24. Memoir Snapshot: 3 Women

06/12/2018

There’s a little photograph I keep on my refrigerator door. In it, three women are sitting in a porch swing on the plain unadorned wooden porch of a farmhouse, somewhere in rural Illinois. The women pose with proper grace, smiling for the Kodak camera, with their hands folded neatly in their laps.

The house is quite small, made of clapboard neatly painted white. It’s summer. Emerald green fields of corn stretch out behind the house and seem to go on forever, all the way to the horizon. This is the front of the house, and the two windows that face the road are plain and functional too, and there are no curtains. The porch shade is more than enough from the midday sun, and there are no neighbors near enough to look in.

It’s Sunday after church, and the women are my mother and my two sisters. They have traveled all the way from Dallas Texas to Bloomington Illinois for Mother’s 50th high school reunion. This house is a place where Mother lived a long time ago as a child, and the current residents have welcomed her to the old homestead and invited all of them to stay for dinner.

In this small snapshot I can see through time, to past generations of strong farm women, practical, hard-working and generous. I love this little picture for its sweetness, its honesty and simplicity. Mother has left us now, gone from her place here on earth to a higher calling. Both of my sisters still live in Texas, both have grown children now. My own path has taken me from Texas to the East Coast, to the Midwest, and finally to the West Coast of Northern California where I call home, a long long way from Illinois. I take the picture down from its magnet on the fridge door and hold it in my hand for a moment. I hold these women in my heart forever.

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23. Query Letters and Cowboy Boots

05/07/2018

As I write my book, along the way I’m putting together the necessary “query letter” for potential agents/publishers– the first level of approach/sales-pitch to get published. I scribble bits of ideas that come to me at odd times. Today sitting in my little neighborhood church in Oakland, I was not thinking about the book and certainly not the query letter, when a new segment of “my readership” suggested itself:  Gay men…
and everyone else who has a sensibility that’s strong but gentle and vulnerable, who probably has had to be on guard for most of their lives, even ashamed, lest that gentleness at their center might be found out, rejected, or abused.

Though this will certainly be catalogued as a “women’s” book,  the fact of the matter is, all of us struggle to fit Who We Are  into What The World Expects of us instead, and usually demands from us. That’s one of the themes of the book of course, and truth be told, we all spend most of our lives trying to understand who we are, and then find the courage to dare to genuinely be that. The greatest obstacles are the deeply-embedded lies we were taught about ourselves when we were children, either by people who should have loved us but didn’t, or more often by people who did, and lied because they loved us, and wanted to protect us from life.

The book is about a skinny little girl who loves horses and fire engines. She gets repeatedly told by the big people “You can’t have that, you can’t do that, you can’t be that” (about these and most of the things she wants) because you’re a girl. And what’s worse, there is the powerful unspoken mandate: “You shouldn’t want those things,” (because) girls don’t.

“Who says?” She demands, to no avail. Again and again she asks, “Why not?” and gets no reasonable answer. “Those things are for boys,” they say. What the child hears clearly is: Who you are is not okay. It’s not okay to want what you want.

It’s a big fat lie, and somewhere in every child’s heart we know this, but what can we do? We’re just a kid. Some of the same lies are passed along for generations, always  when we’re young and vulnerable and trusting, newly-learning about what life’s supposed to be. By words or actions, many of us were informed, “You shouldn’t be who you are, and it’s wrong to want to be.”  If you’re a boy, you’ve got to like baseball, not art or music or poetry. If you’re a girl, you must like dolls and dresses and tea-sets, not horses and fire engines.

I remember with crystal clarity, the day my brother got cowboy boots. I got all excited and asked, “Ooooh! Do I get some cowboy boots too?” My parents laughed and said, “Oh no honey, cowboy boots are for boys. You can have some pretty ballet slippers…”

I was four years old. “Ballet slippers?” I was stunned. “WHO wants THAT?” I begged for cowboy boots too. It didn’t do any good. Even now I can still feel the ache and sting of being so terribly wronged and cheated. I pleaded, in my own defense, “I couldn’t help it that I was born a girl! I didn’t get to choose!”

For the next decade I was a closet-tomboy, sneaking out to climb trees and roofs and fire-escapes and gallop around the neighborhood pretending I was a racehorse. Eventually I grew up and turned out straight, which made things easier, especially in Texas in the 1950’s and 60’s. I learned to “act like a lady” and I obeyed the rules. I married and worked two jobs, the telephone company and a department store, to put my young husband through graduate school. I was a good wife. I spent the 4 1/2 loneliest years of my life like that, until finally I realized that I had no Life, and I had no Self. I was living in his shadow, and whoever I used to be had gotten lost somewhere in the dark. Not his fault– we both played the roles we were brought up to play. This works sometimes for some people. Not this time, not for me.

