Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Family Lore, Legacy and Lies

In the past two or three months I've attended writing events in Spanish Harlem where published and/or infamous writers discussed the craft of fiction and memoir writing. Prior to these question-and-answer sessions, I'd never had the desire to read biographies or memoirs.

All lives aren't created equal or aren't worthy of a book. We all have lives, must we write about them?

What's the practical application for writing a memoir? To revisit and freeze moments in time for others to read, and hopefully glean something useful from another's pain and triumphs?

I recently suffered through The Afterlife by Donald Antrim, a supposed ode to his alcoholic, grand, and delusional mother. One online reviewer wrote, "
I thought the author was too scattered. He went off in too many directions. I was disappointed. Would like to have had more details instead of his way out there ramblings." I felt the same way.

I also have free copies of The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen, Another Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, and The Liars' Club by Mary Karr, which I intend to read, however if I lose interest, I won't labor through to the end as I did with the previous memoir.

My goal is to revisit my large Southern family's past as best I can and record the people and pivotal experiences to share with a broad audience. My grandmother is ninety years old as of this past February. My dream situation would be to take my granny on a road trip with a private nurse and personal chef, and videotape her as she reminisces about her life in the 1920s, 1930s in Texas. I wonder what it was like for her as a young bride and eventual mother of nine daughters and three sons, one of which who died as an infant.

There's a lot I want to know about her life but will probably never know, or perhaps it's not my place to know. Everyone has boundaries that shouldn't be invaded.

We were told stories of my maternal grandfather's discipline, which had children's protective services existed and cared back then might have removed my mother or her siblings from the house, or landed my grandfather in jail. There were recollections of my grandfather just missing one of my aunt's head with a brick as she ducked around the side of the house after sassing him out. Or his using an ironing cord on one of the others. I don't remember my maternal grandfather. He died when I was three years old.

My earliest memories of my family is that we were a large, loud, and combative group. I remember holidays, birthdays, births, and deaths at Granny's. Over the next few weeks, months, and years if need be, I'll sort through the facts and fiction, and decide what's worthy of transcribing for a reading public.

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