I asked my wife at lunch today who in the world would care to read a book about some guy exploring his family history, lamenting the lost lessons of his grandmother who tried so hard to teach him about his family, but he never listened. Who would care to read a book that says Oklahoma is our apocalypse, a nexus of everything wrong and right with this country, a convergence of greed and hope that reshaped prairie ecology, Native American cultures, and Mennonite German settlers. We never listen. We don't change until we have to. Until it's too late and we have to start over, start the story over that we cut off and killed.
“How will our children know who they are if they don’t know where they come from?” – John Steinbeck
“For in OK all the experiences that went into the making of the nation have been speeded up. Here all the American traits have been intensified. The one who can interpret Oklahoma can grasp the meaning of America in the modern world.” -- Angie Debo
As I'm bringing together literally hundreds of sources I stop along the way to research some question I asked myself in the margin of a book or pdf document, so I spend an hour more researching. At some point, the research must end, because it could go on forever and ever. Just as I'll never know the lives of my family or the true prairie, so this memoir can never be fully researched--in the loss and the absence, the negative space, is the story of our species.
I ask myself--remembering the first draft debacle of my last memoir, Morning Glory, unpublished but much better than it was three years ago--what kind of narrative will drive and sustain this book? My search for myself, myself and America, or just America? I will have stories of my own, then there are stories of my family, of Cheyenne, of Mennonites, of prairie animals and grasses. Will those dozens of smaller stories coalesce into a larger narrative? Will they spiral together and collide, play off one another like metaphors, lead to one point naturally, or will I have to force it to a head?
Obviously a writer has to be careful at this stage--a memoir is a marathon, and the writing is the discovery, and the editing is the real writing. First thing first. Get me a brown paper bag. I'm on a slippery slope, about to slip into memoir writing hyperventilation and coma.
Turkey Red: A Memoir of Oklahoma