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home : readerswrite : bookshelf November 17, 2017

How to write about a day in the life?
BookShelf: The importance of memoir to make sense of our values and history
In this tumbling of memories, I know I'll write about progress and independence, about ladies of the road.
- Marge Barrett

by Marge Barrett

I write memoir. It's important. Making sense of our values and history opens readers' connections to their lives.

Today I begin to write about a day in my life. A sudden memory: being picked up at the bus depot by my grandparents on a visit to their home in Rochester, Minn.

My grandmother Muzzy reached down, brushed my bangs to the side, and straightened my braids. I stretched out in Papa's big, clean, shiny Buick, leaned back on one of Muzzy's hand-crocheted pillows and listened to her talk about the good old days. She grew up with horses, buggies and sleighs. "The sleigh rides were magical. Orion's belt of stars danced in the sky. The moon beamed on trees and bushes. Snow, clean and white, crunched beneath the runners. Smell of hearth fires in the air."

I remember Muzzy explaining how she once accelerated into the glass doors of an auto repair shop ("Shattered like waterfalls!") and why she never drove again ("So upset!"); how my mother loved riding with Papa in his model cars; how she saved her secretarial wages to buy her own Model A convertible.I remember how Mom and I crushed vertebrae in a car accident coming home from Willmar, Minn., after my first job interview; how my car worked as a Virginia Woolf's room of one's own; how my daughters and granddaughters unwind in the communality of road trips; how we talk and laugh and sing.

In this tumbling of memories, I know I'll write about progress and independence, about ladies of the road.

How will I make it a compelling story? I'll use the tools of all good writing: vivid sensory details and descriptions; imagery; the creation of believable characters and settings, dialogues; a narrative arc. I'll summarize and reflect; show and tell.

My day in a life may end something like this:
"Mom, we're going to N.C. Little Hospice."
"Margaret, you heard the doctor. I'm dying. I don't have any time."
"We're going, Mom."
"OK," she said after a long pause. "But how will I get there?"
"You can go by ambulance or in one of our cars."
"Fine, then. I'll go in John's Jaguar."
We tucked Mom into my brother's fancy dark green car. She waved out the front window.

Marge Barrett, an author of a poetry chapbook and a memoir, teaches classes at the Loft Literary Center. margebarrett.com

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BOOKSHELF: Marge Barrett recommends these memoirs by women:
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
The Liar's Club by Mary Karr
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

What's On Your Bookshelf?
Send us 450 words about your booklife, plus your list of five related books by women authors. editor@womenspress.com

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