The Catharsis of Memoir Writing by Beth Ruggiero York

 

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Beth Ruggiero York

 

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The Catharsis of Memoir Writing

by Beth Ruggiero York

Author of Flying Alone: A Memoir 

 

It takes courage to write a memoir. Sort of like going to confession if you are Catholic. If you want absolution, you must admit to all the stupid things you’ve done. Similarly, if you want to sell your story, you must bare your moments of weakness to readers. The difference is that, in a memoir, you also get to tell about your triumphs and how you won in the end. Your life events need to span the full gamut of what life has thrown at you and resonate in the readers’ hearts and minds, and this means going deep into your soul to create the story, your story

 

For me, Flying Alone was not going to be a memoir, even though all the events and characters are real. It was going to be a novel. Actually, it was to be a memoir masquerading as a novel, complete with names changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent. This way, I could fully reveal the events without having to own up to them. Those years in the 1980s when I was climbing and clawing my way up the aviation ladder were filled with risk, dangerous situations and some bad decisions. When I lost my FAA medical certificate in 1990 with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, my aviation career ended and I knew I had to write about it. Even though I wasn’t ready to expose some of it, I still pushed those thoughts aside and wrote… and wrote. The memories were fresh, and I could record them in the greatest detail. After completing the writing, I put it in a box and set it aside knowing that someday there would be a time to revisit it. Well, the time passed until about two years ago, when I finally knew I was ready. 

 

I read it all the way through for the first time in so very long, reliving the experiences with all the edge-of-my-seat terror and suspense as when it actually happened. 

Even though it was intended to be a novel, written in the third-person to shield myself from what readers might think of my escapades, there was no doubt only halfway through rereading it that it was, in fact, a memoir of a very turbulent time in my life. This posed the greatest difficulty in the editing process—telling it as my personal story in the first person, i.e., baring myself to readers and owning the truth. I had to make peace with all that had happened back then and, ultimately, I shared everything and could forgive myself for old mistakes and regrets. 

At times, the distance of thirty years made it seem unreal, but that separation also helped me to look at those years with the objective compassion that comes with maturity. I remember and love the people who played important roles during that time, from Rod, my employer, mentor and flight examiner, to Melanie, my student, friend and cheerleader, and Peter, my dear friend and fellow risk taker who paid the highest price.

Flying Alone is the result of the cathartic process called memoir writing. But not only is this process cleansing and peace-making, it serves another important purpose—that is, recording history. Whether my history is important or not is not the point. Rather, the point is it is the history of a time and a small slice of life at that time. 

In sharing my story, my hopes are for a variety of reactions from a variety of people. For other women, I hope they can see how it is possible to emerge from life situations and decisions that make you feel as desperate as an airplane in an uncontrollable spin. My relationship with Steve was just that, and even though recovery was never a guarantee, persistence allowed it to happen. 

I equally hope that young women aspiring to careers in aviation and other male-dominated professions will understand that it can be done successfully. Certainly, the circumstances are much more forgiving today than they were in the 1980s, but there still remain obstacles. I hope the ultimate message received is never to give up even when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore. Don’t plant the seeds for later regrets.

Of course, I also want to share it with pilots of all types so they can see my side of the world of civil aviation and perhaps derive amusement, stir their own memories or, in the case of student pilots, learn what not to do. An early reviewer of my book summed it up in this way: “… [Beth’s] book will warm the hearts of grizzled pilots like me or anyone seeking insight into the challenges and rewards of flying.”

As I look back, despite the fact that quite a bit of courage is needed to write a memoir, the memoir is in fact a reward earned for simply living life. Taking the time to look back on years past and contemplate the events that have shaped and changed you as well as others is an act of accepting yourself, but writing about these events to share with others is the reward.

 

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About the Author: 

Beth Ruggiero York is the author of Flying Alone: A Memoir. She is a former airline pilot for Trans World Airlines. She entered the world of civil aviation in 1984 shortly after graduating from college and, for the next five years, climbed the ladder to her ultimate goal of flying for a major airline. Beth originally wrote Flying Alone in the early 1990s, shortly after her career as a pilot ended and the memories were fresh. She is now a Chinese translator and a professional photography instructor for Arizona Highways PhotoScapes. She has published a popular instructional book on night photography, Fun in the Dark: A Guide to Successful Night Photography, which has worldwide sales, and she has co-written a book entitled, Everglades National Park: A Photographic Destination. Beth and her husband live in Fountain Hills, AZ. For more information, please visit https://bethruggieroyork.com and follow Beth on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

 

 

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Finding Treasure in Writer’s Block by Fred Waitzkin

 

 

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Finding Treasure in Writer’s Block

By Fred Waitzkin

 

Young writers often ask if I am sometimes afflicted by writer’s block and if I’ve discovered a cure. Most writers wrestle with this malady from time to time.  Over the years my relationship to the illness has evolved, and as an older writer I see it as a frustrating companion who at times can offer profound advice.

All authors relish days feeling on fire with a story when sentences pour out, almost without effort or thought. They spill into paragraphs and pages. It feels like riding a magic carpet that will soar on forever. I call such periods, writing within the bubble. But then after days or weeks, inevitably, life gets in the way.

Consider this scenario:  I’m just home from a ten-day fishing trip, determined to get back to my manuscript when my grandson Jack begs me to take him to tomorrow’s Mets game. Instead of going to my office I take Jack to the game. We’re both excited as hell about our trip on the subway…. It’s okay. I’d been on a roll with my story. Another day won’t matter at all. As we rumble toward Mets stadium, I pleasantly recall the feeling of riding the carpet, the story pouring out of me…. I’ll be back there tomorrow.

