Moons–memoir–chapters 1 & 2

These Many Moons Magnificent

A Memoir

Part One

Slivers

five to thirty-five

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

Maya Angelou

Chapter 1

Geraldine

When I was nine years old, I was convinced that I had the wrong name. I had suspected it for a long time.

“What’s your name, honey?”

No response.

“Don’t you have a name?”

“Yes.”

“Well, what is it?”

Reluctantly, “Geraldine”.

“Oh, that’s a nice name.”

But it wasn’t a nice name. Not to me.

I preferred being called Gerry. It had only two syllables and somehow sounded better. Not so harsh as Geraldine. After I learned to read, I looked up the meaning of Geraldine. “Mighty spear-thrower.” Oh, how awful! I was tiny and could barely hold a tennis racket. How could I possibly hurl spears?

My grade three teacher announced that we’d be learning how to do cursive writing. How exciting! It must have something to do with cursing. Only grown-ups were allowed to swear and grown-ups wrote with joined-up letters. When I mastered this new skill, I too could say words like shit and damn. In 1956 only dyed-in-the-wool sinners used the F-word.

Preliminaries first. How to unscrew the cap from the ink pot. Some of the kids spilled the blue-black gunk all over their go-to-school clothes—a transgression just short of spilling it on your go-to-church clothes. But I had already opened my jar and set it into the perfect-sized hole drilled into the top right corner of the desk. The marred wooden surface bore inky testament to the hundreds of children who came before. Speaking of desks, mine had to be imported from the grade one classroom. I might have been humiliated; instead I was all delight—my feet touched the floor.

I inserted the sharp steel nib into the just-right slots of the slender red holder. Dip, wipe, write. Disaster. Nib legs splayed. Paper ripped. Miscellaneous blobs and illegible words decorated the page. Achieving the just-right pressure was impossible. I wondered, briefly, how the left-handers were faring. What numbskull decided that needle points and flimsy paper made good partners?

Day after day, I practised. I seldom gave up on anything. Certainly nothing this important. At last I got it.

“Gerry” I wrote. No blobs, no tears, perfectly readable. I peered at the name. Something was wrong. It didn’t look right. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t even smell right. I wrote, Gerrie. Jerry. Gerri. Geree. No matter how I spelled it, an inner voice whispered, “That’s not you”.

Chapter 2

The Near Death

Too young and too little, I didn’t know what to do with this knowing. For the next five years I simply accepted my name. Once or twice I did wonder if the wrong-name feeling began in earnest the day I almost died.

On a perfect summer afternoon, I clambered up to my assigned place in the family sedan—the ledge beneath the rear-view window. My much older sister and two older brothers filled the back seat. My parents occupied “the thrones”. Father drove—always.

We were going to the beach, not Peace Haven with its quiet water and jumping-bridge, but a lake so big it had no further shore.

My body didn’t work like other people’s. I was often cold. Lying in the heat of the window shelf was one of my most favourite things. Bathed in sunbeams, I closed my eyes and dreamed. Peaceful dreams. I smelled the sea first. Always I awoke just as the car crested the very last hill. Before me lay the water—a corduroy of moving ridges, white and blue.

A zillion colours crowded the shore. Beach blankets and umbrellas rich in design, bathing suits of every description, people pale or black or some colour in between. Mother, eagle-eyed, spied the ideal plot of sand. We children raced to claim it. Plaid blankets were duly laid down, picnic baskets and cooler set off to one side. Swim first. Eat later. My towel claimed and deposited nearby, I headed to the water.

I stand and watch. Over and over small waves slap the shore. They arrive on an angle and retrace their paths in their retreat. I wade in. Not too far. Bliss. I close my eyes. Warm water invites me further. I laugh. A gull, I spread my arms and fly above the sea. Walk on. One step more. Into the trough I fall. I flail and gasp. Can no one see me? Beneath the surface I sink. Into darkness. Into forever-ness.

