by Jerry Waxler
Write your memoir! Read Memoir Revolution to learn why now is the perfect time.
When Sonia Marsh needs to save her family from potential harm-from-within, she instigates a move from Los Angeles to Belize. Her memoir, Freeways to Flipflops describes the move. To adapt and survive in a foreign land, she must learn a new set of rules. Take a water-taxi into town to shop for food, enroll her kids in a school that will prepare them for college, and find a dentist. At home such decisions were part of the humdrum routine of life. In this place they are difficult and even scary.
As I look back across the family’s journey, powerful character arcs emerge. Adapting to the foreign environment forces each character to grow along important dimensions. They start their journey with one set of beliefs about themselves and each other, and then, step by step, replace these beliefs with more empowering, complex and sophisticated ones that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
As I continue to poke and prod, trying to learn why this memoir holds together so tightly, another theme jumps out at me, hidden in plain sight. Sonia Marsh saves her family from disaster with as much story-worthy heroism as James Bond demonstrates when saving the world.
Her heroism should have been obvious but I am so accustomed to mothers playing their role in real life, and so unaccustomed to seeing them do it in literature. Now, with more careful thought I realize the Memoir Revolution is giving mothers a voice in our culture. Sonia Marsh’s From Freeways to Flipflops is a powerful example.
By shaping her year in Belize into a memoir, Sonia Marsh guides us through what on the surface looks like a zany adventure and then, page by page turns into a rich, complex story arc about a family moving into and beyond a crisis. The story casts her as one of the least typecast heroes I would expect.
Based on this theme, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the book titled “Courage of Motherhood.” I can see other slants in the book that she could have highlighted in the title. It could have been titled “Escape from LA” or “How to Save a Son” or “How Choosing One Nightmare Resolved a Worse One” or “Resolving the Midlife Crisis of a Family.” (I’ll comment more about the lifecycle of Sonia Marsh’s family in a followup posting.) Instead, Sonia Marsh called her memoir, Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island. At least the word “family” is in the subtitle.
By reviewing her title, and the variety of other possibilities, you begin to see that it requires real imagination and lots of trial and error to come up with a good one that captures your imagination at the beginning and sustains it through to the end.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the many jobs of a title and more ideas about how to find one.
Another look through the eyes of a courageous mother is Madeline Sharples Leaving the Hall Light On, that allows us to see through a mother’s eyes as her son falls under the horrific weight of bipolar disorder to his suicide, and then her attempt to hang on to her sanity and dignity.
For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.
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