Tag Archives: memoir

Does the editing ever end?

I am fairly certain that the answer is no.

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It’s amazing how many times I have revised sections of the book. Now, in anticipation of having a professional editor read it, I am petrified that I am doing it all wrong.

The real struggle is keeping the voice, my voice consistent. I fall back into business writing sometimes–cold, but detailed. I can write scenes just fine (even Cheryl Strayed told me that when she read an excerpt) but getting the emotions in there is a different story.

That’s the thing about memoir; it’s all about admitting your weaknesses, your pain, your failings. Without them, it isn’t nearly as enjoyable to read. But putting them in is a constant struggle for me.

Rest assured, dear reader, you’ll know more about me and the things I have done, both right and wrong, by the end. You can thank the myriad writers and friends who have made me promise to edit and add and re-word until the pain shows through. I thank them profusely.

Some 18-year-olds get cars

There are a lot of things a kid can miss out when they’ve only got one parent, but what my kids have missed the most wasn’t someone to play baseball with or someone to teach them how to shave or draw or make music. What my kids really missed out on was that second income.

Instead of being able to buy a car or even a bicycle for my son’s 18th birthday, I finished the quilt I’d started for him back in his younger years.

Stuart taught his sister how to swim.

It started the summer I had pneumonia; the summer I spent poolside, watching the kids play while I laid there wishing I had health insurance. It was a pretty miserable summer, with being so sick and the ensuing lack of income. They turned off our electricity for two weeks while I struggled to sell enough books and clothes to pay the bill. But I had a fabric stash and with his help, my son Stuart and I chose fabric to make him a quilt.

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another chapter down

You’d think I just wouldn’t want to stop writing about our travels in Vietnam, but truth be told it’s been almost a month since I went to task on it. The process is always a tad bittersweet for me. Vietnam was wonderful and it was hard. Some days I miss the place so much I can barely breathe for the ache of returning. But those are the days when life here is especially hard, when the money is scarce and the singleness turns to loneliness.

When I write about our travels, though, it always brings back the ache. I want to be on the train again. I want to eat bun cha at the Thanh Hoa market. I want to sit on the porch breaking open red watermelon seeds with friends.

So sometimes I avoid writing, like I have for all of September (the month I hate). But today I forced it. Did some editing, some writing and made a small amount of progress on a first draft I really must finish.

Here’s a blip from today’s output about how it really felt:

Through the dust-stained window of our train compartment, I watch as the sun breaks over the horizon. It casts a blue tint across the sodden rice fields that stretch as far as I can see. The bunk above me creaks with Stuart’s shifting weight. Audrey is still asleep in the bunk across from him, her bare feet poking out from under the woolen blanket. She faces the wall, hiding from the light as it floods in through our eastern-facing window.

We are due to arrive in Hanoi in only an hour, with sixteen hours and a handful of bunkmates already passed. The bottom bunk, across from mine, is empty again. When I’d fallen asleep it had been occupied by a grandfatherly fellow, white hair and sporadic beard, reading a local paper. Sometime during the night, as we’d tossed and swayed alongside Highway 1, I’d awoken to find a woman sleeping there; slack-jawed and breathing loudly. But as the sun rises, the bunk is empty and the blankets are tossed aside under the bed lamp.

It’s just the three of us here, bumping along the train tracks into Hanoi. We are truly on our own; no one to house us, feed us, drive us where we need to go. No one to set a schedule or make hotel reservations. It’s all up to me from here on out. And I can’t confess to anyone just how utterly overwhelmed I am by this.

I spent countless hours at the Internet cafe searching for houses and jobs and still couldn’t find anything that would work for us. Nothing. So here I am dragging my children northward to be homeless and unemployed with me in the overcrowded capitol city of this Third World Country because I’m too bullheaded to admit defeat. This move will surely seal my win for the 2007 Mother of the Year award.

Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing this or why I’m so hellbent on staying here. I don’t even truly understand my determination to get here in the first place, besides the obvious win-him-back and show-the-kids-the-world reasons. But, really, what kind of mother makes her kids sell all their toys then moves them halfway around the world without any sort of back-up plan in place? A lousy one, like me.

It’s taken me eight weeks in-country to realize the magnitude of what we’re doing and it isn’t going to get any easier. We’ve managed to give up all we knew to experience this and I’m sure I could take the kids back to the States, fully satisfied with all they’ve done over the last two months. They’ve seen more of this big blue marble than most kids and the time with the orphans in Tam Ky has truly been priceless. It wouldn’t be a shame to go home. But it would feel like giving up.

I’ll give it a month. I have enough money in the bank from the recent tax refund to get us tickets back. If I haven’t found a job by the end of March, I promise to swallow my pride and take the kids home.