Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's Not a Memoir

Months ago I promised myself and this blog's mercurial audience that I'd post about my progress writing my next memoir. Well, I'm not writing it.

Not that I won't, I'm just not doing it right now. Even though it's the thing I want to do and accomplish more than anything in the world. And it's the perfect time to be doing it. And I really do have to be doing it to "further my career" -- I need fresh fish in the pan.

I've spent nearly three years researching Turkey Red, digging and crawling my way through it all, amassing some 500 pages of notes and annotations and maps and drawings and interviews and videos and images. See, it's just all so much--too much, in fact. And it's supposed to be.

I'm beat down. Hunched over. Heavy footed. Delirious. Where do I possibly begin? How do I make all the notes into a moving narrative? Where do I fit in with the research, the family stories, the Great Plains? I don't know. I do know that writing will get me to knowing, but right now I don't even have a place to start, nothing that spins my heart, that makes my heart ache, that makes me swoon and overflow with passion.

I'm waiting for this. I know this is a dangerous game, because in writing you don't wait, serious and real writers don't wait--they go. They do. The muse is a fallacy. Writers make the book come to them. But I can't. I've never been able to do that from the start--later, in editing, yes--but not from the start. I need a deep-threaded vibe that stretches from me into every space and time and living thing.

So, I'm doing what I most fear and loathe to do--letting the material soak. Seeing what percolates, bubbles, rises to the top. What ferments. I must be patient. This is not a book I can force through on one draft, realize it's awful, and write a whole other book again. My writing process is not amenable to that at all. I must be with it and in it on that first draft, heart and soul, festering and oozing all the bison, prairie dogs, bluestem, Mennonite farmers, Cheyenne school children, oil booms, sooners, my grandmother's stories, and the agony of my childhood in Oklahoma.

So hush now, memoir. Sleep. Stay still right there as I close the door. Soon, I reckon, I'll come crashing in a mad dash to you, screaming wildly late one night, and tear through dozens of new pages--perhaps a whole book in a month or two. That's fine. We wait for one another for when the time is right. But when it's time, we must be alert enough to recognize it, and to dig in and go mad in obstinate faith, diligence, devotion, and desire. Ready the body and mind. Nurture the soul. Listen.


Gaia Gardener: said...

Sounds like it's time to get out into the garden and get (keep) digging. Nothing like good physical labor to free up the mental processes so they can do their alchemical magic in the background.

Benjamin Vogt said...

I have been. But I'm also torn between many projects and passions, like trying to kickstart by native plant garden coaching biz, finishing up the semester at UNL, planning trips....