Elizabeth: One of Many—A Memoir of Discovery. Hey, my book is in print!
It’s here. And I’m still here, although given some of the twists and turns, I think I’ve been very lucky. This memoir has been a long road, but now I’m holding the first part of my life in my lap and I like the feeling. I was startled when Conrad suggested the cover photo, “Lizzie the Slut” from my solo piece Dream House. It’s right, though. She’s the exuberance that was me as a little kid, the freedom that got gnarled and boxed for a long time until I found her again. And the red nose is the classic clown’s fuck-you to boundaries.
I didn’t find it easy to look at all my selves in the mirror and paint their pictures. “One of many,” right. Prodigy, liar, valedictorian, shoplifter, award-winner, forger, dissociating depressive, radiant bride, stubborn survivor, and by 1974, the end of this volume? I was a mom carting a toddler and a seven-month belly into the free-lance wilds of a new touring theatre company—with a cast of two.
I’m lucky I’m a pack-rat. There were cartons of unsorted snapshots, letters, newspaper clippings, report cards and general goo. My memory was gooey too, with lots of blank spots, but as I wrote, more and more memories came forward. The best gift was discovering that little kid, the one who laughed and played in the dirt and loved to climb trees, roam in the back woods alone, and imagine there were elves and fairies out there somewhere.
Some of the boxes were radioactive. I wrote hundreds of letters to my folks while I was in college, and after my mother died I discovered that she had kept them all. Packet after packet of thin onion-skin stationery, neatly typed, chirpy and cheery and full of hi-I’m-fine. I started to read some and then couldn’t; I’m an actress and I could hear that voice and cringe at the fakery. I put the box in the back of a closet. Later I played a trick on myself and made a chronological catalogue of every one of them, putting only two or three phrases down for each one before putting the box back in the closet. It worked, because after a while I could discipline myself to read the catalogue, almost as if it were the table of contents of a novel, and then I could use the letters for the real work.
“Memoir of discovery” is an accurate description. I know I’m not alone in having memories that had to be shoved under the bed. In finding them, hauling them out and preparing to share them, I began to see that every single one was human, bearable, and in many cases, the wrong turns got to the right place. It’s a good story, and I’m happy to be telling it.
My mother (1915-2008) was getting bored at age 90, with fewer activities open to her. She took a workshop in memoir-writing, and produced a series of stories which she asked me to assemble into a book. What a rich trove of family lore it proved to be! It not only enriched my life to read it, but I believe it will do likewise for generations to come.
I’m inspired, Elizabeth, by your elation over your memoir, both your product and your process. I, too, have stories to tell with a memoir welling up inside me (not a book, an online multimedia presentation). I’m currently in the same “cataloging” phase as you were with your pack-rat/radioactive unboxing, with decades of diaries, photos, home movies and other memorabilia. I call this discovery process, “telling the story through inventory.”