Monday, August 10, 2015

It's the 80s Every Day Here--Or How I'm Writing My Book

As I mentioned in my birthday post in May, I decided awhile back to buckle down and really dig into the 80s childhood memoir I'm writing.  And so I have.  Most days/nights these past few months, I can be found for at least an hour--usually more, because I'm truly loving the whole process and am just determined to keep at it this time until a book comes out of it--sitting here at my green gingham tablecloth-covered table with my seemingly-endless piles of notes, my 1980s diaries, all sorts of memory-jogging ephemera my mom and I have saved all these years, hometown maps, old photos, packages of blank index cards--Mead-brand 3" x 5", and as with the green gingham tablecloth, and my usual black Bic-brand pens and ever-present glasses of iced tea, I'm almost afraid to shake up my routine now by changing any of these details, so I buy these index cards a few packages at a time--and a wide assortment of spiral notebooks--one for each year the final memoir will cover, plus one for family recipes I think I'll be including, is the plan--writing and remembering.  I've never enjoyed writing anything more, which is saying something for this one who has always loved finding the words. 
The old diaries mention all the personal girlhood and family memories, of course--Christmas wishlists, what we ate for dinner, who got in trouble for what, first bra, first deaths, school assignments, school book orders, Papa and Grandma's 50th anniversary party, Dad's local races, Mom's country decorating magazines, my younger brother's new stuffed "Pound Puppy," my older brother's new "Miami Vice" poster, and my proud "I learned how to do a front walkover today!"--
--but also record the drought and scorching temperatures during the summer of 1988, former First Lady Nancy Reagan's mastectomy, and that Michael Jackson's video for "Bad" is really more like a movie.  :)  Diaries are such treasures, and mine are, for this project, a most-amazing resource.  
It makes me happy every day to be getting somewhere with this.  I have a number of other writing projects here that I've started and stopped, and re-started and set aside again, but I'm in such a beautiful groove with this one, it just delights me. 
My parents have been answering the most random questions--"Where did our neighbor Paul work?" and "What model of car was that beige-ish one we had that had the backseat that folded down?" and "By ANY chance, do you guys remember who lived in our house before we loved in?  You DO?!  Oh my goodness!!"--   
--and I have been in touch with others recently who have helped me piece a few more memories together.  When I was three or four, I would spend the hours my mom worked outside the home at sweet fifty-plus-year-old Bobbi's house.  This heart-of-gold had been recommended to my mom as simply the best with children, and she truly was.  I loved my days with her.  She had Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls and a big jar filled with marbles, but it was Bobbi herself I most enjoyed.  "Maybe the two have nothing to do with each other," I prefaced a query with a few weeks ago, "but I always associate the smells of lumber and manure with her home.  I've always liked the smell of manure!  It's a good memory for me."  My former babysitter's grown daughter--I am now in touch with this woman's daughter!  I'm having a blast, I tell you!  --responded that this all makes sense because they had, after all, lived on a farm.  And her dad had owned a construction business.  :)  When I reported this to my parents, they immediately said, "Well, yeah.  We could have told you that."  They hadn't known that I'd been wondering all these years.  In this case, though, both the memory-confirmation and the contact with Bobbi's daughter were more than worth the research. 
Bobbi's daughter actually remembered me and my family, it turns out.  I hadn't known until I started looking into it that my dear babysitter had even had children of her own--let alone that her children had known my family--so this was all news to me.  "I remember you and your brother as well as your dad, can't remember your mom," Bobbi's daughter wrote in one of her emails last month.  "I sold the family farm to a couple from New Jersey. It is something else now. My mother is 87 now. . . .I remember your curly hair."  Ha!    This woman I'd gotten in touch with online not having realized we'd ever met--and until finding her name online I hadn't even known existed--remembers my hair!  I laughed out loud when I read that, and I alternately smile and shake my head at the wonder of it all. 
Picture me at my gingham table, then, with a full-to-bursting heart and ever-growing stacks of index cards as I make notes on 1977-1980 and recapture my memories of 1981-1989.  
One of my earliest memories has always been that of my maternal grandmother's asking me a day or so before my birthday party in 1981 if I was excited to be turning four.  The more I think about it and write about it, the more it's struck me how poignant it is that one of my first memories is of being asked if I'm excited about something--and such a celebratory something.    A most-beautiful beginning to the lifetime ahead. 
I write, and I write. 
The days/nights that I don't write, though, I read a little more and listen to extra 80s music--"extra" because I'm all about the 80s music, anyway  :) --and just let myself think. 
I can't attend this one--most unfortunately for me, while I work on this--but my twentieth high school class reunion is this summer--so this is very much a season of nostalgia here. 
Many of my former classmates will be hearing from me in the days ahead, of course, even if I can't join them for drinks and dinner just yet. 
And I intend to be at the twenty-fifth reunion, whether I attend it with research questions to ask or a finished book to share.  :)
I have been in touch with a few favorite former teachers recently too, and each bit of contact means the world to me.  Sweet Mrs. T read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to my class during second-grade afternoons.  Mrs. R, Kindergarten Teacher to Beat All Kindergarten Teachers, would remember me and my mom even when we'd run into her in town when I was in high school.  And wonderful Mr. V encouraged my artwork and turned me on to science too.  I feel so much love for these gifts of people. 
There has such a blessing of love in my life all along, and I feel more grateful for it all the time.  To connect all the dots now, page by page, and note by note, is pure joy. 
The recipe for Grandma's fudge--or "Gramma's," as I spelled it in February 1988--mentioned two photos up is here, by the way.  "Yum!" is right.  And Paul Simon's video for "You Can Call Me Al," one of my favorite songs from the 1980s, noted in the photo above, can be seen here, (speaking of pure joy).  :)  ♪  "A man walks down the street, he says why am I soft in the middle now, why am I soft in the middle, the rest of my life is so hard. . . ."  ♫  Ahhhhhhhhh, the 80s, truly!  Love, love, love. 
The process--or at least, the process so far--is to gather all the 80s-related memories and thoughts I've jotted down onto scrap paper, in my diaries and journals, here on the blog, and sometimes even quickly onto paper towels fast-before-I-forget-this and transfer them to the index cards.  This has taken most of the past three months, and. . .many notes to go before I sleep.  A few years ago, before I'd really declared my intention, even to myself, to write this book, I was jotting down memories onto scraps of paper and saving them--thinking, I suppose, that I could elaborate on them here on the blog or at least transfer them into my journal to record them, so now I have a huge number of scraps and pages to sort through--and in some cases, decipher, if I scribbled the notes too quickly--and rewrite onto the cards.  When I know which year--between 1977 and 1989--the memory is from, I write that onto the index card.  Eventually, I'll rewrite all the "1987" index cards into the "1987" spiral notebook in a more organized way, for example.  And then it will be more writing and rewriting to turn each year's notebook into "Real" Writing.  The 1981 index cards' notes have almost all been transferred into the 1981 notebook now, which is encouraging to me. 
And yes, the (twelve?) spiral notebooks are all different 1980s-themed ones I've been collecting at thrift shops and online.  Mike thinks that's excessive, but why not have 80s supplies around me while I'm otherwise so immersed in the era, says I--and "You're not the one writing it, so what do you care!?" I retort as I return to my Care Bears and Lisa Frank rainbows and Mrs. Grossman stickers. 
I'm still aiming to have a finished draft by my next birthday.  And then the work of submitting it to potential publishers will begin. 
In the meantime here, it is index card-by-index card and a decidedly enthusiastic Val . 

