Jewish Book: Saving Myself, a Los Angeles Childhood
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A Los Angeles Childhood - History of the Book Part 1
Friday, 20 January 2012 20:17

I start with a blank page, words formed randomly, across formidable space, pulling back this child who was me.  Did I know before I wrote what would appear?

Cavernous, overwhelming emptiness, loss, a mother, a lie of omission … trying to bring together what was vaporous?

How do I know what I put down on paper is true?  I travel back to Los Angeles down streets I travelled in memory.  Yes, my mother Esther said it didn’t happen like this.  What did she know within the mind tangled of a small childhood, how it was stored, recorded and brought out one grain at a time?

Five people, five different stories.  Same incident.  Memory bends, turns, reforms in its own order of interior importance.

First a poem, a hieroglyph, then the filling in of images, story, all one at a time, to reform and pull back the dead.

In 1989, I took my name back, the French one, the one my birth mother gave me along with my love of Paris.  Did I go there with her?  Not in real time, not what could be counted on the clock. Hariette Jeanne, the French way, like Shawn, with a soft J, and in that moment I reclaimed my past, the one forgotten or pressed down where grief could not let it out.

In 1989, when taking back my original name, the writing of the memoir came forward. I wanted my original face to find my birth mother, all memories of her sealed away with my father’s mourning and mine, without all the words at the age of 2 ? to re-form her. The poem, FOR MY MOTHER WHO DIED WITHOUT WARNING became the centerpiece for my book of poems, “13,” which came out in 1990, the truth of the journey. I call it the hieroglyph of the memoir.  Symbols, key words, phrases, I was a detective on the search for that part of me that was silent for so long.  Each small story completed brought me that much closer to unlocking the memories that stay hidden, unavailable, then given voice.

As a poet, it was hard to fathom all the words it would take to write a book.  Slowly it was honed and fashioned, fleshed out as that small child who was me, spoke onto the page.  Until it was there, the memory was locked away, safe, unfettered, unharmed.

My mother, Esther, kept photo albums, all in order, chronological and titled, pinned in with Dennison corners on black felt pages of the photograph album.

I grew up with these images. They filled in part of the vacuum while memory receded.

As I wrote, I pulled their faces out as a reminder of that earlier time when  testimony was blurred or altogether obscured.  They informed me and helped the voice to come forward.

The documented experience long hidden was factual and true.

Return soon for more about the History of this Book and Thank you for reading Not Just A Jewish Book Blog.