Monday, March 19, 2007

Slow Process

My family is not crazy. Well, if you don’t count my great-grandmother, who burned herself to death in the outhouse after she caught her husband smiling at his nurse after surgery. And it is true that my grandfather (her son) spent most of 1946 in his bedroom because he was afraid he’d catch pneumonia. But still, none of us have gone completely ring-tailed-, batshit-, howl-at-the-moon crazy. Yet.

My parents are still married—to each other, even. 55 years and counting. Their biggest arguments these days are over who could survive best if the other one died. “I better not go first,” my dad will grumble as he hands Mom her glasses. “You’d never see anything again.”

“Like you could get along without me for a week!” Mom will snort. “I feel sorry for you girls if I go first,” she’ll fake whisper out of the side of her mouth. “If I do, remember that I’m sorry.”

The strongest drug used in our home was Extra-strength Excedrin and I was in college the first time I saw anyone drunk. There was that one time my uncle passed out in the neighbor’s flower box when he came home on leave from the Navy, but I didn’t get to see anything except the lights coming on when Dad went next door to fetch him.

My daddy always had a job, my mama’s brand of discipline occasionally could be described as harsh but rarely left marks or drew blood, and we always had a good home and plenty of food. My older sister and younger brother annoyed me, but no more so than the average sibling, as far as I can tell.

I’m a garden-variety, Midwestern heterosexual raised in the bosom of a family no more or less dysfunctional than the next. So why would I write a memoir, and would read it? The only honest answer is, “I'm not sure.” But these stories have been kicking around inside my head for so long, trying to be heard. It feels like time to bring them out for a little light and air.

I’ve spent my entire life not quite fitting in. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like the proverbial stranger in a strange land. As a young child it seemed my mom and sister formed a closed society into which I did not fit. Then my brother came along, and I discovered the peculiar (and to my mind, unpleasant) position of the middle child.

When I was seven or eight, my family moved from a good-sized town in California to a tiny one in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri. In those hills, we were outsiders, which added a layer of “other-ness” to the distance created by being a slightly chubby, too-smart-for-my-own-good book worm who was afraid of balls (inanimate—didn't know a damn thing about the other kind) and talked way too much.

From that time to this, I’ve defined myself more by what I’m not than by what I am. I’ve practically made a religion out of not being my mother, and I’ve put together whatever pieces are assembled in the puzzle-that-is-me by watching others live out their self-portraits and eliminating the shapes and colors that are not part of my own true self.

It’s a slow process.

16 comments:

Mystic Wing said...

Bravo!

Sounds like the opening paragraphs of a book to me. And a very good opening, at that.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Hmmmm.... lots to think about here, Jerri, a journey indeed. Journey mercies!

kario said...

you have so many great stories and such a great perspective on life, why the hell wouldn't you write a memoir? You're on your way, girl!

Jenny Rough said...

I love memoirs because it's the details of each of our stories that make it unique and interesting.

P.S. I used to spend summers teaching waterskiing in the Ozark Mountains of Southern MO.

Deb said...

I love this piece! You make the ordinary amazing and funny. Your blog is a treat I give myself each day, much like I used to watch soaps. And you are real and true! It doesn't get much better than that.

You are so full of encouragement for all of us. Here's some back at you. You are an amazing writer with a powerful story to tell - because you are powerful.

Where to next, my friend?

Jess said...

Wonderful snapshot of your family, I am getting so much of a better sense of you through reading all this.

But I am so behind having been out of town for almost a week! Forgive me. So much to read.. Amazing and inspiring how much writing you are churning out lately!

Suzy said...

I agree with "The Wing." Now I want the rest of the story, the whole story.

Kim said...

Your intelligence, your curiosity, your marvelous turn of phrase, your continuous searching, your embracing of the journey, your open mind and heart, that wacky town you lived in, all of these wonderful, relatable stories, your discipline and desire to do it...those are just a few reasons why you should write a memoir. There are a million more.

And I agree with Mystic Wing. Look at this post: writing the stories is starting to give you an understanding of what your book might be "about." You're writing your way in! Like JL says, just think about the 200 feet in front of you, don't worry about the whole long journey, it will unfold as you go.

Wow. I just realized I am telling you exactly what I also need to hear.

Gulp.

Amber said...

Hahaha! This made me laugh! Funny about the balls...*snort*

However you came to be, it made you a good egg, as my grandpa would say. ;)

:)

Terry Whitaker said...

I imagine you'll find out more about the "why" as you go through it. Enjoy the process.

Michelle O'Neil said...

We do learn a lot about what we want by discovering what we don't want. Whittling away to find the masterpiece.

Hey...perhaps your memoir is your masterpiece?

Prema said...

Memoir at its best is about revelation. It's about what touches the heart in a way that takes us closer to ourselves, and transcendent enough to carry us beyond ourselves. I for one am completely fascinated by each story. The south is its own culture, the time that shaped you is its own era.

And all the great journeys and myths bring us right back home anyway. That's where the simple truth resides, in the daily stuff.

I hope you can support your natural inclination to write your story. It's worthy to be known and you're worthy to tell it. Just because...and that's enough.

Stacy said...

Your stories are like a novel I would read from cover to cover in one sitting. It's all interesting. I don't have any relatives that burned up in an outhouse. You are wrong, your stories are fascinating and the memoir worth reading. Bring it on!

Nancy said...

We are a species that thrive on stories... telling them, reading them. The beauty of these life stories is that they are all different, and yet we can find ourselves connected in them; validated in them, transformed by them.

A story doesn't have to be tragic and painful to be relevan. I look forward to reading yours and love the way you take me right into your family. Please keep going!

Go Mama said...

Jerri,
I will echo what others have said and remind you that you already ARE a natural storyteller with a color all your own. It's in our stories that we live and breathe and connect and reflect on our own humanity, each one of us unique yet also (at the core) universal. And there is room enough for every kind of story, for those brave enough to speak their truth and commit it to the page.

As for defining self by way of elimination, hopefully we never stop growing or evolving or refining or re-defining. That is one of the blessings of life, really.

Carry on...spin the tales...tell your truth.

Monica said...

This is really interesting to me, Jerri. I completely believe what you're saying, but I want to remind you of the woman I know. The woman who started over from scratch when all hell broke down around you. There is NOTHING "garden-variety" about your story. NOTHING. And as I'm reading all these fabulous blogs today, they are just as fascinating as reading a book.
You are writing your story because you should. You must. You are unique and wonderous.