Moving Forward

As I move forward with getting my memoir, Loveyoubye out into the world–my book launch at Laguna Beach Books over a month ago, and the reading in Santa Barbara last week–I’m realizing just how powerful going through with the publication of Loveyoubye has been.  I’ve crested a steep hill and found the view expansive, welcoming, the light a little brighter. I’m discovering a whole other side of myself. Writing my memoir was cathartic and healing. To paraphrase Linda Meyers, “I drew upon layers of my consciousness and discovered more of my true nature, my essential self, and became transformed by the process.” But it’s in publication that I claimed my story and set it free.

This Saturday, May 17th, the next step in my journey awaits. I’ll be at The Avid Reader in Davis with fellow She Writes Press authors, Judith Newton, (Tasting Home, a memoir), and Jessica Levine (The Geometry of Love, a novel), to talk about the diversity and power of the She Writes list, and to reflect on the reality that more women are writing for public consumption than ever before.

In addition to reading selections from our books, we’ll discuss the ways in which women’s lives and stories are as central to history and culture as those of men. I’m going to focus on today’s memoir as the modern version of traditional storytelling, especially women’s memoirs, the good ones, the ones that enrich us in some way, beyond the events of the story. I think of this as duende, which actually means having soul, artistically speaking,  a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity, the spirit of evocation.  Bella Mahaya Carter said it best: “The more you look inward, and the more you share what you see and know, the greater the gift.”

The Culmination of a Journey

Three weeks ago, I arrived home to find a box tossed just inside my gate. (the beasties—my two Staffordshire Bull Terriers—can make a fuss if they spot a delivery man). I hadn’t ordered anything, it had to be for my body shop neighbor; it happens. I hefted up the box, headed down the street, and stopped. The box was addressed to me. From She Writes Press.  My book Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, in print: Advance Reading Copies—ARCs as they’re called—for me to send out to local bookstores, reviewers, etc. Twenty of them. Twenty bright and shiny real books, all the stages finally put together.

With one eye peeled for errors, along with a mixture of butterflies, and a feeling I can only describe as out-of-body, I flipped through the pages. I created this thing, this chronicle of my journey into the core of my being as I tried to come to terms with my husband’s disappearing acts, a dreaded journey home to Africa to help my mentally impaired brother, and the worsening ill health of my beloved dog. I needed to give voice to my experience, to articulate my feelings, to let off steam, to “see” what I thought. With each of these words I found power and mobilization. And then it was done.

Two months after signing with SWP (you can read about my journey to publication here), I wondered what the hell I was doing. Sure, I had to write the book, an imperative, but did I really have to publish it? Did I really have to lay myself bare and vulnerable for all to witness? But then would I be satisfied to stuff an account that had changed my life, that had also become an homage to my brother and to my cherished pet into a drawer and forget about it? For three months I anguished, ready to pull the book, especially after a bad night. But then something began to settle deep inside of me, a feeling that I needed to finish what I started. I needed to complete my journey out into the light of day, to claim it and set it free.

I continued to flip through the book, coming upon one photo after another: me as a sixteen-year-old, me carrying my baby brother, him as an adult, my dad and me, my ex and me, and my beloved dog. I’d worried about putting my hokey little photos in the book, but now it felt right, it felt complete. A new journey begins.

Here We Go!

This is what I remember of our two hour journey to Morland: overcast skies, lovely drizzle, non-stop texts from Joan on Donna’s cellphone –did you find her, where are you? what are you doing? where are you now?—and the two of us chatting like I don’t think we ever did. So many aha moments when we realized how much both of us had yearned for the history-laden English countryside we learned of in Enid Blyton’s books as children. A world of hedgerows (we just had plain old hedges in Africa), badgers, ancient vine-covered castles, deserted lighthouses, porcelain Calico Cat figurines on mantelpieces, “high” tea at four o’clock in the afternoon, secret club houses hidden at the bottom of lush overgrown gardens, and kindly Bobbies in their round flower pot shaped helmets. This was where The Secret Seven and The Famous Five solved crimes, ferreted out secrets and had a jolly old time. Why had we never spoken of these yearnings as children? I thought I was the only one.

I don’t remember much more of the journey until we entered Morland, past an ancient church with gravestones that tilted this way and that, past a giant topiary squirrel holding a yellow posy, past eighteenth-century flat-faced stone buildings with chimney pots that looked too small for those little smudge-faced chimney sweeps of yore and around a tight corner.

There, to the left, was the pub I’d seen on Joan’s laptop screen a year earlier—a pub she and her ex-husband ran for awhile—and further down, the tiny brook (I soon learned is called a mill race) alongside the larger stream, I’d also seen on her screen. Opposite, I recognized Joan’s row house, which I later learned used to be a pub complete with an iron ring in front where the men tied their horses while downing a pint or two. We pulled up and Joan charged outside. She was wearing heels.