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Susan Ito trying to do it all: reading writing mothering spousing daughtering working living

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Maybe It's Not the Right Time

I've been a bit paralyzed in my writing life recently (like, for the past ten years). Trying to write this memoir/novel monstrosity in a million little fits and starts. Sometimes I get what feels like... this close, and then it evaporates again. I can be thrown off by the smallest things.

I am reading Francine Du Plessix Gray's "memoir of parents," titled Them. It's gorgeous, beautiful writing, mostly centering on her glamorous, narcissistic mother and equally intense stepfather. But something in her Introduction stopped me short, and has been revolving around in my little pea-brain for a week now:
To write truthfully about anyone who is still alive is a Utopian task, suspect at best. So I bided my time, looking on a projected family memoir as one of several distant ventures. And not until a year after my cherished stepfather's own passing, did I reach a stage in the process of mourning that allowed me to write this book.
What will ever allow me to write my book? Do I need to, as she says, bide my time as well? I am writing a memoir of four parents: one dead now, one living under the same roof as me, one distant and yet with an inordinate amount of influence, who would severely disapprove of my writing such a book, and one whose living status and whereabouts (and identity) are completely unknown.

This weekend I decided to bide my time and put it to good use. I unearthed a pile of ancient photos and took them to the photocopy store: my grandfather's Manhattan restaurant from the 1930's and 40's, actually quite glamorous looking, photos of relatives in Japan, stern and kimono'd, a tiny photo of my mother on her first day of kindergarten in Brooklyn. Maybe these next years are not meant for writing at all, but for gathering, for memory-taking, while the memory is still good. I want stories about that restaurant. I want to know what it was like for her to go to kindergarten. Did she walk to school, at five? Did she take a lunch? I want to know it all.

I also received an email from the Other parent, my birthmother, and it succeeded in enraging and seducing and paralyzing and aweing me all at once. It's difficult to describe what an effect this person has on me. At seventy-plus she is still co-leading trips around the world with her artist husband: India, Ireland, Peru. Since I had not heard from her in several months, part of me was in the process of disengaging, for the hundredth time, of insisting that she did not, does not, matter, not so much. And then a screenful of words on my computer, and I collapse again.

I'm biding my time. Waiting for what, I don't know.


Blogger Bustopher Jones said...

I can't wait to read your book, Susan! It sounds fascinating. Don't give up! I would love to read even a chapter someday soon.

Saturday, July 08, 2006 9:35:00 PM

Blogger Libby said...

Hey, Susan, just because she had to wait, I'm not sure you do. There's always a good reason NOT to write a book, any book--but there are so many more good reasons to write yours (including the readers who want to read it, like me!)>

I am glad you got the chance to go through the photos, though.

Sunday, July 09, 2006 5:01:00 AM

Anonymous bloglily said...

This is such an interesting description of the push-pull a story can have on a writer. I'm tempted to chime in with some advice, but it sounds like it's helping you to just chart the way this feels. Maybe that alone will help you figure out what you should be working on now. I'm with Mr. Jones and Libby, though, in wanting to see what you're up to. If not words, how about some pictures? Your description of them is enticing.

Sunday, July 09, 2006 9:51:00 AM

Anonymous Ericka said...

So interesting to read this, to think about it -- as I begin my own taboo journey of writing about my family just a little bit. Research of the type you are doing IS writing. It needs to be done. It will keep prodding you. This is a story you need to explore and tell but it has its own sense of time. I think so long as you stay present and engaged, it doesn't matter if you write it quickly or slowly.

Sunday, July 09, 2006 9:59:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the pro's and con's of you writing your story, but I can chip in with my feelings about a similar situation. My own relationship and feelings about my father really only started to settle into a focus after his death. Before that, the pot was always bubbling, always churning. A moving target is hard to write about, it wasn't until after that I could try to encapsulate it.

Sounds like your pot is still at a hard boil!


Tuesday, July 11, 2006 6:06:00 AM

Blogger Susan said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. And Doug, I really like that image of the pot at hard boil. You nailed it!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 12:06:00 PM


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