The Mets lose. Jack cries, inconsolable in his new Mets cap as we’re leaving the stadium. “Why do the Mets always lose, Baba?”

I’m thinking about Jack’s sorrow and the Mets string of losing seasons. I’m disgusted with the Mets, a thickening edifice forming between me and my story.

Next morning I’m finally back in front of my computer after an eleven-day break. I take a look at my last chapter…. Pretty good. I sit at the computer waiting for the words to flow…. Nothing. I wait. Nothing. Four more days pass of nothing. I’m pulling what’s left of my hair. Now I’m living outside the bubble.

Okay, seven days of writer’s block. I’m back in my office at 9:30. I make a cup of tea. I pace around a little. I have a lunch date at 12:30. I’m looking forward to that. I stare at my Mac like it’s the enemy. I begin to pace around. I sip tea. I look at my computer. No way I’m sitting there to suffer any more. I snap on my old radio and listen to sports talk radio, a discussion about the Mets falling apart after a promising start to the season. Every year they do it. They cannot hit…. It’s now 11. I look at the computer, shake my head, no way. I pace in the hall. I come back into the office and read the paper. Now it’s 11:50. Almost time to leave for lunch. Not yet, Waitzkin, not yet. I stall another five minutes, pressure building. It’s twelve. Suddenly I throw myself into my chair in front of the keys. I need to leave my office for lunch in 18 minutes. It’s now or never…, and if I’m lucky, the dam breaks. Words pour out. I’m feverishly typing words that wouldn’t come for days. They are gushing out now when I hardly have time to write them, trying to catch them in the air like butterflies, get them into the machine… I’ve written some of my best paragraph this way, when it was do or die.

Another trick for writer’s block: I always carry around a tiny notebook in my shirt pocket. When I’m riding my bike home along the river, thinking about the Mets losing streak, an idea pops into my head. I stop the bike and jot it into the book. I’m talking to my wife Bonnie and an idea suddenly appears. I’m talking to my son. He shakes his head, annoyed, while I scrawl treasure into my notebook. “Dad never listens to me.”

Two days ago, I was stumped how to end an essay about my artist mother. I woke up after a two-hour nap and suddenly I could see the words hanging in the air in front of me. I wrote them in the notebook before they disappeared…. Carry a notebook. Just having it with you elicits ideas.

I wrote my new novel, Deep Water Blues, without once having writer’s block. It was pure bliss, beginning to end. I’d decided I was going to write a short book, 150 pages or less, something I could hold in my head without having to turn back to see what I’d written two or three years earlier. I was determined to write this one fast. And also, I’d gone into it after having written a screenplay, my first. I wanted this new book to move like a movie.

Deep Water Blues describes a gruesome disaster that takes place to a little island civilization—an island once gorgeous, and peaceful, almost Eden like, and in the aftermath, the island becomes decimated by greed, out-of-control ambition, violence and murder. At the heart of it, Deep Water Blues, which was inspired by true events, is an adventure story. I wanted to tell the story fast, fast and violent with no looking back, no flashbacks, mostly taut bold scenes as in riveting film…. Writing this book took me over like a runaway train.

There was no room for writer’s block in my new book. Pace and length and a harrowing story were the key elements. Maybe I’ll try that again.

 

 

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Inspired by a true story, artfully told by the author of Searching for Bobby Fischer: A Bahamian island becomes a battleground for a savage private war.

Charismatic expat Bobby Little built his own funky version of paradise on the remote island of Rum Cay, a place where ambitious sport fishermen docked their yachts for fine French cuisine and crowded the bar to boast of big blue marlin catches while Bobby refilled their cognac on the house. Larger than life, Bobby was really the main attraction: a visionary entrepreneur, expert archer, reef surfer, bush pilot, master chef, seductive conversationalist.

But after tragedy shatters the tranquility of Bobby’s marina, tourists stop visiting and simmering jealousies flare among island residents. And when a cruel, different kind of self-made entrepreneur challenges Bobby for control of the docks, all hell breaks loose. As the cobalt blue Bahamian waters run red with blood, the man who made Rum Cay his home will be lucky if he gets off the island alive . . .

When the Ebb Tide cruises four hundred miles southeast from Fort Lauderdale to Rum Cay, its captain finds the Bahamian island paradise he so fondly remembers drastically altered. Shoal covers the marina entrance, the beaches are deserted, and on shore there is a small cemetery with headstones overturned and bones sticking up through the sand. What happened to Bobby’s paradise?

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Fred Waitzkin was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1943. When he was a teenager he wavered between wanting to spend his life as a fisherman, Afro Cuban drummer or novelist. He went to Kenyon College and did graduate study at New York University. His work has appeared in Esquire, New York magazine, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Outside, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, among other publications. His memoir, Searching for Bobby Fischer, was made into a major motion picture released in 1993. His other books are Mortal Games, The Last Marlin, and The Dream Merchant. Recently, he has completed an original screenplay, The Rave. Waitzkin lives in Manhattan with his wife, Bonnie, and has two children, Josh and Katya, and two grandsons, Jack and Charlie. He spends as much time as possible on the bridge of his old boat, The Ebb Tide, trolling baits off distant islands with his family. His novel, Deep Water Blues, will be published in spring 2019. You can find more on Fred Waitzkin at his website or check out some exclusive content on Facebook.

 

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