On Sunday our church welcomed a new senior pastor and head of staff and his family into our church family. We’ve been looking forward to this day and hearing our new pastor’s first message. I never expected it to take me to a post on writing memoir. Imagine our surprise when we looked in our bulletin and saw the sermon topic: “Apocalypse Now?” A follower of his blog since we called him in November, I recognized this as resembling Brian’s blog title, “apocalypso now.” But still…
Following the morning Scripture reading, Brian began his delivery. Using his natural sense of humor, he took us through a litany of apocalyptic elements–natural disasters, serious illnesses, movies, life experiences, and more. But still…
“Apocalypse” defined ~
And then for the first time, at least for me, our pastor defined the word “apocalypse” as a revealing, disclosure, lifting the veil, prophetic, unexpected. I always thought of an apocalypse as cataclysmic, disastrous, catastrophic, world-ending. Never did I think it related to my life in any way. But Brian kept talking…
As his sermon took off, Brian shared from his personal life. Early in the life of their son, Ian, Brian and his wife, Kirsten, learned Ian was autistic. They were told if he didn’t speak by age seven, he would never speak at all. Apocalyptic? For them, yes! It brought forward a torrent of questions: Why Ian? Why us? What do we do now? How will we cope?
Suddenly, like a slide show, my life memories began to process. Never before considered apocalyptic, I looked at life scenes included in the current draft of my memoir: verbal and emotional abuses in childhood, parental manipulation, dropping out of college due to illness, divorce, single-parenting, blending a family, several spinal surgeries and more, the loss of my wordsmith and mentor to a savage dementia, but nothing on par with what so many others have suffered. And yet…
Advent fits into this how?
There has always been a revealing, a new journey, a time of preparing for changes, transformation, light shining in a new way waiting somewhere. Yes! Like Advent!
Advent–a time of preparation, waiting, candlelight, the coming King, the hope of a bright star–the season that began Sunday. The time before Christmas.
Most of us spend the four weeks before Christmas in a hustle and bustle, hurried and harried state. Shopping, wrapping, shipping, decorating, baking, partying–wearing ourselves out. Never slowing down to appreciate the fact something big is on the horizon. A day of celebration so apocalyptic it changed the world.
Mining our memories for writing memoir ~
And this is how I realized that, for me at least, the words “advent” and “apocalyptic” relate to the writing of memoir.
To write memoir we research our minds and as archeologists of the mental turf, we uncover apocalyptic memories of life, whether good or bad, to write what we know as the truth about our lives. In a sense, we prepare, wait, hope for memories to surface and fill pages of a book. As well, the apocalyptic in our lives is sad or joyful, happy or glum, painful or healing.
As an advocate of writing to heal, I see these two words as meaningful to the memoir process in that we dig for that which we see as important to our lives and memories. In the process of gathering and writing, we begin to heal. Perhaps another apocalyptic event in our lives. Maybe another light that shines in the darkness of our past. I believe this is the thread connecting memoir writing to the words “advent” and “apocalyptic.”
For now, I intend to listen carefully to our new pastor, not only a man of the cloth but also a lover of words and a writer. I think I may learn a thing or two…maybe three!
What thoughts came to you as you read my post? I’d love to know. Anything you want to share may be left in the comment section below.
“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage—to knowwho we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge,
there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life,
there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.”
~ Alex Haley
Author Linda Hoye shares these words at the beginning of her memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude. I met Linda through her blog, Slice of Life Writing, and social media. I am pleased today to welcome her here to share some insights with you about life as an adoptee and a writer.
SM: Linda, in your memoir, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, you write often about experiencing a sense of secrecy surrounding the fact that you were adopted. You also speak to the unconditional love and support you felt from your adoptive parents. How do you explain these seemingly contradictory behaviors on the part of your adoptive parents?
LH: When one considers the times, and the advice given by the experts of the day, these don’t seem like contradictory behaviours at all. Never, for one second, did I doubt the love my adoptive parents had for me or believe that they wanted anything but the best for my sister and me.
In the 1950s when I was adopted, people believed that babies who were adopted were “blank slates”, that they could be integrated seamlessly into an adoptive family, and that it was possible, even preferable, to negate the infant’s family of origin completely.
My parents, as did many if not most, adoptive parents of the day believed they were doing the best for me when they unconsciously sent me the message that where I came from, who I was, held no significance to my new life as an adoptee.
SM: When did you first feel the stirrings of a desire, and perhaps a need, to find your birth mother?
