It feels almost pointless to write about my memoir journey with the turbulence going on in this country and our world. But that is why you and I are here, so that’s what I’ll do. I hope this newsletter gives you a moment’s escape from bad news (although–full disclosure–I do talk about painful memories).
With my final manuscript revisions due to my publisher on September 1, I’m amazed at what I’m still learning—about my story and about myself.
When I need to memory-check a passage in the book, I turn to my husband and sons with a request: “Can I ask you a book question?” It usually has to do with what they remember about a certain time period or situation.
Recently, on our weekly family Zoom call, I had a book question, and the conversation steered toward a sensitive scene, one in which my worst self was on display. I had to cut off the conversation. It was too painful.
I was surprised at my reaction. I thought I had cried all the book-related pain from my system. But talking about it was even more intimate than writing about it. I felt even more vulnerable.
I hope I’m prepared for book readings and questions from readers next year when my book comes out. I know some people will want to tell me their own story–that’s what happens when a memoir hits a nerve. That’s okay. But what if a reader wants to discuss what I’ve written, putting me in a position to talk about it? That feels too close for comfort.
I’ll have to set boundaries, which, as you probably know, has not always been easy for me. (See the link to an article on boundaries toward the bottom of the page.) But I’m a different person now, and I’ll figure it out. I’m glad I have a year to work on it.
In between the time-suck of final revisions, I’ve written and submitted several flash essays to literary journals. Flash is defined differently depending on the publication. Sometimes it’s under 1000 words, other times it’s under 500 or 250 or 100 or even 50. (Remember my New York Times Tiny Love Stories? [The top two listed in the link.] They were both 100 words or less.) I’ve found that 250-500 words is my sweet spot–those essays are the easiest and most enjoyable for me to write. (Don’t ask me how I wrote a 77,000-word book. I don’t know, either.) When the essays get published, I’ll be sure to let you know.
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Back to boundaries and sharing stories–how do you set boundaries about what you will and won’t share? Maybe I can learn from you. And if I get some helpful suggestions, I’ll share them here next month.
Keep scrolling for backstory-of-the-book photos, a book critique, links to articles on people-pleasing, and more. And let me know what’s new with you!
All the best,
A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived.
When her eight-year-old son begins to exhibit increasingly bizarre behaviors, a happily married mother of two must meet the overwhelming demands of motherhood and wrestle with her fear of conflict if she and her son are to survive.
Forthcoming from Apprentice House Press, May 2023.
Karen is a happily married, slightly frazzled working mother of two when her eight-year-old son, Matthew, develops a strange eye-rolling tic. Over the next three years, Matthew’s tics multiply. He becomes clumsy and lethargic, a gifted program dropout. Karen repeatedly tries to get her husband and the pediatrician to open their eyes, but she is too full of self-doubt to tear off their blinders.
Exhausted and full of despair, Karen crumples to the bathroom floor one night, wondering if she has the will to carry on. But she must persevere. Who else will fight for her son?
Matthew finally receives a horrifying diagnosis but is expected to “bounce back,” and Karen is convinced the battle is over. But the pain drags on, revealing just how weak—and then exactly how strong—she is.
Matthew was two in this photo. I put an old sock on his hand and taught him how to dust. He also learned to sweep the floor, scrub a carrot, and bake muffins. He was a busy, inquisitive little boy, always eager to help, and rarely a behavior problem. Well, except for his “horrible fours.” But you’ll read about that in my book.
Books That [did not] Inform My Writing
I have a confession: I struggle with books that are too abstract, that rely too much on theory and not enough on story or example. I only recently heard of Byron Katie (born Byron Kathleen Mitchell) when a Twitter follower recommend her book Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. Katie calls the four questions “The Work.” She writes, “It’s not the problem that causes our suffering,” “it’s our thinking about the problem.”
I was intrigued and borrowed the book from the library, hoping to recommend it this month. But I couldn’t get into it. The author’s personal story got lost in telling about “The Work.” I couldn’t follow her theory or how to put it into practice, although she provides multiple real-life examples.
This is not a condemnation of this book, but an appeal for your help in understanding it. Katie has millions of followers, so obviously, her approach hits a chord with the masses. If you found her book(s) helpful, let me know. I’ll add what I learned to next month’s newsletter.
People-Pleasing on the Web
You know the term “people pleaser” is not a medical diagnosis, right? If you had any doubt, this article in Medical News Today makes it clear. It also lists some risks of people-pleasing that I had not previously seen stated so pointedly.
About people-pleasing and boundaries. “People who don’t have strong boundaries often believe others’ needs are more important than their own.” So true!
“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence, but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.”
― Henry Ward Beecher