But I refuse to die. Perhaps I pray. I don’t remember. A miracle. My foot touches sand. Up I climb. Out of the hollow. Find the sky above the sea. Gulp the air. Sob.

Shoreward I turn. Scan the beach for my parents relaxing on plaid blankets. Find them at last. Proceed with great caution. Arrive. Enfold myself in the huge pink towel. Sit.

And say nothing.

very young Geraldine

Why Write A Memoir?

A little more than a year ago when I finished my memoir, I sent a query letter and a few sample chapters to a publisher—one that promised to respond within sixteen weeks. No acknowedgement arrived. Further, research pointed out that only one in 300,000 manuscripts by “unknown” authors gets accepted by a traditional publishing house. These Many Moons Magnificent was my new-born daughter, albeit, a tiny one. Four years of writing culminated in a book of only 34,000 words. Who would print such a paltry thing? A more important consideration, however, was my reluctance to share my past with strangers. I put the pages in a purple folder, inserted the folder in a plain brown envelope, then secreted the package at the bottom of a deep drawer. Next, I continued to write. Once I had began, I could not stop.

In late December 2019, I published my first blog, “Perfect Meatballs”, a glimpse into my determination to overcome perfectionism. On the next four Sundays, I posted four more tales. During those weeks, I realized I was ready to blog Moons.

Why? Not for imagined riches. I ignored WordPress’s promise that I could earn, earn, earn if I included ads in my blog. A good story is its own advertiser–naive but I want to believe it is true. Further, and gratefully, I do not need money. Nor fame. I am content in my modest life.

One afternoon at the Writers’ Group, I was struggling with a difficult piece of personal history. I said, “Sometimes the writing is painful.”

A member pounced on the admission, “Then why do you do it?”

Before I could formulate a response, a woman answered for me, “Because she has to.”

There was that. But, why did I have to?

Finding Your Answers Within, a book by Dick Sutphen, had found me decades earlier. I decided to look inside—myself, not the book. Quiet moments when beach-walking, forest-bathing, bicycle-riding, or highway-driving provide fertile ground for answer-seeking. On the way home from Writers’ Group that day, auto-pilot kicked in. My mind returned to the aggressive question. Why was I writing a memoir? Before I thought them, three words sprang up—a final expiation. I chuckled. I didn’t know the meaning of expiation. Even so, I remembered a solo winter walk where I asked myself why I blurted out nonsensical words every now and then. Emotional repression spontaneously emerged. The inner wise woman was right then. She must be right now.

Once home, a dictionary pronounced:

expiation (noun)

the act of making amends or reparation for guilt or wrongdoing; atonement.

Similar: atonement, redemption, redress, reparation, restitution

For what did I need to atone? One atones for sins. Real sins or imagined sins? Perhaps both.

I knew I had injured people through Emma-like precipitate remarks, an inflexible stand on negotiable issues, and the acting out of fantasies and delusions. But, I had spent years forgiving myself for such transgressions and, where possible, had sought forgiveness from those I had hurt. When painful memories arose, I recited Louise Hay’s mantra,“I did the best I could with the knowledge, awareness and understanding I had at that time.” And similarly “S/he did the best ….” Maybe, there was some deep-seated guilt, real or imagined, that yet plagued me. My response to the message was to keep writing.

A first reader suggested that I publish Moons because it would help others on their self-realization journeys. Certain fragments may inspire some people to embark on Vision Quests, study astrology, participate in Breathwork, or dialogue with a witch. Perhaps. But, just like wealth and fame, self-help was not my motivation in broadcasting the work. For whatever reason, I was now ready to share my story with more than a handful of friends.

In the final analysis, perhaps passion or pleasure propels people to write. Memoir is the most accessible and the most intimate subject matter.

Postscript

Tomorrow, the first two chapters of These Many Moons Magnificent will be published. The book is short; the chapters are short—only one to four pages in length. Even so, as one reader told me, “Prairie, you say a lot with few words.”

Raku moons, Prairie Wakerobin, from a 1994 exhibition