LH: I don’t think there was a time when I first felt the need because I think it was always there. Even though I knew it wasn’t okay to talk about my longing for the woman who gave birth to me, I always wondered about who she was and why she gave me away. I even made up stories.
I remember telling school friends that I had a vague recollection of a woman with brownish hair like Marlo Thomas on That Girl and that my birth parents had been killed in a car accident. None of that was true of course, but even as a young child I needed something to hold on to that connected me to my family of origin even if it was just a fantasy.
SM: Did you always dream of being a writer, or was there a specific element of growing up as an adopted child that sparked the decision to write your memoir?
LH: Oh, I always wanted to be a writer! Life, kids, work, and all manner of things got in the way of that though! I’m delighted that, at this stage of my life, I’ve finally found my way back to my passion of writing.
SM: During the time you were writing Two Hearts, you were leading a very busy life as wife, mother, full-time professional, blogger, not to mention your fascination with your grandchildren. How did you manage to balance all these commitments and write a book at the sametime?
LH: With great difficulty at times! It took over four years for me to write Two Hearts and during that time I learned to carve out specific time to write. I was blessed to have a flexible work schedule that allowed me to use every second Friday as a dedicated writing day. With my husband’s blessing, I’d often work for a few hours on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon too.
The other thing that I realized early on was that it wasn’t possible for me to do everything that I wanted to do and that I needed to set some things aside for a season. I used to be a quilter and I made a deliberate choice to pack my fabric and sewing machine away so I could focus on writing.
In the past year or so since Two Hearts came out I’ve been delighted to have more time to devote to simple things like gardening and canning, my husband and I have taken up a shared hobby of photography, and I’ll be pulling out my sewing machine after I retire from corporate life in a few months!
SM: Once you finished your memoir, you chose to go the self-published route. What advice do you have for others who are considering self-publishing? What was the most difficult component you faced?
LH: I love that we, as writers, have so many options for getting our work into the hands of readers today. Publishing under my own imprint, Benson Books, was the right decision for me. I was able to retain complete control over all aspects of my book from cover and interior design, to distribution channels and schedule. I had a great team behind me but the final decision on everything was mine. I put so much of myself into writing my story and seeing it take shape as an actual book the way I envisioned it was extremely fulfilling.
The most challenging part of doing it myself was, and continues to be, marketing. This is not an area of strength for me—I’d rather be sitting at the keyboard in my “woman cave” writing. Anyone considering publishing their own book has to realize that writing and creating the book is just the beginning. You have to decide how much time, effort, and even money, you’re willing to invest in the marketing aspect post-publication.
SM: You are a strong proponent of open adoption. In fact, in one of your blog posts, I recall that you shared that it was only after you had your own children, a son and daughter, that you experienced the emotion of meeting people who were biologically related to you. Would you speak to how that felt and share with us what you would say to adoptive parents about the importance of biological relationships within an adoptive family?
LH: For a good part of my life I felt disconnected, without an anchor, stemming, I believe, from not having had what adoption expert Nancy Verrier refers to as “mirroring” by people biologically related to me. I describe it as feeling like I was an astronaut floating weightless in the blackness of space outside the safety of a spaceship.
Having children gave me an anchor to a human being other than myself. Having the experience of meeting family members—an aunt, sisters, brothers,—gave me an anchor to the past, roots if you will.
At the beginning of Two Hearts I quoted Alex Haley who said that “In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage—to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.”
I know of no adoptive parents who would wish for their children to experience this loneliness and emptiness Haley speaks about, and that I experienced. Adopted children will grieve the absence of their biological family in their life—there is no doubt. It is of vital importance to honour that lost connection and, in doing so, acknowledge the unique individual the child was born to be.
SM: You have written posts on “Adoptive Voices Magazine,” and in one, “No Angry Adoptee Here,” you talked about experiencing anger over being adopted and yet you have found your way to the other side. Can you expand on this anger you experienced? And perhaps share with us how you managed to move to the other side of that anger?
LH: This was a controversial post and in retrospect I think I could have expressed what I was trying to say in a way that would have been less offensive. That said, I strongly believe we all have the opportunity to make choices about how we respond to circumstances. I am a proponent of seeking to understand, speaking respectfully in terms of my adoption experience, and giving place for the perspective of those whose path has been different from my own.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned on this journey is that the only way out of pain is to go through it. One must allow oneself to deeply feel those uncomfortable emotions like anger and grief in order to heal from them. I spent too many years stuffing them down and trying to ignore them before I found myself at a place where I was no longer to continue to do so. It was only when I was broken, utterly bereft, that I ultimately found my way through the grief to a place of gratitude.
SM: You are drawing closer each day to retirement. Do your plans include writing another book? If so, will it be another memoir or something else?
LH: Yes, I have plans for another book—fiction this time—and I can’t wait to have more time to devote to this new project when I retire in a few months!
SM: Lastly, do you have any wisdom or advice to share with others who are writing memoir or considering writing down life stories?
LH: I encourage and everyone to write the stories of their life. We learn so much about ourselves, and others, when we re-examine our experiences and take the time to express them with the written word. Writing our truth is a powerful way to find one’s way to a place of healing or gratitude.
We don’t all have to write a full-length book. Snippets written about significant experiences in our lives, or even stories about an ordinary day are worth writing down and sharing—in fact that’s the premise behind Story Circle Network’s One Woman’s Day blog that my daughter and I co-coordinate. These stories are treasures for those who walk this road along with us and those who will follow behind us. We can all learn something from the experiences of another.
Finally, I want to thank you, Sherrey, for this opportunity to share with your readers and to wish you the best on our own writing journey.
Thank you, Linda, for sharing a most intimate look at the life of an adopted child and growing through that experience to the successful woman and writer you are today.
Author Bio | Contact Information:
Linda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and somewhat-fanatical grandma whose work has appeared in an assortment of publications in Canada and the US.
When she was in her early twenties she found herself parentless for the second time and a pattern of loss was put into motion that would continue for years as one-by-one those she called “family” were torn from her life.
The birth of her granddaughter was the catalyst to put her on a journey toward understanding and reconciling the complete truth about her life, her heritage, and her healing.
Many years ago someone advised her that she could allow circumstances to make her bitter or better. She has chosen a path of releasing bitterness and tries to live a life focused on gratitude for all she has gone through and is thankful for the experiences that helped shape her into the woman she is today.
She currently lives in the state of Washington with her husband and their two Yorkshire Terriers.
Linda will give away a copy of her book, Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude, to one lucky commenter. If you would like to enter for a chance to win, simply leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
If you are reading this anywhere other than my blog, such as on Facebook, in an email, or on Goodreads, please hop on over to my blog, Healing by Writing. Only comments left on my blog will be entered into the giveaway.
The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, October 8, 2013, at noon. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and will be contacted privately via email as well as an announcement in a blog post here next week.
Join the discussion — are you adopted or adopting,
do you have questions for Linda, or a story to share about adoption or
any aspect of your life story.
Yesterday during worship our assistant pastor asked our children if they knew what “being real” meant. Very quickly one boy, about 8, replied it meant being honest. Indeed, integrity and honesty bring us to the very height of being real.
Hiding nothing, speaking truth, being authentic. All those traits carry us into a state of being real.
Our pastor then stood up to share her message with us, we adults that is, continuing a message of being real. Her Scripture, found in Micah 6:8 (MSG), gave a clear image of God’s expectations of us mortals: basically, be real.
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.
And then, as if she had not already given us enough to chew and digest, our dear pastor compares this Scripture to the story of The Velveteen Rabbitby Margery Williams, a charming tale in which a tiny stuffed rabbit asks one day, “What is REAL?”
An older and much wiser toy advises the rabbit that to become real one must be loved and adored by the Boy.
Isn’t being loved and adored what we all strive for and want? Even we who are writers.
We want our readers to love, or at least like, our work. But how do we achieve that level of readership?
By being REAL! If you’re writing fiction this may not be so important to your work’s popularity, but if you’re writing memoir, how do you gain that following and perhaps adoration of readers?
A few of my thoughts as I listened yesterday to Micah and the small stuffed rabbit’s story:
Reach deep into your soul to bring forth the most honest of your memories. If it isn’t possible to reach certainty on a particular scene or memory, offer your reader a disclaimer, i.e. showing your honesty of not remembering everything.
Write in such a way that your story comes across as real to your reader. Use of place names, perhaps photos of places and people, music of the time period — these may all bring reality to your book.
Never be afraid to show your emotions. Emotion, even anger and fear, make your story real to people reading. After all, we all experience emotions from time to time. A story without emotion and feeling is boring.
Make sure your character development receives the same treatment you would in a work of fiction. Describe each person (features, mannerisms, quirks), and then make sure each one’s personality shines through, good or bad. Then they are each one real.
These are a few tidbits that came to mind, and then I had to turn my attention back to the service or be caught not paying close attention to our always interesting pastor.
I am certain some of you can share other ways we can make our stories more real to our readers.
What methods or tips are you using to make your memoir real?