Friday, December 9, 2011

Labeling Memory

I posted the below on my Facebook wall, but I think I want it here, too, so I can more easily refer back to it as I write the memoir.
"When we cleaned out my grandmother's house many years ago, she had labeled all sorts of stuff--belt buckles, souvenir spoons, vases, nicknacks--letting us know who gave them to her and / or when and / or where. But reading a book today that she owned, she scribbled in a margin where she was baptized, on the Washita River, where Cheyenne chief Big Jake camped after allotment in 1892. This is also the same river, further upstream, where Black Kettle's body was found after Custer massacred that Cheyenne peace chief's village in 1868. My grandmother was washed clean of her sins in a river filled with them."
I know what the first chapter will be, and I want to write it this very second, but I'm holding off until I gain more perspective from the last of my research. I know once I start writing, I won't stop. It's like a can of Pringles, or so the ads tell me.

I have less than 1,000 pages left to annotate, having completed my reading this week, then I can begin organizing about 100 sources, quotes, and info into topics:

Great Plains flora and fauna
History of Mennonites
History of the Cheyenne
Family stories and anecdotes
Oklahoma history, cultural and geologic
Grandmother's diary
General quotes / possible epigraphs

You get the idea. This way as I'm writing I can just pull up a word document and quickly dip into whatever source material I need, paste it in, and move on. Nothing is more killer to the writing process than having to stop for any length of time. I even find the space bar and return key very very very annoying and disruptive. You should see the number of folders on my desktop, the amount of books and papers in my office. Being organized, or trying to be, is the only way to approach a messy and large project. And a paper trail may come in handy later on if someone (a publisher? maybe?) wants a fact checked, or some authority calls into question something. I wonder how often that happens to others.


Gaia Gardener: said...

That is so incredibly poignant, "My grandmother was washed clean of her sins in a river filled with them."

Sometimes it amazes me how ordinary our own lives seem...but how unique they are from someone else's perspective.

(Are you sure that you don't want to "seize the moment" and write at least a bit of what you're feeling right now?)

Sandy Longhorn said...

Wow! This seems like the beginning of an amazing writing journey. Good luck with the research/organization phase and the transition into the drafting stage. Really looking forward to the outcome.

greggo said...

May your mind be focused and your inhibitions be set free.

Benjamin Vogt said...

GG--No writing now! I like to hold it in as long as possible that vomit it out in a torrent. And I can't tell you how many time I talked to my grandma's sisters and they said "oh, that's not interesting, you don't want to hear about that. Let's talk about something else." Even the kind of coat someone wore is a key detail!
Sandy--Luck, and lots of candy on the desk. Lots. Thanks! :)
Greg--Inhibitions set free, that really is the key in nonfiction. I know I'll offend people, but I can't let it worry me.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Fascinating as you uncover more information...I cannot wait to hear more and see how it all turns history and especially family history..