Memoir Lessons: Moms, Quirks, Choices

by Jerry Waxler

Mothers supposedly have instincts that tell them exactly how to raise their child. But we all know situations in which the child presents problems that exceed the mother’s grasp. At what moment does she decide that her own resources are not sufficient? It’s a profound question I would have never considered before reading this memoir, about the author’s search for insight, search for help. Here are three more lessons about memoir writing, in my series of 20 that I learned from “Slant of Sun” by Beth Kephart.

Intimate look at a mother’s relationship with child psychology (non-fiction bonus)

Child psychologists are the ones in our society who offer training and expertise, and so, when pushed to the limit, Beth Kephart goes to ask them to help. And yet, she resists them, afraid they may try to bring a cold clinical analysis to her precious individual baby. In scenes filled with suspense and compassion, she explains her situation to the psychologist. What a beautiful, loving compassionate scene she portrays about a mother’s worry and fretting about these difficulties mothers face when seeking help.

This is not just cold clinical material. This is personal and intimate. When Kephart takes Jeremy for psychological testing she tries to protect him from the psychologists. Then she wants to coach the testers to let them know that he is not just any ordinary boy. Her desires, fears and other details of the visits can help other moms in the situation. In fact, Slant of Sun could be a mini-handbook about what to do if your child needs psychological help.

Writing Prompt
I have read books about the anxiety people face when waiting for heart surgery. (Hands Across my Heart by Perry Foster. The wall between mother and baby during post-partum depression (Down Came the Rain, by Brooke Shields), and the life and death battle against breast cancer (Sky begins at your Feet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, and Healing with Words by Diana Raab). By sharing  emotional and technical details, these books offer strength and instruction to readers. What non-fiction bonus information from your life experience might benefit your readers? You might think your experience was mundane, but by writing about it in detail, you can help people understand what you were going through and offer them strength to face their own situations.

Surprising variety of inner worlds

Over the last few years, there is an increasing understanding that disorders related to Autism come in degrees. Many symptoms now fall under the broad umbrella of “The Spectrum.” People on the Spectrum tend to hyperfocus on tasks. They have a hard time letting go of their fascination with thoughts and mental images. In extreme case, these tendencies are anti-social, making it difficult for these people to form relationships or work in organizations. In milder cases, or when a person has learned how to direct their attention, these qualities can be valuable. Successful artists, scientists, and business people are able to focus intensely and ignore distractions.

“Slant of Sun” offers a wonderful, warm glimpse into the early childhood of a boy who is on the Spectrum, offering an example of the surprising variations that can take place in people with these traits.

Writing Prompt
The way we think is uniquely our own, and a memoir is a perfect opportunity to explore the unique aspects of yourself that play out inside your own mind. Consider ways your thought process differs from other people. Obviously you have no direct evidence, but over the course of years, you have heard hints that you are more or less competitive, more or less artistic, more or less obsessive, and so on. By paying attention to these differences, you can offer a portrayal of your character that will let your readers see you as individual and unique.

Search for a special school

When Beth needed to find the right school for her child, her hunt was more than casual. It was crucial for her son’s future. She researched. She asked friends and acquaintances for recommendations. Her account gives an in-depth look at interviewing school officials, letting us feel their attitude towards children with special needs.

Kephart’s urgent search for a specialized school could be generalized to a broader set of circumstances. Finding the right school is an important milestone on many journeys. When we look for the right college, or camp, or job, or therapist, we are lining up forces that will influence our future. After we enter that particular the situation, we will be governed by its rules and rulers. To influence our future, we have a great responsibility to effectively evaluate the institution we’re heading towards.

Writing Prompt
What sort of search have you conducted in order to locate and accepted by the “right” school, mentor, or training situation?

In following blog posts I will continue the list of lessons that I drew from “Slant of Sun” and suggestions for you, as well.

Visit Beth Kephart’s Blog
Amazon page for “A Slant of Sun: One Child’s Courage” by Beth Kephart

Here are links to all the parts of my multi-part review of “Slant of Sun” by Beth Kephart and an interview with the author:

Use this memoir as a study guide: lessons 1 to 3

Lessons 4-5 from Beth Kephart’s Memoir, Slant of Sun

Four More Writing Lessons from Reading a Memoir

Memoir Lessons: Mysteries of emerging consciousness

Memoir Lessons: Moms, Quirks, Choices

Lessons from Kephart: Labels, Definitions, Language

Memoir Lessons: Buddies, Endings, and Beyond

Interview with Beth Kephart

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

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