There is no story without memory. What is a memory without feeling?
Next time you walk the memoir labyrinth, put some thought into how you will allow your story to take shape and become a piece that captures your mother’s character and spirit. Think about what you need to bring into the story so that it will hold its shape and compel not just reading but connection.
One way to begin your journey is to realize that you will start to build your memoir with memories of significance to place as the foundation of your story. The specific idea behind each memory can be thought of as a building block or brick, and what holds those bricks together is the mortar. From my point of view, the mortar of a story amounts to expressing the feelings emanating from the memories you’ve chosen. Accessing your true feelings and emotions and weaving them throughout will convey a solid connection between the memories and the people behind the memories. Your feelings accurately and honestly set down on paper will connect one brick to the next for a secure foundation. Of course this makes perfect sense, but it’s not altogether any easy task to get the mortar to set-up just right.
With a memory of substance in mind, start your walk through the memoir labyrinth. Hold on to that memory while distancing yourself from it emotionally. Look at what your mother is doing in the particular memory, but now don’t attach your feelings to the image.
For example, perhaps you see your mother at the sewing machine finishing up a Halloween costume. She’s guiding fuzzy pink fabric through the zipper foot. Pins askew as they hold the zipper to the thick fabric as the thread binds them together one quick mechanical stitch at a time. Her fingers come within a hair’s width of the needle on the skinny side of the zipper foot as the machine whirs and pulses quickly up and down. Without emotion attached to this image it becomes just a picture of a woman sewing, and someone looking on probably wouldn’t think twice about this picture of domesticity. But you feel something about this memory. In fact, you feel deeply about the incident. So let’s move on.
In the next couple frames, you see your mother’s body snap back and tense up as her index finger is stabbed clean through by that sharp sewing machine needle. You turn away from her and run into your bedroom. There’s a smile on your face as you look into the mirror above your dresser. Now this picture might change things a bit for the onlooker, but not enough to make a good story out of it unless you want to come clean and tell the reader the whole truth about what you were feeling.
You have come to the center of the labyrinth without emotion, but as you take steps out the other side, turn on your feelings, mix the mortar as you prepare to tell your story. What value does a memory have without feelings? A story is not worth telling without expressing your feelings honestly and with some conflict or convergence. This story could be told about the dangers of sewing, but really, who would care? However, this memory held significance for you, so tell us about it. Make us care. Let us in on the emotion you were feeling as you watched your mother construct that Halloween costume for your step-sister, but said she didn’t have time to make one for you. Tell us about the ache and the hurt behind that smile on your face as you tore from the sewing room. Tell us why you felt guilty for your glee in spotting the drops of blood on the costume, and why you wished you were not you, but another girl instead. A girl whom Mother loved enough to bleed for. Now you’ve got a story.
The Story Woman reminds you to write your bio-vignette with all the feeling you can muster.