The Tricky Part, by Martin Moran

How does he do it, show the light in darkness? A story of a boy, as he says, falling from trespass into grace. A boy exploited, given too soon to the knowledge of the body—betrayed, as he felt, by his own body. And this man, the one who showed him his strength and wonder, then used his beauty like a Kleenex for his disposable desires.

Grace, then. No, first, despair, the attempts at suicide, the empty hours in the echoing school hallways full of crosses, holiness, and distance. Even in those places, an occasional light and this is what he shows gorgeously—the old nun telling him, at the kitchen table, that everything he does is already blessed. No disclosure, no healing stories, but this Light poured upon him.

More despair, more thoughts of killing himself. Then the tryouts for the school musical. A voice is found, a wonder arises in his soul—what is this miracle? I am seen and loved. The lights pick me out, the people laugh and clap. Maybe I should put off my suicide until after the fall production. The voice teacher witnesses his singing in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, she urges him to take lessons. She has to repeat her urging at the next musical in the next season before he takes it seriously, then goes trembling to her house.

Voice lessons, lessons in projection of spirit. She says, this is you in the universe, this is your soul coming out of your mouth. You have a gift to give to the world, Marty. You have a beauty of soul.

How does he do it, this Martin Moran? The light and love pouring through a living room with grand piano in Colorado are made manifest in the lines she says, the wonder he feels. Not uncomplicating anything, he holds the lust, the love, the exploitation, the forgiveness, the unfolding all in his hands.

Writing! Is there any more powerful act in the world? Well, there is acting. The first I knew of Martin Moran was his one-man show of The Tricky Part—painfully, beautifully open.

Thank you Martin Moran. Thank you for living into a full life as an actor, singer and writer. Thank you for showing us how you made it by the grace of what we might call God except that invokes the catholic Big Guy in the beard, the one whose church and sense of sin helped to make this story into a near-tragedy. But can we wish it had happened otherwise? No, that’s the Tricky Part of the title of the book. We can’t exactly wish it had happened differently.

The book is The Tricky Part: One Boy’s Fall from Trespass into Grace (Beacon Press).

Inner Child distress calls

Some stuff came up in my family recently where I felt I was being dragged back into my old roles as Good Girl and The One Who Fixes Things. The situation didn’t look dire on the surface, but it raised volcanic, overwhelming feelings. Ah, the inner child calling!

The next few days seemed very long—Shouldn’t I be over this by now? Do I really have to stay with all this? But I listened to my little girl tell me how scary it was to be sucked back into old binds. I held her and let her cry and rage. I re-read my booklet “Caring for the Child Within” to soothe the little one. My therapist also told my inner child she understood how these feelings would come up, but things are not the same now. Nobody’s going to come invade my house and force me to do things.

Besides listening to the feelings, my grownup self had to formulate a plan to speak up and defend my space. My current family issues aren’t resolved now, but they feel more nearly on a normal scale, not so huge and terrifying.

Georgia O’Keeffe and memoirs

Last fall I stayed at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, where Georgia O’Keeffe used to live and paint. On a tour of the ranch, we compared the landscapes both with her paintings and with photographs from the exact spots she painted (see Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico, by Lynes, Kempes, and Turner). The paintings beautifully captured the contours and the life of the place, while the photos often seemed flat.

In creating her vivid paintings, O’Keeffe abstracted features, simplified, played up contrasts, and even played some tricks by moving hills slightly—all to serve a sense of place. In some places, O’Keeffe changed things so much that the piece is called an abstract.

I’m finding writing memoir to be similar. Not every detail can be rendered or should be, or the result will be flat. Some of the scenes and conversations need to have their edges sharpened. Just how much art vs. how much literal accuracy? When it is changed beyond a certain point, then the writing becomes fiction—a tricky line that will be drawn differently by individual writers and readers.

The Inner Child and Spirituality

When I read spiritual guidebooks, mostly based on Buddhism, the same objections arise in me every time. They ask us to “move beyond personal story” and to let go of old hurts. Well, I sure want to wriggle free of the stickiness of the old stuff, but I have to work a lot with it before I’m ready.

An example is Tolle’s The Power of Now, which is a fine book about being present, but again, he doesn’t acknowledge the necessity—or perhaps I mean the power—of staying with old, core issues.

Then my inner child asked me to write a booklet telling how to care for her, a booklet like the spiritual manuals but focused on inner child work. In writing "Caring for the Child Within, A Manual for Grownups," I thought a lot about the work. I realized that the inner child work, the way I practice it with daily "sitting," has similarities to other spiritual practices—specifically

o sitting with feelings, not trying to “fix” them;
o unconditional love for who I am;
o patience;
o listening inside;
o consistent practice.

