Linda Joy graciously writes for Choices about how she created her powerful, must read memoir, Don't Call Me Mother. When you do read it, you'll see my endorsement near the front of the book:
"With poetically visceral prose Linda Joy Myers tells of her relentless work to emerge from an abandoned and abused child to a forgiving and loving daughter, mother, and grandmother. This must read memoir brings her raw dark secrets to life. I couldn’t tear myself away."
My 5-star review is on Amazon.
Please welcome Linda Joy.
Art, Poetry, and my Memoir Don’t Call Me Mother
by Linda Joy Myers
When people ask me how long it took to write my memoir, I say, “It took a very long time.” I say this with a half-embarrassed shrug, because my goal now as a coach is to help people to get to “the End” faster than I did. But we each have our process, and my autobiographical arc of healing made its way through various art forms before finding its way into a memoir. My journey to the final version took the time it needed.
Since I was young I’d look for solace between the pages of books, enjoying the world of story. At the same time, I was looking for something, though for a long time I didn’t know what it was. Now, I think it was this: I was looking for me. Through stories, real and fictional, I was trying to learn how life could be lived better, fuller, and with more compassion. The early abandonment by my parents left me a seeker, trying to find answers.
My memoir Don’t Call Me Mother is a saga that spans several generations. As I began to think of writing it, I’d think, “I wonder if other people had mothers who ran away from their children, I wonder if other families have three generations of daughters who were raised by other people.” Many of us write our books because we need to write the book we want to read.
As I grew up, I learned the long hard path of practicing the piano and cello and performing from grade school through college, and I earned a degree in art as well before becoming a therapist. In art, I learned to “trust the process” of the unfolding of the artistic idea. When painting, I learned that you could try an image, and if it didn’t work, you could rub it out and start again, or use part of the image, or cover it up. It didn’t have to be “perfect” the way that playing the piano or cello did. That was a relief! It was through art that I first started my autobiographical exploration of my life and family. Using images to express my story in a variety of media, showed me two things: that my true artistic love was writing, and that words were more precise than images.
I began with poetry, capturing fragments of images and memories, inviting the wispy nature of memory and poetry to help me learn understand my beautiful mother and grandmother. I wrote many poems about my lost mother, my great-grandmother’s life on the farm, sometimes combining them with images I collaged or painted. To learn more about my father, I created a photo etching of his life. After a while, I realized that the core of my story—the toughest, hardest parts—were falling in between the lines of the poems. I thought that prose would “catch the missing pieces” of my story, the painful ones that I’d found hard to paint or capture in poetry. Too much was missing.
Today as I coach writers, I feel a particular empathy with those who get lost in the circular labyrinthine exploration of memory, the family sagas, looking for ways to express an inner self. I think the journey of writing a book is challenging no matter what the genre, but for memoirists, the urge to cover up, to stay silent, or to give up is tempting. I tell people that I gave up on my memoir many times, but it didn’t give up on me. I would get lost in where to start, confused about whose story I should tell—I wrote two novels versions in my search for the right form; or I’d feel so ashamed of some of the events that happened that I thought it was crazy to be writing a memoir, even if almost everyone had died already.
But then, there was another voice, the one that Mary Oliver speaks about in her poem "The Journey"
…and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own…
Finally, I faced the memoir that was chasing me and shouted, “All right, I’ll finish you. I will write to the end, and get it published, and then will you leave me alone?”
Good thing only the cats were watching me right then.
Once the stories were found, having faced the dark corners of my psyche and my history, I held the book in my hands. The enormous mountain I’d been climbing seemed smaller. The feelings of despair, loss, and grief were contained, and rested in soft cotton-basted boxes of joy—each chapter its own territory of thought, or exploration, or resolution, balancing the dark and the light. It was truly a healing experience to put everything between the covers of a book, to edit it down, to shape it, and to silence the voice that was chasing me. I wrote the book that I wanted to read, hoping that my story of loss and learning to find forgiveness could help others.
You have to trust in your reasons to write and your voice, and keep writing. You will be using words to find the silence within, the still small voice that needs to be coaxed out. It is your story—let it breathe and become what it wants to be.
Thank you so much. I love your words, "Many of us write our books because we need to write the book we want to read." I also resonate with your writing poetry as a way to begin. I did the same.
Linda Joy Myers bio
Linda Joy Myers, president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, began NAMW to support other memoir writers in their quest to find their story, to find healing and hope through story. Each month there are two teleseminars that offer writers guidance and support from bare beginnings to the final steps of publication, and everything in between. There are two free Telesummits each year. Please visit www.namw.org. She co-teaches Write Your Memoir in Six Months, and enjoys seeing the progress people make in a structured program. Linda is the author of Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, and The Journey of Memoir—The Three Stages of Memoir Writing. She is editing a novel called Secret Music—about World War II and the Kindertransport. Her blog is http://www.memoriesandmemoirs.com