americans.

 

Suppression of knowledge by elected officials is antithetical to our Constitution's First Amendment. Surely, none of us wants to revisit an era where free thought and expression of ideas is inappropriately suppressed for any reason, let alone political ones. Going down that rabbit hole is not likely to generate an ending wherein all parties live "happily ever after."

Independence Days

Our nation recently celebrated the anniversary of its declaration of independence from Great Britain. During a televised Capitol Fourth of July celebration also held in commemoration of Juneteenth (the anniversary of the final emancipation of all enslaved African Americans), I listened to a performance of the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing." To my recollection, this song was dubbed the "Black National Anthem." A quick Google search confirmed my suspicion; however, I also learned that the anthem not only contains prose specific to the struggles of enslaved Blacks, but it was also written to celebrate the anniversary of President Lincoln's birthday in 1905.

 

During this nation's recent period of heightened racial awareness and reckoning, suppressed African American history like that of the Tulsa, Oklahoma Massacre (of which I previously had no knowledge) has come to the fore. Sadly, public acknowledgement of the brutality of our nation's past has become mired in heated political divisiveness. Some Americans see an accurate historical accounting as a personal affront to their sensibilities. I can assure you that they are not alone in their feelings of reproach. The legacy of slavery is as painful for Black Americans as is the wholesale discounting of their ancestors' contributions to the development of our nation.

 

The amount of discord over a fair and accurate rendering of African American history reflects the impact of a pervasive whitewashing of said history. No matter how sanitized our tools of education, however, the reality of our past cannot be erased. Other atrocities like plagues, wars, and genocides have been visited upon civilizations since the beginning of time. As painful as that history is, we have learned from it.

 

When did we decide that it was proper to teach only that history which does not offend the feelings of one segment of our population, particularly given that its long-term ramifications serve as its reminder day in and day out? To reconcile the discord and animus that now run rampant, we must acknowledge our history in all its shortcomings and glory. And we need more freedom to expose and write about that history. We can't be in the business of penalizing educators for speaking truth.

 

We're all in this together. Armed with factual knowledge, maybe we can declare our independence from hatred and learn to love again!

Procrastination

It took me a while to get down to writing this month's blog post, as I had difficulty coming up with a topic. Technically, I don't consider that conundrum a form of procrastination. Being the task-minded person that I am, and given how much I enjoy writing, however, I'm loath to admit that I sometimes find it difficult to launch a writing session. My main excuse is a need to clear my head, which means I invariably check emails and text messages before addressing the keyboard. Once I'm at it, though, I'm good to go until fatigue sets in.

 

After ridding my head of distractions, I silence my phone and reread prior work before resuming the project. Yet even my own review process can get in the way as I linger on something problematic. A slow start often leads to frustration about not getting as much accomplished as I intended, and sometimes I pay for that underperformance by waking up at three in the morning with a guilty conscience. I've been known to jump out of bed and burn the midnight oil during the wee hours of the night to make up for lost productivity. Admittedly, some fault lies with me being that driven person with the to-do list that won't quit. But that's another digression!

 

One solution to procrastination that works for me is a deadline, which reinforces discipline. My goal is to publish this blog on the 15th of each month. Although I got a late start this time around, at least I met my deadline.

You Can Make this Stuff Up

In this climate of conspiracy theories and alternative facts, the line between reality and surrealism can become blurred at times, which is often the case in magical realism writing.

 

Magical realism differs from fantasy in that the latter contains a unique, fantastical environment or world in which its characters exist. Magical realism, on the other hand, drops a fantastical element into the midst of an otherwise ordinary, real world. A successful magical realism writer must coax her readers into suspending disbelief so that the story doesn't seem silly.

 

Some authors open their stories with a magical element to ground the reader in the genre up front. I'm more a fan of the gradual introduction of magic. For me, that makes the "twist" even more intriguing when it first appears. I'm hooked when I'm given pause to ponder whether what I just read is what the author intended me to understand. I'm motivated to keep reading to see how this bit of intrigue will play out. Either way, I find the genre enthralling.

