A trauma memoir nearly destroys, certainly changes, the author. The best of the genre have been written with extreme anguish. Frank Conroy, for example, was drunk for weeks between writing chapters. Martin Ainslie felt suffocated. David Scheff felt he was slitting his wrist with a razor. Some authors become physically ill, many have great trouble getting up in the morning – their night lives return to the trauma.
I started writing a trauma memoir on December 26, 2017. When I started, the days were so dark I didn’t think it be able to get through them, flashbacks kept tripping me, I kept dodging them. I woke up at 7:30 AM, but it took until 9:30 AM or 10 AM to find my way out of my nightlife. I felt like a character from Samuel Beckett, “you must go on. I can’t go on. I will go on.”
Last summer I worked in our mountain home which is full of happy memories, and the words kept coming. In about ten days, I put out 12,000 words. I thought I would sail through the rest of the book in a few weeks. Bad thinking. Not a chance. I collapsed into yet one more flashback, and then took the good part a week to recover. I couldn’t write, couldn’t think, couldn’t function, couldn’t talk to anyone. That passed, I went back to work. Only be trapped by another flashback. That is the name of this game – much like the original journey, like a roller coaster ride. I think I’m almost on top of it, then a crash.
I think to myself, you knew this was impossible. Why are you trying? Writing a trauma memoir is the most difficult kind of writing. Why do you think you are able to write this book? Who are you anyway? I’m about to despair when someone reads one of my blogs and says, “I think I will make it through my first death date since I read your blog.” Or, “Wow, thank you for sharing this part of your life. Thank you, your blog is so beautiful.” Then, I have some spine put in me.
I stopped writing on December 1, 2018. My brain simply stopped. I forced myself to edit four chapters and send them to my agent. Then I quit. I’ve been on vacation now for nearly a month. I think, “do I really want to get back inside that dark time.” But, almost automatically, remembering David on Christmas Eve, I started polishing the last two chapters. Again, I am lured inside the dark time.
Every memorist insists that no one should try this kind of memoir without a support system. David Scheff says, “make sure you have the support system you need to make it through.” On December 26, memorist Casey Girard said on the News Hour, “don’t push yourself without some type of support system for dealing with traumatic memories and experiences.” Someone, somewhere, must be interested in the death of a spouse, the most profound human experience. Whoever you are out there, speak up.