Ella of Arc

My writing spot at Doe Bay

My writing spot at Doe Bay

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a writers’ retreat on Orcas Island taught by memoirist, Theo Nestor. It was a momentous four days. Four days of clearing the hurdles I’d constructed between me and writing my story. I thought, having cleared those hurdles, I’d come home and begin filling the pages. But up until today, I hadn’t written a word. As I worked my way through this post, writing and rewriting, adding and deleting huge chunks, I finally realized: I’ve been mentally working through the events of those four days. But mentally working through things doesn’t work nearly as well for me as working through them via writing. And so today, I wrote through them.

One of the most formidable hurdles I would work through at the retreat was how write my story with the specter of my sister’s husband hovering over me. How to write about his sexual abuse of their daughter, my niece, and my possible (probable) abandonment by what’s left of my family when I do so. Just look how I phrased the issue: (1) To write my story I have to write about my brother-in-law’s pedophilia/sexual abuse of my niece (and to a lesser extent, me); and (2) if I write about that, what’s left of my family will abandon me. Yeah, that’s a little bit of a block, don’t you think? And what about my arcless story; the not knowing where my protagonist is headed, if anywhere? Not knowing how she’ll be transformed? If she’ll be transformed? And if she is transformed, whether it’s the kind of transformation anyone will give a damn about? Without an arc, without transformation, there is no story. How can I write a storyless story?

I decided to be brave and meet privately with Theo hoping she would have some sage advice on these issues. Turns out, she did. As for the abuser, I simply need to write the story to sort out how I want to deal with it. Do I need to employ a take-n0-prisoners approach, and torch the whole village? Will I feel OK if I omit the abuser and the abuse entirely? Or will I find some middle ground that feels like truth? It all depends upon what kind of memoirist I want to be; which depends upon who I am. Writing it will help me sort out whether I have to burn it down to feel I’m being true to myself; to my art.

Next up was how to deal with my seeming lack of arc–a protagonist who has not had a readily identifiable happily-ever-after transformation. Theo suggested that if I write the story, I might find the transformation I’m in search of. She then asked what I hope to find. What drives me to write my story? Well that’s not hard. I want to find Peace.

Peace.

And when I thought about that word–Peace–I thought about Sophie, the little black stray cat. About the months and months, amidst all the death and despair, I spent trying to save her. How I did save her. And then I had it. My story was about saving a little black stray cat named Sophie. And through saving her, I would find Peace. And my Arc.

About Unconfirmed Bachelorette

Unconfirmed Bachelorette, a/k/a Ella, is a 50-something-year-old lawyer who wishes fervently she could retire from the practice of law and write full time. Never-married-childfree Ella resides in Austin, Texas with her three fluffy black rescue cats and two interlopers.
This entry was posted in Animal Rescue, Cats, Death and Grief, Death of a sibling, Grief, Grieving, Memoir, Sophie, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Ella of Arc

  1. fern says:

    I remember you said you were going to the writer’s retreat. It sounds like it was really helpful and you got some good advice and came up with a great idea! Thanks for sharing what the author told you. It many ways that can help all of us with writing. Putting something on the screen or paper does not mean it has to be a part of the end product. But, it is still important to the writer as she tells the other parts of the story.

    Cute little Sophie. I loved when you fed her outside just to get her to trust you. Now she’s a happy part of your house. 🙂 It begs the question, “Who saved whom?” But I don’t want to confuse the story!

    Happy writing!

    Fern

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    • Fern, it took months to lure her indoors with tuna and treats. The last time I spoke to my brother we talked about how she would get along with Sadie and Sally when I opened the door of her room. He told me to turn on the video camera. I don’t think you’re confusing the story at all. Spot on, I’d say. 🙂

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  2. Wow. With the retreat, mentally composing/sorting ideas, talking to a serious mentor – you’ve done quite a lot. And sitting there right in front of you, Sophie, a muse

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  3. 18mitzvot says:

    Great post, Ella. Thanks for sharing your tips.

    Like

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