Thursday night’s guest speaker was amazing! Barbara Ganley is truly inspiring and gave me some great advice for my project. “Just write the thing” was spot-on. I’d been delaying it for some time, not sure if I was “ready” and already burdened with more than enough research reading to catch up on. I think it will be helpful to start writing in order to see what kind of issues come up…to see where this thing takes me….
I felt that I had to get myself prepared for the task. Like a method actor, I had the urge to put myself back into the mindset of that day. And so, on Friday night I watched videos of the attack on the towers. I watched and listened to more 9/11 footage that night than I have in the past 16 years combined. I couldn’t stop. Around 2:30 I finally went to bed.
The next morning, my body and mind were feeling the effects. I told my husband to go to my daughter’s soccer game without me. I was exhausted. I picked a fight with him when he came home and was in a generally horrible mood. It took me a little while to figure out why I was acting out. Then, I broke down to my husband. I cried for a long time. I don’t really remember crying about the death of my father. I cried about what I witnessed that day, but not really about my dad. I held on to hope for so long that by the time I accepted him as not coming home, it was almost too late. It’s weird the way the timeline messed up my grieving process. We buried an empty coffin about a month after the attack and I put on a brave face as I read a tribute to him to a standing-room-only church. No funeral home. No tears, just disbelief. Shock, maybe. I think I made up for all the missed tears this past Saturday afternoon.
Today (Sunday) I began to write. I first wrote a letter to my father dated today (October 15, 2017). I figured before I imagine what I would have said to him 16 years ago, let me try writing something to him today. This very day, I wondered, what would I say to him? I used pen and paper (It felt right…fitting.). I didn’t know what I was going to write even as I wrote “Dear Dad.” I guess I wanted it to be authentic, rather than planning what others would want to hear me say to him. It was easy. I could have written forever (I wrote four notebook pages to my father). I was simply talking to my dad about what was on my mind. I’m not sure whether these fit into my project or not. In a way, I think the letter might make a good beginning to my piece because it kind of explains the rest of the work. Again, I didn’t plan it that way but I am curious how my next letter written to my dad in the present day will differ from this one. There’s something strange, however, about this letter….in a way, I think it “breaks to 4th wall” (to borrow from theater talk)- by making my father and the audience realize that the rest of the conversations are fictitious. Not sure….
Immediately after writing the present-day letter, I reread the journal entry I wrote 16 years ago and got started on my first letter. And my second, third, and fourth and fifth and sixth. I stopped on September 17, 2001. No responses from “him” yet, though. Something is telling me that “he” will respond after the first rainy day about two weeks later. Something about that day (I have to check historical weather records to confirm the date) forced me to accept the fact that he was not coming home. I think it was the 19th. Since that was the day I recall “speaking to him” in a dream or whatever it was, I think it’s appropriate to have him write back to me on that day. I think I will start the emails when I wet back to work about a month or so later (makes sense). I’ve been searching through my old boxes and even an old email account I haven’t looked at in years. It’s really helping me to recall the timeline and I’ve uncovered some stuff that I wrote that I completely forgot about…an op-ed for the local newspaper, a book proposal??..what?? I totally forgot I wanted to write a memoir years ago. So strange. The weirdest thing of all, perhaps, is the irony in the fact that I have the worst memory on the planet. Seriously, I’m bad. Always have been. My whole family is pretty bad. In fact, I recently told my mom about my project and we got to talking about some details from back then and we argued in TGI Friday’s about what body parts were found of my father’s. (I know the truth on this one, for sure but I will double check with my aunt.) How can you forget a thing like that? I remember pretty clearly my aunt telling me what they found and she even had a very blurry polaroid pic from the medical examiner’s office.
One last thought…when I was writing, I made a little error and crossed it out. I’m not certain how editing and revising plays into all of this. I wouldn’t really edit, revise and rewrite a letter to someone. But, since this is for publication, I wonder how much of my conversation should be edited. There’s a funny line with this project–between writing with an audience in mind and simply writing to my dad. I’ve researched epistolary memoirs and found a few different methods for incorporating letters. The first one uses real letters that were once actually sent to someone else such as in “Letters of James Agee to father Flye.” This book was published after Agee’s death as the letters were collected over decades by Father Flye. The second method is one in which an author pens letters that he/she never truly intends to send, such as in “Autumn,” by Karl Ove Knausgaard, in which he writes a series of letters to his soon-to-be-born daughter. It would be interesting to compare memoirs written with the use of mailed letters with no intention of publication (audience of one) versus letters written with the intention of telling their life story in a book (audience of many). Fictional epistolaries also have a number of subsets, including monologic (letters from only one character), dialogic (two characters exchanging letters), and polylogic (three or more letter-writing characters). If anyone knows of or discovers an epistolary memoir using letters written to someone who has passed away and the deceased person actually writes back, please let me know. It would be very helpful.