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Truth and Memoir

Amy Books | Comics | Creative Journey | Featured | Graphic Novel | Philosophical Threads

I owe Tammy at Daisy Yellow answers to some questions. I’ve been dragging my heels forever. Months. On some level, I can’t piece it all together. On some level, I can’t shut up. On some level, I know no one cares. On some level, I feel so far from the creative ‘me’ that the words touch, trace, and depict. I want to know and be that person. At the same time, that outline, a chalk drawing on the ground, is me. Thankfully, the past few years (using the podcast as a starting point in time) have given me that truth, resolute, concrete. It is not a truth I’ve always understood and had, though I’ve held the strand forever. Today, I hold on to that truth as a balance right now, knowing that the glimmer is there, somewhere. But asked to break out my creative time … where do I spend my creative energies… so much comes crumbling down. As I look at where “writing,” which has always been my first medium, fits in the creative pie and see the sliver of space it occupies… in the creative me… I feel jolted, confused, startled. When was the last time I wrote? In reality, I spend 5+ hours a day writing. But it isn’t the same even though it partly explains why it takes something extreme to make me grab a keyboard and write, even when dozens of times each day I know I need to, know I want to, and know I will forget if I don’t. Forgetting has always been a concern and motivating factor.

Last week, I went to the beach with one boy. It was the first time in almost two months. In my head, it had been the Summer of Sea Glass. The title, a way of understanding the summer and how it would be different than even the summer before, more solitary, slimmer, and yet held together by something we found in our search for sea glass, helped shape the early summer. We did fill small jars of sea glass to take to landlocked family, sharing the color… an activity and gift that brought out sweet generosity in the kids as they counted out their collections and donated to the communal jars. (I don’t know that the gifts were really understood in the way we hoped. But they were given.) At the outset, I thought our freeform summer would be filled with sea glass. In reality, the summer slid away, and though every walk on the beach brimmed with the narrative in my head, not once did I capture the thread in words. The way the beach changes. The nuances of the quest. The way it feels to walk the long stretch, mostly alone, the kids running ahead, excited and eager. The feeling that time slows. Nothing was written or drawn.

As we reached the beach last week, and I started the descent, a steep wind from the upper landing to the beach below,  I suddenly felt empowered. I felt like I could reclaim my life, find myself again. I felt myself making a list and setting goals for what I would accomplish and how I would get back on track. I wanted to fire off messages that I could do it. I could get my life back. It was a brief moment of optimism, quickly swept away by the ocean winds.

Returning home, the second week of school became an unexpected tsunami. That the crest of it comes riding along with other problems, including continued post-crash car issues, didn’t help. But the week was partly consumed with helping shepherd one through what felt like an unexpected avalanche of projects that, in and of themselves were good and exciting, but that taken together were a logistical challenge. In between those evenings and the doubled transit time to and from schools, I worked. In every free moment, I worked. I didn’t carve out time to rekindle, to draw, or even to sew. There is no semblance of balance. At the end of each day, the late-night coveted hours in which I used to stake my creative claim, I crashed. Completely.  The projects lay scattered, a silent hope for another chance another day.

So why today, why the blog, why here instead of solving my creative angst about the questions I need to answer? Why, when I know no one sees. No one reads. Why in public? Why not just in a journal somewhere, tucked away? Why this feeling of being so invisible? Because I just finished The Imposter’s Daughter by Laruie Sandell.

I have been reading the Cobbled Court Quilts series by Marie Bostwick, a series about a quilt shop owner that my mom pointed out to me and that brings to mind some favorites of mine like the Elm Creek and Ladybug Farm series, both of which I love for their communities, female friendships, and creative threads. But one night when I woke, late, after falling asleep getting the kids to bed, I realized I had left my book in the car. Looking around for something to read for the few minutes I might that night, I grabbed The Impostor’s Daughter: A True Memoir from the top of a teetering stack of books. It was a gift, part of a series of graphic novels and comic collections I was given as fodder and inspiration over the summer.

I was quickly hooked. Sometimes, most times, graphic novels hook me for the art and the way the format is used to tell a story. A first literary love of mine has always been autobiography (and fictional autobiography). In this case, I love, very much, that the story is told in this format, and the format informs and influence how the story is told. But it is the story, distilled in this way, that grabbed me. I finished it this morning. It is a powerful book in that it is an unflinching memoir, a story of identity, of family, of addiction, and of the search for understanding, connection, and truth. Over and over again as I read, I kept saying to myself… this is what I need to do. This.

Not a new assertion. At all. But something keeps holding me back. Partly it is my own lack of confidence in my line. (Big part.) Partly it is the outgrowth of my own walls. Who wants to read all the garbage that goes along with a life in a tailspin? And yet I read this story. I consumed it. I reached out for the human connection and reality it offers. I latched on to its honesty. In the raw honesty of it, startling at times, revealing, frightening, and hard to watch, the book shines. At the same time, it raises so many questions about what we, as artists and writers, reveal and what boundaries should be drawn. (Note: the reviews of this book range widely. It was interesting looking to see what other people thought… and why some people panned it. Interesting.)

I have read several of the memoirs Sandell mentions in the back of her book, including Blankets (which I loved and which has amazing art), the first of Bechdel’s family memoirs, and way back when, in a graduate course, I read Maus. But there are many others on her list, not graphic in nature, that I now want to read.

Those of you who enjoy memoir <i>or</i> who enjoy the graphic novel format should take a look at The Impostor’s Daughter. This is not one for your kids. It is graphic in many ways. It might even make you uncomfortable. But it is powerful. Yes, maybe it really is “recovery”-speak. Maybe it really is self-absorbed. Maybe it is many things. But all of those fall under the legitimate folds of memoir.

One of the projects for the second week of school was non-academic in nature but part of what will be a year-long path towards self-identity for sixth-graders. They kicked it off with an illustrated timeline… beginning with the need to identify number of significant events in their lives. (This is difficult when you are 11.) They then narrowed down to a certain number of key events and illustrated each one. The drawings were small format, but the end result is a wonderful visual representation of life up to now.

Have you ever made a timeline for your own life? What would go on it? What events, big and small, would merit space. When taken as a whole, what would the timeline say about you? As I helped with this process and also listened to an interview with a family member about an important decade in history for a humanities and social studies project, I was struck by the poignancy of the timeline — and how important it can be. I think we probably all need a timeline. And we probably should keep running timelines for our kids to help fill in the gaps and dates and starting points and events. Something to consider.



PS: Tammy has recently been a guest in a series of podcasts from Voodoo Cafe. I keep trying to get my ducks in a row so I can get them synched and take them with me to listen. Here’s a link to her mention of the newest one:



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