Vicki Laveau-Harvie on writing The Erratics

I often walk at dusk in the quiet suburb where I live. The streets are empty and lights are coming on in the houses I pass. I don’t peer but I catch glimpses of the lived reality of other people: a fatigued parent negotiating with a teenager, a dog wanting a walk, children hypnotised by the screens they stare at.

I have always seen myself as an outsider, in need of these glimpses to form an idea of how you live a life, of how others live theirs. It’s why I love memoir.

I love the idea that writers can share the truth of their lives on the page, that their experiences become somehow both completely individual and wonderfully universal, meaning many things to many different people.

And I believe that to write memoir, you need a moment when the thread of your story gets knotted unexpectedly. Random chance provides you with a framework to hang your experience on, a way into the tale that will take your reader to the heart of things.

For me, this moment came in 2007 when my mother’s hip broke one evening in the kitchen of a ranch house in the Canadian foothills. One happening brings another in its wake, and I found myself for several years involved in the lives of parents I had not seen for decades, spending time with a father who could not tell me and my sister apart.

I have always seen myself as an outsider, in need of these glimpses to form an idea of how you live a life, of how others live theirs. It’s why I love memoir.

 

The events of those years were so bizarre and so vivid, the conversations I had with the people I should have been closest to but wasn’t were so striking and strange, that I developed a kind of total recall capacity. I could remember the rhythms of the words we exchanged, the colours of the seasons in the trees on my father’s property, the exact way the fabric of falsehood tore open to expose the pain and chaos of the truth underneath, the precise sound of that tearing open.

It was a gift. I wrote my story, all of it somehow compressed and contained in the experiences of those few years flowing forward from the moment my mother, in her nineties, fell to the floor that winter’s evening.

There was a purposefulness in what I did. I felt that just as glimpsing the reality of others’ lives helped me to define my own parameters, so perhaps could my experience speak to readers experiencing the wild divergences that make up the lives we share with others.

This purposefulness didn’t stop me from putting my manuscript in a drawer for two years and ignoring it - but two happy twists of fate decided that the manuscript would become the published book I sometimes contemplate with surprise.

These twists – a Memoir Focus Week at Varuna, and winning the Finch Memoir Prize – have confirmed my hope that writing memoir can be a meaningful and open-hearted way of engaging with the world, even when you have always had your doubts about the advisability of trying.

So, write it down. Share it. You’ll be surprised what will come of it.

1 Comment

  • Comadrona Smith June 13, 2018 at 6:34 am

    You are telling my tale…so many parallels. Two sisters, one severely delusional and narcissistic mother, father absorbed in the corporate life, decades of emotional torture, physical abuse and negation of our individuality. Then escape for 30 years and, finally, her death last year – unmourned by anyone.

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