 

In recent months, I've repeatedly heard, "You can't make this stuff up." I imagine there are lots of Hollywood scriptwriters and producers foaming at the mouth about plotlines and miniseries with themes based in our current political environment. While those headlines don't necessarily implicate magic, there is a sense of surrealism from time to time that might stir the creative mind to consider, What if?

Dare to Share

This time of year must be writing contest season. I've received a ton of notices about submission opportunities in just about every genre from poetry to memoir, short story to creative non-fiction, novel excerpt to literary journal piece. The word count requirements are just as varied.

 

It feels good to be at a point in my writing where I'm confident enough to submit material for judging. Yet as I strive to meet deadlines, I realize that most, if not all, responses to my submissions will be rejections. But my efforts are not wasted, as there is always room for learning. As needed, I refer to notes from classes or conferences I've attended and review salient advice for the revision process. I proceed accordingly, sharpening my revision and editing skills with each pass. Some contests even inspire me to create new work. Social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic has also provided more opportunity for me to hone my skills with fewer distractions. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I look forward to a return of all those external sources of diversion!

 

Spring has arrived, however, and so has the season of showcasing one's talent. Not only am I proceeding full steam ahead with my craft, I also may have discovered a flair for photography. I seem to have an eye for photographic composition and plan to submit one or two images for competition.

 

As my vegetable and flower gardens flourish, birds awaken, and temperatures rise, so, too, does my creative energy. I hope yours is also roused and that you dare to share your work with others!

Timing is Everything

I recently started another revision of my novel, Hide and Seek, a magical realism story about a 12-year-old girl with a special gift that she must properly embrace if she is to help her deceased brother cross over to "the other side." Though the intended audience is adults, I have attempted to write it from the perspective of a 12-year-old narrator. I've been advised by experts in the publishing industry that such an endeavor would be hard to pull off. Indeed, it's been difficult to find other stories written this way. The few that I did find tend to take liberty with the child's capacity for an advanced vocabulary, which did not bother me so much. However, I recognized the same in my own work and had made several notations about correcting the language in a future revision—admittedly, a daunting task.

 

Well, this go-around, after being satisfied that I'd composed the storyline I wanted, I began another revision. At the second chapter in, something "clicked," and I realized that the mature vocabulary of an adult gives me more freedom of voice. So, I changed the narrator to that of a young adult looking back.

 

The timing of this epiphany was perfect, as I'd contemplated submitting the first 15 pages of my novel to a couple of fellowship-type programs designed to guide writers through a professional revision process. I immediately went back to my opening chapter and made appropriate changes. My deadlines are in a couple of days, so I've been devoting most of my writing time to the novel revision.

 

As the saying goes, "Timing is everything."

A Little Yellow Book

During Black History Month, recommendations for creative works by African American authors and playwrights have ticked up, including W.E.B. DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folk." The day before I sat down to write this post, I realized that the other reason this book was on my mind was my recollection of taking my father's copy with me when I left home for college some decades ago.

 

I never read the book in its entirety, and I was moved to search for it among my collection. At first, I was unable to locate it amid the stacks of paperbacks and hardcovers jammed into my bookshelves, some of which perpetually await the opening of legitimate shelf space. As I gave a final sigh and started to turn away from the sagging shelves, the weathered yellow paperback suddenly "jumped out" at me from its resting place atop the uppermost shelf.

 

Copyrighted in 1953, this version of "The Souls of Black Folk" was published in 1961. Its pages, which look like they're about to free themselves from the book spine, are almost as yellow as the cover. Thankfully, the strange odor of decay seems to be fading.

 

The book obviously belonged to someone other than my father as it is filled with annotations in handwriting that is not his. Did he loan it to another person? Did someone give it to him? The elusive answer to this person's identity is as intriguing as the fact that I was able to lay my hands on the book.

 

I find it amazing that DuBois' historic work, considered a controversial but highly touted read back in the day, is being referenced in discussions about racism in 2021, exactly 50 years after the release of this version. In my estimation, I've stumbled upon something worthy of enshrinement. Though the font is painfully small and dense, I plan to gingerly read it from cover to cover and, hopefully, experience some sort of spiritual awakening as I do.

 

But, oh, how I wish I knew whose handwriting and underscoring grace its pages!

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