The Truth About Single Moms

2015PromoPosterCollageSaturday I attended a writer’s conference. I had a long-standing commitment to participate on a panel with writers Cindy LaFerle and Lynne Cobb on women’s issues. The always fabulous Cindy LaFerle moderated the panel, so all I had to do was show up and say something smart. Not easy, but I’m a woman, I’ve been through stuff, I’ve written about it plenty.

I also had a spot in the bookstore, giving Luke a final push. Of all my novels, Luke’s #1 Rule has been the book closest to my heart. It’s got the most substance and I don’t just mean the various chemicals Spence ingests.

Like Chloe, I was once a single mother, so I talked about my real experience raising two little boys, trying to decide if dinner would be mac ‘n cheese or hot dogs. Chloe, I realized driving home from the conference, did not have to make hard choices about what to feed her kids. I had softened her life, given her the kind of support I didn’t get from her loving widowed mother, Ursula.

I made the story gritty for Spence, the ex-husband addict, but, except in love and work, I let Chloe way off the hook. She had a better job than mine as a secretary. As a “pink collar” worker, I was smack on the poverty line. Not so Chloe. She lived with her widowed mother, who handled childcare and cooking so Chloe could get on her feet as a single working mom.

My mom gave birth to me when she was 16. When I left my husband, she was not happy about it. She lashed out, saying she would not be babysitting while I “went off to work.” This was a hurtful thing to hear, not that I had asked. I never had any intention to ask. But that remark made me create Ursula, a grandmother in the most selfless sense of the word. LukeCH In real life, I had already arranged childcare before my mother’s remark. It was after school, until my dragon boss would let me go home. Yeah, the employer in the opening of Luke is based on the type of men I have worked for most of my adult life. Entitled, uncaring, unconcerned about my small children and smaller paychecks.

This post is a direct result of Cindy LaFerle’s “Writing Memoir” workshop. Cindy’s talk gave me the courage to write about real things in my past I have always preferred to fictionalize. Creating Chloe and Ursula was a way to mother myself, to live in a world for awhile with a happier alternative to the stark truth of being a single mom with nobody on your side.

It only occurred to me as I drove home from that conference that I didn’t do anybody any favors by softening the truth of what it means to be a single mom. Certainly not single mothers looking for some comfort. Of course, single moms in Detroit can’t afford to buy novels. And if they can, they don’t have time to read them.

Writing Again

Finally, almost two weeks after I sliced my writing fingers open, I am back to writing. Had a serious pen and paper session that lasted a few hours and blasted through a block that has been with me for most of my life. Finally, I’ve started working on a memoir.

I still plan to indie pub Gypsy on December 26, so I’m keeping the free document up until then. I also aim to finish ‘the novel of my heart’ which is very close to done. This is the next book I’m sending to my publisher and my first attempt to publish women’s fiction. I imagine that this winter will be waiting and  editing, but also working on the memoir.

I don’t want to say anything else except I am writing a memoir that I plan to publish and it takes place in the space of five eventful years of my life. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Anyway, now I’m going to take those first scrawled pages and type them into a Word document.

It feels so good to be writing again.

Teaching Memoir

Saturday I moderated my first writing group for DWW. We had a large room for the event, and three sessions going at once. Kathleen did poetry, Mira explored journaling, and I talked about memoir. Aside from teaching what I know about memoir,  which is fun all by itself, it was also a thrill to get to know other Detroit women writers.  

In two hours I took my group through some pre-writing exercises designed to get them thinking about their lives. I explained how memoir is different from autobiography, fiction or journaling, and what makes memoir come alive, become more than just a story we tell around the table.

After I did my talk, I had them write out a short anecdote, a story often told. Everyone read them aloud. That was fun. Then I explained that meaning is key to memoir and separates it from mere anecdote. We all tell stories around the family table, but memoir takes it further. I read my short memoir “Snow Day” (which BTW will be out in book form Very Soon. I think the pub date is December 10. Exciting!) so I could illustrate clear examples of what I was talking about as far as “meaning” goes.

Finally I showed them how they might take the fragments and jottings and anecdotes we worked on and structure them into a larger whole with a single overall focus. But what if your memoir spans many years? One woman asked. That’s fine. A large part of Your Words, Your Story is memoir. It’s focus is my writing life, from the early poetry days on through thirty years of writing everything from novels to blogs.   

The show runner for the event actually sat in on my session! Another woman in my session also belonged to DWW. So these people were, some of them, professional writers. Another lady just happened to be in the library that day. She likes to write, so she stayed. I felt such gratitude that I had something worthwile to offer other writers.

And after the workshop was over, everyone was so appreciative and kind, fired up to start (or finish) their own memoirs. Also, every single person in my session bought my book at the book sale afterward. And some people from the other sessions bought it, too! It couldn’t have been a better day.

I’m moderating the same class again next Saturday in Oak Park, so if you live in the area, call the library and sign up. It’s free!

Memoir

Am reading Natalie Goldberg’s new book, Old Friend From Far Away. It’s about how to write memoir. There are tons of exercises, which I have not been doing. But I’ve been enjoying the book anyway and right in the middle of it I realized I’m writing a lot of memoir these days.

I was trying to force myself into the journalism mode with the magazines but it didn’t work. I kept finding memoir in magazines, pulling them out, writing my own. Even the short story is memoir with made up parents. It’s based on a big experience in my life. And I’m writing about my kids. (“Snow Day”) and my marriage (“Elephant”).

So that’s what’s new here. Funny it should take me so long to figure it out. Really, it took the book and me not doing the exercises because I read them and think “I just did this yesterday.” Still, I am loving catching up on Nat’s life. Seems after her last book, which was met with either indifference or disapproval, she didn’t write for eight months. Imagine a writer of her prominence not feeling confident enough to write. It’s humbling.

She’s still saying things I disagree with, like “you can’t write about writing.” Why would she say that? Creative memoir is available to everyone and she got famous writing about writing. But then she’ll write something that makes me think, like “Writing has this quality where all the effort and desire in the world don’t do shit.” Or something beautiful and profound like “We each are endowed with original mind, which is like a river under the visible river, unconditioned, the immediate point where our clear consciousnes meets the vast unknown…”

So I keep reading. And this morning, at a loss for morning pages, I found myself actually doing one of the exercises. Might as well face it, I’m writing memoir these days.