Thursday, December 1, 2011

Writing Memoir and Other People’s Memories

by Ashley Ford
In my family, I’m known for having a steel trap memory. My mother often laments how many “friends” she lost when I repeated something I’d heard her say about them to someone else. At this point, other family members jump in to add to my mother’s story. They all cackle away at one another’s impressions of the faces of the offended parties. My grandmother calls from the kitchen,

“I remember when that skinny woman that lived above ya’ll in the triplex came knocking on your Mama’s door to give her some mail. You wasn’t no more than three years old. You went to the door and looked through the little window at her. Your mama asked who was at the door and you yelled back, “Oh, mama, it ain’t nobody but the crackhead.”

Cackle, cackle, cackle.

The biggest lesson I had to learn as a child was just because you knew something, didn’t mean you had to share it with the world, that there were, in fact, many things you shouldn’t share with the world.

“What goes on in this house, stays in this house.”

That was my mother’s motto and it was the law we had to abide in her household. When she and I would argue, I always cried, and she always ended the argument saying,

 “And don’t think  you’re gonna get grown and write a book about me neither.”

When I was in therapy, my doctor told me that I remember things from earlier in my life than most people. I asked her if that meant something was wrong with me. She said it just means that a lot of things parents think they can get away with when you’re too young to remember, my parents didn’t get away with. I asked her again if that meant something was wrong with me.

“No, Ashley. It just means you got cheated a little.”

While working on this memoir-ish thing for this class, my biggest hurdle has been trusting my own memory. The old steel trap that has helped me win countless arguments with long since past verbal evidence, made it easy to buy the perfect gift for someone I care about, and helped me become a standardized test darling had somehow become fickle in my mind. I read and re-read my father’s letters. I recorded phone interviews with my family. I begged family members for pictures of myself as a child as I have none. I asked more questions than anyone had answers.

After a phone interview with my grandmother, I asked her,

“Should I do this, Grandma? Should I really write this story? How will I be able to know if I got it all right?”

My grandmother sighed heavily on the other end of the phone. I pictured her sitting in her favorite spot on her big read couch, surrounded by blankets, magazines, and mail. Her matriarchal nest.

“Baby, you know what you remember. Just write what you remember. You can’t get it all right. None of us has it all right. Write what sounds right to you.”

“Thanks, Nana. That helps.”

“Good. just don’t say nothing crazy about me.”

[Tune in at 3:30 on Dec. 2nd to read Meredith Sims's advice on plotting a series! - Lauren Burch]

1 comment:

  1. You have a natural gift for writing dialogue and including humor in your advice.

    I also have an extremely strong memory, though strangely, mine doesn't work for my own experiences. I can remember facts and sentences that I read from ages ago, but I couldn't even tell you half the kids in my first grade class. I've often thought about writing my own life, but there's so many holes in my memory I don't know where I'd start. Your grandmother's advice, that no one gets it all right, was spot on, and thank you for sharing it with us.