The Landing Place for Your Story
We were just talking about a scene of climax and change, transformation. Which is something you want your character to go through. And your character may go through if you're writing a full-length memoir as opposed to an essay. A personal essay probably explores one moment of change and transformation. Or one particular kind of transformation. A full-length memoir may involve a series of them. But the scene that I just read part of involved the climactic one of At Home in the World. And I'm gonna follow up a little bit with where you go from there. The Landing place. You know the climax to the movie often happens quite near the end of the movie. You don't have the climax then you know, another 50 minutes of movie. So I actually, I'll read a little bit less of the remaining part of that scene, first of all. He says You know I tell him, I just asked him "What was my purpose in your life?" He stands there for a moment, then taking a step backward. He raises a long, thin finger so it's dir...
ectly pointing at my heart. "You, Joyce" he says. Finger still pointing. "You. You. You." His whole body is quaking and his eyes stare out at me as if he were beholding a sight of unspeakable horror. Now I could just say he looked scary. I want you to give me pictures. "The problem with you, Joyce. Is, you love the world." "Yes" I say smiling. "Yes, I do love the world. And I've raised three children who love the world too." "I knew you would amount to this." He says nothing. "I want to say goodbye to you, Jerry." I say. There's a little bit more that I won't read. But that basically is not just goodbye to that man on the doorstep. But goodbye to a specter that has haunted me for half of my life. And a God who has just fallen off his pedestal, The problem with me is, I love the world. And now let's think back to how I began the book. With the image of a family growing up behind a fence, isolated. And who have I become? A person who loves the world. Whose out in the world. What is the name of the book? At home in the world. The name of the book is not, Everything that Happened in my Life. The name of the book is not, My Life as a Mother. My children, who I love dearly. Barely appear in this book. This isn't the book for them. That was not the journey I wanted to explore. The journey I want to explore in this book, is my going from a person who did not feel at home in the world, to a person who did, And who does. And once you know what your story is, you'll know number one, how to begin it. Because you'll want to begin it with letting your reader know what kind of a trip we're on. Whether were driving down to the grocery store or across the country. Where are we headed? What are we going to be looking at along the way? And once you know what your book is about, you'll know what your landing place is. And if that's my resolution, then that is going to dictate where I land. So let's see where I land. Obviously my landing place is not, I lived happily ever after. I'm still alive when I wrote this book, I was 44 years old. There were going to be more chapters. Some very hard ones. This is not the end of my life, it's the end of this journey. So, I get back in my car. Slowly I went back to the truck. I don't get in right away. I stand there a moment, taking in the view of Mount Ascutney one more time. The last light of day is disappearing. I climb into the cab, turn on the ignition. You know, I spend more time on this scene than on an entire decade of my life earlier. And that's what I mean about camera work. That sometimes the camera moves in very close and takes a long time. And the lighting effect reflects that. And sometimes we just plain cut and that's when the film editor comes in. When I get to the main road I pull the truck over and take out my notebook. I write down everything that just happened. Just as I start the engine again the storm finally breaks. The CD I've been playing over and over all day comes on again and I begin to sing. And for this one moment, I swear this was true. And you know this is the one thing about memoirs, one of the many things that I love. You can't make it up, but this did really happen. And for this one moment, even an hour. Even an hour from now it won't be so anymore. I am in possession of the most beautiful singing voice. I feel my lungs expand, it's Paul Simon's song about going to Graceland. The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar. I sing, I'm passing the Connecticut River now. I'm on the highway, heading home. And I won't read you the rest, but that is basically that journey. Heading home, is full circle. From leaving my home, leaving my parents, losing the marriage that I made when I was young, losing another home, to being at home in the world. And I'm heading home. Not actually to my house, to my friends house. Route 89 South takes me to exit to Bradford, New Hampshire. Where I stop to see my friends Lorrie and Booq We have a bowl of Soup. I drive from there to Hillsborough. I come to the sign at the end of our old road, with my ex-husband's last name that he painted there the day of our wedding. I'm picking up the pieces that I have scattered along the way. I'm Hansel and Gretel, following the breadcrumbs back home again. He's not home, but I get out of the truck and stand in the field in the darkness. Only for a moment, I leave a note on the door for him. You know about that door if you watch the essay workshop. Somethings happened on that doorstep too. "I stopped by, sorry you weren't here." I stopped by Jeff and Leslie's house. Jeff has bought a pizza, Leslie makes coffee. It doesn't matter that you don't know these people, what matters is you see me carrying on with simple, normal, supposedly not very exciting events. They tell me what's going on with their children, I tell them what's happening with mine. It's late when I get back to king. I will sleep at my friends, Shirley and Bill's. When I walk in the door, close to midnight. There were streamers up and cake waiting. Bill says they he'll put on water for pasta. There's homemade marinara in the pot. In ten minutes, it will be my birthday. And that's the end of the book. And of course, I mean birthday in a few different ways. Okay. It doesn't sound like such a shocking thing, perhaps. To tell about a little trip I made in New Hampshire. But this book set off a firestorm. If you were reading book reviews, in the fall of 1998. You would of seen me called a "Leech Woman". A "Kiss and Tell Artist". An "Exploiter of a Great Man". And "The Author of the Worst Book Ever Published". I did not slit my wrists and decide to take up a new line of work. I decided that I would carry on and tell other stories. And actually I think I've published nine books, most of them novels since then. Which is another great thing about writing a memoir. It frees you up once you've let loose, let go of the story that you've been holding in, keeping secret, investing huge energy in not talking about. All kinDs of other stories come to mind.