Moving 'Fearward' in My Memoir Writing

The idea of moving not just forward but ‘fearward’ in writing is not mine. I first heard about it from a friend and read about it in Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s book. She says to go towards what holds the most energy for you. Even if something frightens or repels you, push through your fear and keep writing.

I try to apply this idea to my present search for a thread in myself, in my development. The thread around which I will tell my story. The thread of the plot i.e. the evolution of my character development in my memoir.

I examine my story and see that a shift in me, even my whole personality, occurs when I was nine, after we move from downtown to the suburbs. So I begin writing about that time, digging deeper into memories and feelings. Strangely, I don’t remember much, but I push on. I am still working on this.

What have I found, so far? I quote from my freewriting:

The things that I brought with me were only my dolls, my clothes and maybe a few books. But so much was left behind: all the furniture, Dad’s courting letters to Mom in the basement, so many intangibles, the warp and woof of my life on Charles Street that I never knew I would miss. The urbanness of it all. The sounds and smells of downtown and the inside of the rooming house e.g., Miss Tweedie’s toast, Mr. Taylor’s oil paints, the sound of coal falling into the bin, the clop clop sound of the horse hooves, the taste of the ice chips, the street call of the rag ‘n bone man, the sound of the street cars in the distance, the sound of the dishes clattering in the kitchen behind a small restaurant around the corner on Yonge Street when they had their back door open, the Scottish accents of Sadie and Miss Tweedie, the Irish accents of the Keenan brothers. The feel of Sadie’s lap though I‘d long outgrown it. The feel of the rough wooden steps on the back porch, the feel of the morning sun on my face, the sound of the birds chirping. The sounds of the other people in the house. How do you know you’re going to miss all of that? You don’t. You take it for granted as the texture of your life. But it is more than that. It is the scaffolding of your life, without which you falter maybe even fall. It’s the comfort of knowing your place in the world. Of feeling powerful in your place. Of having a predictability in your place in the world. I hadn’t tired of it. I hadn’t felt bored. I got up in the morning anticipating the day with eagerness if not always joy.”

What this piece reveals is that I lost everything when we moved. I lost myself.

Character Flaw

This week I’ve been thinking about my character flaw: what it is about me that changes and evolves throughout the story I am telling in my memoir. Maybe ‘character flaw’ is the wrong term. It sounds negative and is not something I can easily identify in myself. Maybe it’s better to think of it as the thread that consistently runs through my life. The thing that may have got me into trouble or stopped me from achieving my goals.

I find I’m in murky territory here. It’s difficult to go back to those times in my life and examine myself honestly. Maybe I have grown a thick skin or buried some of the stories that reveal sides of myself I wasn’t proud of. Was it when I got into situations with bad friends? Was it when I made decisions in school to avoid what I wasn’t good at?

When I think about this, I find I have rationalized some of my failings. To myself I have said: Well, if only you’d had more support, you wouldn’t have got yourself in to this situation. If your mother had done X, then you would have not done Y.

I have also done a lot of thinking and intellectualizing over the years about certain issues in my life. Was I ambivalent about success? Were my feminist values at war with my traditional values? Was I looking for a father figure? That’s not the same thing as connecting emotionally with the issues.

I’ve concluded that I need to do some free writing about these topics and see what comes up on a feeling level and what memories surface. I’m not trying to write a healing memoir but maybe by examining parts of ourselves that we’ve buried, we can get to a more authentic voice in writing memoir. I’m committed to moving forward or is it ‘fearward’?