I just finished composing the first complete draft of my manuscript, a memoir about the untold stories in my family and their power to shape the lives of women. Although the work is mostly about me and my pursuit of my own story, it is also one about place and belonging, trauma and love. So, I begin with a haiku on the power of wind and the force of story.
Grandmother speaks story
Into Sky, Over Great Wind
Singing her back home.
We live in an age of disconnect from one another, a divisive time which has left us split apart from from family, friends and neighbors. Perhaps, as a path of survival, we have chosen to leave toxic families. We find safe places where we can heal the wounds we have suffered; but, if in leaving, we lose access to the untold stories of our ancestors , we sacrifice an important path to tales that can help us reach a deeper understanding of the forces that shaped our lives.
Without access to the untold stories of our ancestors, we lose a narrative thread that holds together a pattern of suffering and silence that has been as much as part of our DNA as our red hair or pale skin prone to sunburn. We may. inadvertently, contribute to our suffering by snuffing out the power of story to teach us, to empower us.
As a writer and narrative theorist, I love stories. Stories about four sisters sitting at the kitchen table, playing cards. Stories about the tiny oil-boom town in West Texas where I was born. About how, as a four-year-old, I packed a bologna sandwich into a small brown paper bag on the hot summer morning I ran away from home.
What happens to these untold stories? I believe they are absorbed into the very places where they were born–into the flat plains and the winds that blow across them. Into the trees which witnessed important life events, the streams whose movement created music as a backdrop for our lives. And, I believe these stories are carried, whether acknowledged or not, across generations, where they await an opportunity to be told.
What childhood memories do you have of the places you’ve lived? Do any of those places metaphorically hold details of stories you’ve been told to forget? Have the details become a blur in your memory as a result of trying to forget them? Perhaps you would benefit from a writing session that begins with thick description of the location of your life experiences. This could be the beginning of your story about memoir.