Leaving was hard. It felt like more than a failure, it felt like a death, but I knew it had to happen. I got a divorce. I took my life back. I bought myself a pair of cowboy boots.


21. Plot

04/08/2018

Every good writer/teacher’s chapter on Plot begins the same way: What does the protagonist want? And then, What obstacle(s) stand in the way of getting it? And there it is: your plot.

In my memoir Victory Is My Name, what Vickie wants is what everybody wants, if they only knew it. She wants to be free to be who she really is, and express that real self in the world. She knows, and knew even as a child, that the true Self of Her has value and gifts that should not be hidden, but shared. In the beginning she has no overt awareness of this and no way to express it without breaking the rules, but the urgency of this need will be ongoing through her life.

The core of the book is the hard path of unlearning the untruths we’re taught as children that we unconsciously allow to rule our lives. Becoming aware is step one, not easy, and can only come through life experiences, especially failures and bad choices. (We learn more from failure than from success, and the lessons are profound.)

I had to rein myself in from the need to explain everything important. I had to avoid getting teachy or preachy or psychologizing. Hard for me – to command my ever-intruding left brain’s urge to explain and document the parts of the process. Process, it turns out, is Life itself.  Explanation and dcumentation, though sometimes tasty and even nourishing, are really the parsley.

So I have placed no diagrams, circles and arrows, or dotted lines in the manuscript. Whoever reads this book will find what they are ready to find.  I hope it wil inspire people to write about their own lives, because the experience of looking upon all these events, joys, sorrows, and mistakes as a disembodied observer from somewhere else in consciousness, has been heavily loaded with personal epiphanies for me and simple truths of great beauty.

Like most of us, Vickie, my young self, stumbles toward the dim light of something that’s unrecognized but urgent. Through decades, the earliest rules and laws she was taught hold her hostage like invisible but impassable walls. Brick by brick, with only bare hands, is the only way to break through. Does she succeed? I will let the reader decide.

_____________________________

I’m seeking a few beta readers. If you’re interested, or would like to swap peer-reviews, do get in touch via:  writer2writer.victoriachames.com  Click  BETA READERS  in the header menu.


#8 Rain Thoughts

09/30/2017

I’m still trying to to break a stubborn habit of sleeping late and missing too much of the morning– my best time to write. I worry that this might be a symptom of my sometimes moods of melancholy and borderline depression, the writers Demon. Today I am up early though, 7:30, and watching the sunrise gradually lighten up the dark sky. Everything is silent now. Nothing is moving except the tops of the trees, heaving in the winds, then settling down again. Rain is coming.

I love to write. Love to have a pen in my hand, just to make marks on paper. When I write in my journal, sometimes I have nothing to say. I write anyway. Sometimes surprising things come. If there’s nothing to say, I write fiddle-faddle, just because I need to be writing something. I’ve had this urge to write ever since I was six years old and first learned how. I never got over the wonder of it, making marks on paper, clean and sharp, that said things. Marks that could make the pictures that were in my mind, and tell the stories.

My book is going slowly. I’m impatient. This is hard. It’s not flowing. This is like cross-country skiing through wet cement. And yet, I marvel at how lucky I am– to be warm indoors, waiting for the rain. Hot coffee, cozy room, silvery sky, and the sweet promise of soft rain.

The rain begins now, very faint and misty, hardly more than a whisper of fog that settles almost invisibly onto everything, refreshing the green living things and making them tremble with wetness and expectation.

I’m grateful for the life I have, even though it’s not all I want. Outside my window the trees sway gently in the winds, first harbingers of good hard rains to come. Gusts are troublng the branches of the little lemon tree, and ruffling the trumpet vine on the fence. That trumpet vine would have bright red-orange flowers, but it does not bloom. Underneath the big oak tree, there is never enough sunlight falling on it, even on the brightest days. But it is beautiful still, it is being as beautiful as it can, where it is. It cannot move out of the shadows.  But I can,  And maybe not today, but soon, I will.


#6 Saying Yes To The Calling

07/27/2016

We write because we must; it’s what we writers do. It’s a calling. What we write about is sometimes humorous, light, and uplifting, or sometimes serious and fraught with meaning, or some of both. We can only write from who we are– even in fiction, because that’s what we’ve been given, and so that’s what we have to give. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea.