7 comments:

Lisa said...

It's great to have a project; to being organizing something, whether it's your stuff or your thoughts or your memories; great to be reminded of past important things! Enjoy!

La Table De Nana said...

Val mark:)!!
I am so impressed you have all this..and remember so much..and are working so hard at it..
fantastic Val..I remember seeing Fatal Attraction in the cinema..maybe same day your parents saw it;)The little diaries..entries..index cards..I used to love Index cards.

Wish I had so many memories.. Five stars Val..
A+

La Table De Nana said...

PS... a doll..you are a doll in that pic.

Barb Cowles said...

Hi Val, what a great project. You are lucky (and smart) to be able to ask your parents and other people in your life the questions only they can answer. Keep going and thank you for sharing your journey with us. You are an inspiration.

Val said...

Lisa, Monique, and Barb: Thank you so much. :)

Monique, how funny about the movie--and you never know. :) And that was my kindergarten picture. It is a sweet one--and probably the only time I've ever smiled with my mouth closed. :) I look a lot like my mom in it. ♥

Thank you all. ♥

asmplelife said...

What treasure you have collected! All that paper and ephemera. Sigh. I love your writing and I'm so glad you are making time in your life to do this. It's important. I can't wait to buy a copy of the book.

Val said...

Thank you, Cheryl. ♥ 'Just emailed you. :)