I spent six hours in the car yesterday — most of it by myself, which is all but unthinkable when you have two kids — so I had a lot of time to think. I was returning from the mountains in Colorado after five days of nothingness … no work, no pressure, not even Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Except Laura was there. She always is.
I’ve been doing a lot of memoir writing lately. Even though I didn’t hit a single computer key nor hold a pen for longer than it took to scribble a phone number, I’ve still been writing. As my journalism professor told me fifteen years ago, far more than the actual procedure of putting words and phrases together, writing is thinking. So as scenes have been running through my head, I’ve been writing. And in order to do so I’ve been reaching into the recesses of my brain, reconstructing scenes and dialogue and even facts. Just the way they happened. Or didn’t happen. It’s not always obvious which is the case.
I’ve gotta tell you — I have a lot more sympathy for our own dear Laura. Reconstructing her childhood for the world to share was remarkable, but to her, it could easily have been maddening. To invent dialogue from fifty and sixty years ago? To use real-life events to create a readable narrative? I’m only reaching back a fraction as long and let me tell you, it’s hard. I’m finding myself hoping that she didn’t put too much pressure on herself to tell the truth. And hoping for inspiration on how she avoided it. Because to do it so well, she had to. I like to think of her with her writing tablets, visiting in the afternoons with Rose, discussing what to remember and what was OK to forget. Even the fact that she worked with someone as fractious as Rose is astounding. (Family members rarely make for good student-teacher relationships. If you disagree, ask yourself whether you’d like your significant other to teach you to drive a stick shift. Or maybe that’s just me.)
Anyway, Laura, let me just say this: You’re a hell of a memoirist.