Memoir writer Alice Tallmadge said it best in an essay, “Your First Book, When the Cheering Stops,” – “But your writing mind is as empty as a flat pocket. You can’t imagine writing another paragraph, ever. You say you are taking a break. And you do. (https://bit.ly/2JzmG7U)
And I did. Taking a break from writing seemed to be an excuse, if not, a procrastination from facing an empty writing mind. Maybe deflecting guilt about a loss of an attraction I once had to all things memoir? Has taking a break meant I’ve turned my back on something that once defined me as a writer?
Under the Birch Tree was published eighteen months ago and I’ve never been so stymied to write since that emotional day. It was a long haul, over ten years to make something of my experiences and turn them into story. I breathed memoir and exhaled it onto pages. I was obsessed with the observed, the listened, the seen, the tasted, the touched; I couldn’t get enough understanding of the craft.
Writing memoir was part of my schedule and missing a writing session was like not showing up for an important meeting, one I was conducting. I would always work on this book called memoir. It’s just what I did.
And then it was published. Under the Birch Tree was never far from sight—in the rear seat pocket in my car, in a book stand next to the computer on my desk, stacked in the living room in the bookcase, in my tote bag with bookmarks and postcards. Wherever I would go, so would my memoir.
Suddenly, I was looking at my flat pocket. I had written little of any substance, just a few rambling paragraphs of undeveloped thoughts. I was a nomad among my writer friends, only they had places to go with their writing and I didn’t.
I ’ve stepped foot in mud in the woods, displaced leaf piles, zigzagged through neighborhood streets, poured seeds down a hanging tube, kneaded bread, read best-selling novels, winter parked my bike in the garage, forward-folded and spoke Namaste on my yoga mat, dispensed Halloween decorations, and changed the front door mat to one with orange pumpkins and “welcome” in black lettering. A lot of observing and experiencing, but not making much of it.
And then I remembered what I wrote in an essay for The Magic of Memoir about my memoir writing journey. “I was once eager to find complicated significance in what I now see as simplicity.” When I realized how bothered I was in trying to figure out what was happening after my cheering had stopped, I saw that there was really no complicated significance to neither my break time nor my flat pocket.
I had a dose of my own words to understand that simplicity came from what I had learned from writing my memoir—discovering connections. My break was not in abandonment, left alone as if its novelty had worn away, but simply was time that showed me the new connections I’ve made to finding a different place to be. I see it, especially during this fall season, when my sights and sounds and breath have begged me to live time outdoors, as a homecoming.
Today, Under the Birch Tree is no longer in my bag; it has been moved aside on the bookcase, relocated from the computer to make room for files, its cover in the seat pocket replaced with maps of the forest preserve hiking routes. All things Under the Birch Tree are not far from me but are where I know I will always find them.
Wherever we are, we can always see connections to home.