Reading a book is a journey we take in consciousness. There have been a few books I’ve started to read and then stopped, because I realized I didn’t want to take that particular journey. Intuition, that little voice from the inside, told me there might be glimpses of truth I wasn’t ready for yet, or things that would hurt me or reopen old wounds, and so I chose not to go there. The little voice inside is always my best guide. Sometimes it says No, not now” and later it may say yes, or it may not. Everybody has that little voice. The book I’m writing now, a memoir, has some dark passages. A few old friends who started to read it, stopped when they got to the hard parts.

Of course I want everybody to love my book, but I know that not everybody will. Books that tell the truth will always be uncomfortable in places. Like life, books take some commitment, courage, and pushing on through.

This book has claimed me, it is my calling. I can see clearly now, that all the events of my life, even the worst of them, have had a purpose, and what I’ve learned from them, I have a duty to share. The time has come to do the work, and I have said yes to the calling.


#5 What’s Art Got To Do With It?

06/10/2016

I’ve been told that some of my stories are incomplete in form. They don’t have the standard type of plot-arc and resolution.  “Where are you going with these?” They say. “These are just sketches.” (Interesting– That’s what the art critics and academicians of the 1890’s said about Claude Monet, who now in countless art history books is called “the Father of Impressionism.”)

If my stories don’t fit the formula for maximum sales, and if they only offer a glimpse of a life, a sudden vivid picture, is that a bad thing? Does that make them valueless? Is there only one formula?

I was trained as a painter as my first career. I’m not painting now, but I’m still who I was; I am an artist. And if I am an artist, why would I not make pictures? To the artist, a wonderful picture is enough

The sketches and preliminary drawings by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and the seemingly “sketchy” spontaneous paintings of Monet, all have the freshness and magic of the captured moment. They have an uncontrived honesty and essence that the formal “finished” paintings of their era do not have. There is a feeling of movement and life-energy in these artists’ “sketches.” No one today would criticize them as being “not art.“

I think that this essence was what the Impressionists were seeking, and later the abstract action painters were also. That ineffable something, the spirit of the thing, the ghost within the image that makes the life of it visible. Not the technical aspect of it, but the spirit of it, just for an instant becoming knowable without intellect, and recognizable without name. The Thing Itself, in a glimmer of light, for an instant.

Nobody knows exactly what it means; nobody needs to. There is something innate in it that touches something in us. We don’t need to dissect it, just experience it.

You can read my chapbook: Inchworms: Essays, Sketches and Stories.
1. At my blog, Writer to Writer,  http://w2w.victoriachames.com/ Click on WORKS in the header menu.
2. You can buy the E-book at Smashwords.com/ Enter the searchword:  Inchworms.
3. And Inchworms is so available at Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble.


#4 The Writer’s Life

05/21/2016

I am “growing into” the idea and image of a writer’s life. This is slow and not entirely comfortable, but the discomfort and distance are gradually diminishing. When I was doing my art, young and in college, and even more so when I took it up again forty years later, everywhere I looked I saw art – compositions of line and shape and color, patterns taking form like poems of vision. Everywhere I looked, I saw art offering itself.

Now that I’ve begun to seriously write, everywhere I look I see words and stories; they form into pictures and colors and thoughts and rich feelings, manifesting in this form. But now I am making more than pictures or pieces of visual art; I am building something, or at least that’s what I’m seeking to do, or it is seeking me.

Writing this book, I’m building a dimensional structure that has volume and depth and spaces that can be inhabited or traveled through– places that someone else can journey through, not with me of course; it is too late for that, but after me.

When I read about Vincent van Gogh’s life, I could feel the deep existential loneliness of it. He was given so little, except genius. Very little skill or aptitude for navigating the physical world, but instead an astonishing soul and inner life that tortured him and demanded to be expressed.

And so he did that – expressed his gifts into his life and his world that so tragically rejected it, and rejected him. He had a few artist friends who respected him, even though they were as puzzled by his nature as everyone else was, and a brother who was probably the only one in his life who ever loved him. All of the others living in his world, in his time, could not understand or accept either his mind or his art. Now the whole world does, and his paintings that were all unsold in his lifetime, now are sold and resold and resold for hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s just as well,” my grandmother would say (who was very wise). He couldn’t have handled the strain, the challenges, and the emotions of success or fame; he could barely handle (and some would say not) the small solitary life he had, in the physical world, because his soul’s life was so immense.

He was never comfortable in his body or in his identity as an artist. I am not yet comfortable with the identity of “writer” as a life purpose, but I recognize that it has claimed me. I know my soul is in on this, and resistance will ultimately be futile and only waste time. And so, for better or for worse, I surrender.


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