It feels a bit risky to say it, but for me, the work with the inner child is spiritual work. It leads to connectedness, calm, and love.
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The elements of memoir

I love Judith Barrington’s book, Writing the Memoir. In it, she observes that the basic building blocks of memoir are scene, summary, and musing. That is, there are detailed scenes we write to give the reader a vivid sense of being there. Sometimes, we give shorthand passages or summaries, like “That winter, I spent a lot of time hiking and thinking.” Both of these elements are very similar to those in fiction.

But the third element, musing, is different from what usually appears in fiction. In reading memoir, Barrington says, people expect the narrator to get somewhere psychically—there is a journey, there are realizations. People read memoirs in order to see life patterns and to understand them. Therefore, the writer of memoir is not only allowed to muse, she is encouraged to do so. The trick is not to overburden the story with insights that the reader can get directly from the story.

My Eager Inner Child

Among the kids who crowd inside me, the one I call Eager Girl has been making a lot of noise lately. She wants to go for it all, all the time, everything. She wants lots of stimulation, attention, and play. She’s a delightful spirit but she doesn’t know when to slow down.
I first met her in a dream about four years ago. I’m coming back from a backpacking trip, walking down to the trailhead. The little girl who is with me dashes ahead towards my red car. She wants me to throw her the keys so she can open the car, but I don’t want to throw them to her—it’s getting dark and I sure don’t want those keys to get lost in the leaves.
When my therapist heard the dream, she said, “I love her spirit. But the little girl isn’t supposed to drive the car.”
These last two months, I’ve been working on writing yet another difficult part of my memoir of healing from sexual abuse. Meanwhile I was working on a new booklet, "Caring for the Child Within" while also designing my website. Then Eager Girl got the idea for this blog. She wanted to start right away. I hugged her firmly and told her she’s not allowed to drive the car. I held off beginning this blog until I felt clearer on my purpose. Sometimes our Inner Children need loving restraints.

Why “inner child” memoir?

It’s this way: I’m writing a memoir of recovering from sexual abuse, abuse I didn’t identify until I was an adult. So my process involved going back and reinterpreting my family, my role there, and my relationship to love and trust. I had to reinvent myself with the new knowledge somehow integrated.

That’s the abstract, grownup way of saying it. The emotional way to say it is that I needed to find and love the inner child. The young child was the one who suffered the violation and betrayal. She was the one who had to hide it and “act normal.” She had to grow up as best she could, hiding the knowledge even from herself. Once I found this girl, she needed a lot of care and attention in order to grow up again, this time with respect and safety.

My memoir is that recovery story—not a reconstruction of the distant past but a present-day journey to healing. In this blog I want to give voice to the adult who’s guiding the writing process and also the child who is at the center.

Truth, Fact, and Memoir

This is as good a place as any to begin my blog. I’m writing a memoir that involves a lot of uncertainty—what happened, who did it, when, and for God’s sake, why? How does a writer cope with this uncertainty in writing? I guess some people cope by making up the details. But I need to be scrupulously clear about what I don’t know—for me it’s part of truth-telling. I don’t know when certain events happened, exactly, but I do know it was in a particular house, so I must have been three or four. I don’t have videographic memories, but I do have some audio. And so on.

But fact and truth—are they the same? No. I mean, in the James Frey controversy I come down squarely in favor of factual exactness. There is no excuse for claiming he spent months in jail when he didn’t—that’s not a slip, it’s a lie. But as Judith Barrington said in her book Writing the Memoir, you can’t just record conversations verbatim (even if you could do it accurately) and have it come out readable. Any writing involves condensation, arrangement, and editing—just as magazine editors work to shape those “casual” interviews with celebrities. Writing involves abstraction in the same sense that paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe abstract the essence of landscapes. (More on this later.)

So I’m transcribing my journals of therapy sessions five years ago and in the journals I’m saying the same stuff over and over, the insights gaining ground slowly, the feelings shifting inch by inch. I can’t just spew that all out into a memoir—no one would ever read it, nor should they have to. So I take the pages of transcript and, with feelings of mixed dread and delight, I snip, snap, and shuffle to try to convey the true feelings and the “truth” of how it happened. That’s why the process of writing memoir is exciting—the abstraction from the facts requires vision and art. But in service of truth, not self-aggrandizement.