Monday, December 7, 2015

Muddling Memoir: Perspective

I procrastinated for a week. I did not want to dig deeper. I wasn't ready to read the letters between my mother and me. Was it fear of finding something I could no longer question her about, something impossible to double check with Dad? It was too late. I cannot query the deceased.

Creativity works in strange ways. I've always wanted to draw but never made time to learn. Earlier in the week I stopped at a local artist supply shop and bought my first drawing how-to. The book: Draw 3-D A Step-by-Step Guide to Perspective Drawing by Doug DuBosque. It was crumpled at the corners, a bit dusty, rejected. I found it on the floor under the book racks and knew it was the one for me.

At home, I dug around the house for an unlined journal and found my daughter's cast off journal with only the first dozen pages covered with the drawings and thoughts of an eight year old. It felt like the perfect fit. Convinced my daughter would enjoy the irony of her mother's efforts, I set to work teaching myself to draw. Interesting I chose a book on perspective.

As in visual art, perspective is essential to the creation of a strong memoir with universal appeal. In addition, the process as well as the completion of a memoir gives the writer new perspective on past events. The horizon line is different, we move the vanishing point a tad and we see the past from a slightly different angle. We gain perspective. Not closure, never closure. A memoirist does not close off memories. They are the fruits of an examined life. What changes is perspective.

Yesterday I opened two large envelopes of correspondence. Because my mother saved everything, I have both the letters I sent home as well as those sent to me. The collection begins with postcards dating July 1974 when I made my first trip to Mexico to a card from my mother dated November 2009 posted by the staff of the dementia care facility where her life ended. A card she could no longer write. She managed "Dear Dear Arleen" in her own shaky hand, and something more, something illegible. A volunteer wrote the remainder of the message and posted it.

I sorted those letters in chronological order, as I'd done with the letters from my friends. To do so, I pulled each letter from its envelope in search of a date. Where one was omitted, I tried to decipher the date on the postal stamp. What's unique here is that I was able to create a back-and-forth written conversation.
I have not yet begun to read this correspondence and already my perspective has shifted. I remembered it wrong. I thought all those letters were from my mother, written by my mother, a conversation between my mother and me. But I was wrong. At least half were written by my father. Memory again made of fool of me. Upset, I made my way to my 3-D drawing book and found solace in drawing straight lines to distant vanishing points.

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Dana said...

This is lovely, Arleen, and mirrors the level of research and attempt to gain perspective I'm engaged in for writing my memoir. We should talk.

Nancy McBride said...

Perspective is always a theme and venue that intrigues me. Mine shifts all the time. As I write my memoir, sometimes I play with interviewing myself from another's point of view, and it opens my mind!Once I asked others who went through being swept away in a flood to write their story of the same experience. There were a few things in common, but everything else was from who they were then, younger, older, life-experience, etc. It was fascinating.
Once, my brother admired one of my drawings, and I was surprised because he's an engineer, and very linear. Over time I have shifted from reality to whimsical perspectives in my art as well as in some of my writing. He said, "Well, I KNOW you CAN draw in perspective, and then you go TWANG!" Big compliment.

Anonymous said...

Memories makes fools of us all I'm afraid! I used to sculpt which is a lot like writing.

arleen said...

So many forms of creativity. Thanks to all of you for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences.