In 2009 I started a blog called 26-Minute Memoir and started publishing 26-Minute Memoirs–stories that describe the essence of your life written in 26 minutes–from students, friends, Facebook and blog followers. In my book Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (And a Guide to How You Can Too), I encourage readers to write their own 26-Minute Memoirs and send them to me, and now they are! Below you’ll find Jan Child’s 26-Minute Memoir. Please feel free to write one of your own. You can find instructions and links to other 26-Minute Memoirs here: https://writingismydrink.com/26-minutes/
by Jan Child
I drag my feet up the stairs to my study. It’s the trepidation and anxiety before you begin writing that makes me want to Stop. Before. I. Begin. I’ve got you under my skin. Words exist, are trapped under my skin. Writhing beings itchy for the light.
While I feed the animals in the morning, I imagine these brilliant words full of vim and dash that will find the light and appear on the page as soon as I get upstairs. I’m doing the regular circuit collecting bowls, cleaning them and refilling them with food. Max and Rupert wind around my feet, head butting me as I work, trying to wear the skin off my legs. To let the words out?
My world is full of potential during this time. I imagine everything unfolding perfectly, the universe in alignment with my wishes, powerful unseen forces at my bidding. I stand on a cliff in a storm, all cheekbones and eyelashes. Long hair and gown billowing out behind me in the darkness, and I raise my hands up to the clouds to make a connection. I let the lightning sear my fingertips and fill me with the inspired words I can’t make up on my own.
By the time the animals are fed, the tea is made, I’ve showered and dressed for the day – bright colors to keep me pepped up and perky – the words have already begun to retreat. I’m no longer on a cliff. I’m on the stairs in my house. And like a film running backwards, I see the clouds of inspiration disappear underneath the closed door of my study where they’d been billowing out from before, calling me like a siren when my fingers were far away from the keyboard.
I can feel the inner screams building. The sounds of words suffocating. I wonder if this is going to be another day of denial, of putting my voice aside. Please. I must speak. I must get the words out. But the tale is dark and sad, moribund, underneath the smiles. Will anyone believe me? And my sister is not the story. She has been, but there were five of us, and the rest of us have been silenced for too long. I want to speak for them.
And so the banter goes. Back and forth. Back and forth. Fear and bravery are not easy bedfellows. I weigh up the consequences of speaking with the consequences of keeping mum, and the cold fist of fear clenches my heart and stops my hands from doing what they need to be doing.
I’ve lived on the verge of promise my whole life. Being brilliant on other people’s paychecks, keeping the spotlight shining on faces other than my own. And now the baby is getting older. The cloak of invisibility is descending before she’s had a chance to get the words out! The inner screams get louder. Words squirming and writhing.
Will there be a breaking point? A point at which I stop and say enough is enough? I wonder as I scratch at my leg. Will I finally get the words out instead of hiding in the shadows, thinking I’m safe there?
All I want is to be able to hold my own at a dinner or brunch, when people ask that killer question, “What do you do?”, I’ll have answers that I’m proud of. I’m a writer. I have a publisher. I know how to put great words on the page that people I don’t know appreciate. I can avoid working in a cubicle and the ignominy of working with people full of metallic ambition that sears hearts and makes my teeth hum. I put food on the table with my words.
When the golden moments come and I get to the page in time, the words begin tumbling out. I catch thoughts in nets like butterflies. But I notice they’re not as syrup rich as they’d been in my head. Keep. Going. You can always edit later. Edit? Did someone say edit, and my hand drifts upwards over the lines of words sitting there like little children waiting to be saved or sacrificed. The pen hovers as I read and analyze. Analyze. Analzye. Always analyzing.
Give yourself a break. Keep going. But the golden thread that extends from that cloud of creativity that stalled out overhead this morning is unraveling, getting thinner by the second, gnawed away by my fervent editor’s pen, and then a new thought occurs to me. I need to check my email, I’ll just check Facebook, I’ll just check a few princess blogs and see how Catherine is doing, what she’s wearing, if she’s still struggling with morning sickness. It’s 11am when I next pull myself up out of the pit-of-no-words. The day is over, at least the writing part I think because I know I’m much better first thing in the morning. There’s only an hour of morning left, and we all know that’s not enough time to write anything of note.
The golden thread retracts, and even though the internet yawns in front of me, I am alone, brittle and lifeless, no animation. A ghostly promise of what I could have been. My only hope is for a parallel universe and while I’m not writing here, I’m working my ass off over there.