The family history project I’ve been working on was originally something I wanted to do that would be based upon a cross-country road trip I want to take to the actual places where my ancestors have lived. Basically starting at Plymouth and moving West, eventually across the Oregon Trail and then up into Washington State where I am now.
The family history road trip is definitely on my Bucket List, but I realized that, because of the time and expense involved, this trip wasn’t going to happen any time soon. It was so disheartening to think that this project that means so much to me, may not actually come to fruition. This Spring, I asked myself, “If I never go on the road trip, does that mean I can’t ever do the project at all?” I realized that it might not be my dream way to accomplish it, but I could do research here at home and write up something. It seemed like a second best option, but better than nothing.
So this July, I’ve been researching and doing writing on the family history project as part of NaNoWriMo Camp. And you know what? To my surprise, I’ve been learning things I don’t think I would’ve learned on the road trip. Now, rather than feeling that writing without the road trip is a second best option, now I realize that writing now is actually making the project richer and more relevant to my life and to today. After I get a first draft together, that might be an even better time to take the road trip. Seeing things firsthand would give an added depth to the story (perhaps). But even if I never take the trip, I can still do the project.
I guess I’d been limiting myself to my vision of what I wanted this project to be without really being open to other possible expressions of that same vision. Changing my focus slightly opened new doors and allowed me to break through a wall that had been keeping me from my dreams.
How ’bout you? Is there anything you can shift your view of in order to see new possibilities in your own life? What happens when we shift the lens and change the focus?
I’ve decided to do Camp NaNoWriMo this July, working on the first draft/outline of an ambitious project I’ve been procrastinating about. I thought maybe if I post updates here now and then throughout the month, it may keep me motivated. Or it may not. We’ll see, shall we?
The project I’ve been working on is a combination of family history, personal memoir, creative nonfiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, poetry, and visual art. I think of it as a collage of words and art and ephemera that tells a story based on the flow of history. My family’s story. My story. And I’d even go so far as to say our country’s story.
I’m been researching this project on-and-off for about five years. I decided it’s finally time to sit my behind down in a chair (or on the couch) and actually work up the first draft. Or as Ann Lamott would say, “the sh***y” first draft.
Speaking of Ann Lamott and her fabulous book, Bird by Bird, she says if you have a large overwhelming project (such as a huge catalog of birds), just get started and tackle the project bird-by-bird. So, I’m following her advice and dividing this work into smaller, generational bites. Taking it generation-by-generation. Beginning with Puritans arriving in Plymouth and Scituate in the late 1600s.
This is a sixteen generation story I’m attempting to tell. Seventeen generations if I include my children, but I don’t think I’m going to write them into the story because their stories are still being told as they live their lives. They can write their own stories someday. Or their descendants can. Actually, I may not include any generations still living which would include my dad and myself.
I don’t anticipate getting the entire first draft done this month, but I know I can make a substantial dent in the project if I keep with it.
So, on we go …
This afternoon I sat in the sun and finished reading California Calling: A Self-Interrogation by Natalie Singer. Natalie was one of my fellow students in Graduate school, so it’s exciting to see her book in print. It was just released the first of this month. Those of us in the MFA (Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetics) program were able to see much of the gestational process of Natalie’s book. I feel like I saw this book take shape from it’s earliest embryonic forms through it’s formation into a portion of her Graduate thesis and now into its fully formed incarnation. I’m so proud of her! And I highly recommend her book, especially if you have any familiarity with California, or if you just find the coming-of-age journey from immigrant to hometown California girl fascinating to explore.
While finishing California Calling today, I was struck with how similar many of the themes Natalie deals with in her book are to themes I’ve been wrestling with in my own writing the past couple of years since we graduated from the MFA program. It almost makes me wonder if something about our studies, readings, and discussions triggered similar thought processes? I’ve been doing the background work on a creative look at my family’s history from Puritan immigrants to New England, and then migrating over the Oregon Trail, and eventually following the fishing industry to Seattle. While Natalie’s family history focuses mainly on her life, my intended project will focus on my ancestors’ journeys, but their lives will be viewed through the eyes and sensibilities of their modern day descendant, me. I’m not sure yet what format the work will take. Short stories? Novel? Poetry? Historical fiction? Hybrid genres? It’ll be interesting to see how it comes together over the next couple of years.
I plan to take a physical trip to the locations where my ancestors lived as they moved West. I have a very place-based sense of history, so I want to immerse myself in the sights and sounds and scenes of the parts of the country that were home to my ancestors. Although the places will have changed, probably beyond recognition, I feel a deep connection with places when I know some of their history. Anyway, I’m looking forward to my travels — not sure when it will happen. Need to get the funds together to be able to afford what will probably be a two to three month journey.
I’m still not posting on this blog as much as I want to, so I think I’m going to just start posting shorter things like this as I think of them. Does this shorter off-the-cuff format work all right for any readers out there? Not even sure how many folks are out there reading regularly. I know it’s not thousands like it was in the heyday of my books and newsletters, but even if it’s only ten readers, it would still feel worthwhile for me to keep at it. Actually, even if it’s only one or two, getting in the habit of writing regularly is a good practice for me. So I guess I need to do what works best for me, and if anyone’s out there who wants to come along, you’re welcome to join me. 🙂
And with that, dinner’s calling ….
(Maybe that’s a title for a future book — Dinner Calling?) lol