Memoir Writing: Using PTO for Personal Success

From A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie
From A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie

The endeavor I set for myself to write a memoir about Iraq conflicts with a lot of life responsibilities. I work 40 hours a week. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am (also) a dog mom. I am a graduate student (again). I am a friend, daughter, and sibling. I am a coworker. I am a homeowner. I write in an often cluttered workspace that signifies my relationships with others. There are dishes, laundry, bills, phone calls (or text messages, Facebook notifications, etc.), and regular house cleaning silently screaming for my attention along with the bodies that reside in the same house as me.

When I write, I constantly cross two worlds. I face Iraq and stateside life circa 2004 to 2005 as it exists in preserved packages (photo album, journal entries, and souvenirs). I also navigate over my current life, a house cluttered with dog toys and empty or partially filled coffee mugs. I might get a hundred words on the page reconstructing my deployment before I realize some nagging household responsibility gnawing at me. I must try and ignore household responsibilities that infringe on my writing time and space. I am not a full-time writer who can send everyone away off to school and/or work all the time nor can I afford a hotel stay for uninterrupted writing time. I am creative though with my resources.

Yesterday I took a PTO day and used almost 2.5 hours strictly for writing. I set the stove timer in hour increments. My goal was to write about my most difficult feelings after returning home from Iraq in 2005; in fact, I confided to a close friend recently I’ve contemplated this writing assignment at least ten times in the past three years. The trajectory of this memoir originally was to only focus on the deployment, but now I feel doing so robs the reader of seeing the experience full-circle. I owe the reader a sneak peek at life back stateside.

I have a plethora of Myspace entries from back then chronicling my return and the whirlwind first few months home. My life was a mess and it’s not surprising, I was also a mess. I was bitter and heartbroken. I was exhausted from constantly switching gears. I was academically competitive and frustrated when I couldn’t outperform others. I returned home in March but by sometime in June, I was on a break from drinking alcohol. My journal entries went from happy to angry to grateful in a cyclical pattern and I wasn’t too shy to name names on who pissed me off on certain days. Mostly, I was lonely. Homecoming was a short-lived happy experience and a lot of days after were empty.

I’m not sure yet I can fully encapsulate the social isolation, but it explains why I desired returning to Iraq. I felt needed in Iraq and at home, I no longer felt that way. I was just there because the deployment was over. I made the rounds seeing family and college friends before jumping back into training schools (Technical Escort followed by Corporals’ Course) when the logical thing would have been to slow down. It’s probably most important to mention I didn’t have a best friend the way I expected I would when I returned home. I think that’s why I’ve changed a lot in how I treat others.

It’s not as though I ever felt I had to take First Marine Division’s “No Better Friend” to heart; I loved having close connections with my friends growing up, but I didn’t have a consistent confidante in my life after returning home. The Myspace entries make that issue evident. Yesterday’s writing session also made me realize much of those journal entries are too “in the moment” to share. My thoughts are messy. I had moments of high school drama. I rambled for the sake of filling my time. As much as I wish I wrote more yesterday, I know it’s important to discover my sense of loss was connected not just to the deployment but going through a period in my life where “best friend” friendship was lacking. I cannot think of any other time in my life where I felt I was missing a best friend.

I am not one to share pieces of the memoir in progress, but I’ll close with just a few things on how I’m building this part of the book. I recognize some parts will be rewritten a lot but at this point, I do not feel I could use anything directly from the May 2005 to July 2005 journal entries concerning a failed relationship. The hot and cold “He loves me, he loves me not.” sentiments I felt at the time can be spelled out better if shared from a teaching perspective. There are three journal entries (June 23, 2005; June 24, 2005; and one from July 5th, 2005) worth folding into the memoir as my raw conversational voice covering this time period. Lastly, I am on the fence about how much I want my audience to see me as alone during this part of homecoming.



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