Sunday, May 25, 2008

Now Anticipating Co-Writers' Block

My sister text-messaged me a couple weeks ago with a message that said, basically, that "We need to get together sometime and right a book" about our childhood. (She meant "write", in case I needed to point that out.) This isn't a new idea; in fact, my brothers and sisters and I have been telling each other that for years now. Looking at the text message, I got the distinct feeling that the time, as they say, had come.

Pretentious? Presumptious? Everyone's had a childhood, right? Why is ours so book-worthy? Allow me to present a short version of the case, in bullet point form:

  • There are nine children in my family. (I'm the oldest.)
  • My father and mother were religious fundamentalists (well, are, though my mother's lightened up since then - I'm betting the bitter pill of getting an outside-of-religious-law divorce helped) who decided the best solution to the Dangers of the Heathen World was to ensure that we had as little contact as possible with it.
  • I was twelve before I met another human being close to my age. Before this, the number of children we'd previously met was four, not counting a couple cousins, who we saw about once a year.
  • Until I was twelve, none of us had a life outside our home. We were homeschooled, knew no outsiders, and weren't allowed into the front yard. (No fences to shield us from neighborly eyes.)
  • My father developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder over the course of the years, making our strange situation even stranger. We led a strange, ritualistic life within the four walls of our home - not counting the years we were homeless. One juicy detail: In the last years, our house itself was wired with cameras!
  • Everything, of course, went dramatically to shit, in the kind of story that sounds like you'd made it up If It Hadn't Really Happened. (Adding drama: the fact that most of this story takes place smack dab in the middle of Orange County, for an added dose of "It Could Happen Here"!)
  • More, uglier details that are a little too unpleasant for this particular blog post, but very dramatic nonetheless.
  • And, of course, there's the dramatic story of how we were introduced to The Outside World, and thereafter incorporated ourselves into it.
I've graduated from Berkeley this very week, and I'll be living down in Orange County again after two years, where the rest of my family still lives. Perfect timing. And, as for writing a book... hey, I'm already writing a book! I've taken writing workshops, I can edit, my style is marginally passable (read: no longer makes readers want to claw their eyes out).

I won't be writing it alone, though, even if I can form the skeleton of the book. The three oldest of our family were the most affected by it, so we'll write the majority of the book. And the rest of the family might contribute. (Not all of them are old enough to even remember the crazy years; I'm 23, and we're all two years apart - do the math.) We'll see how that goes!

An interesting thought: Since our names all begin with J, that could make an interesting "by" line: "J. Jesson, J. Jesson, and J. Jesson, with contributions by J. Jesson and J. Jesson. Special thanks to: J. Jesson, J. Jesson, J. Jesson, and J. Jesson." Of course, my mother's initials are C. Murphy, which screws the whole thing up, but what can ya do?

My current thorny questions number two:

1. Shall we use our real names? Or pseudonyms? (I plan to use my real name, but I'm not sure about everyone else involved.) If real names, then do we change the names of our brothers and sisters, particularly the ones not writing this or old enough to understand? (Using middle names would screw up the whole "J" theme.) What about - and here's a thorny question - our semi-estranged father?

and 2. What do we call the book?

Perhaps I should read other memoirs - I'm sure others of this kind exist - and see how they handle this...


GermaricanMix said...

I tried posting this hours ago but forgot my log-in. Shuddup.

Anyway, as far as the names go, I think you should use real names unless specifically requested to change the names. But you have to make sure to ask EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. whose name you're using. That's what I think.

Sandy said...

If you use aliases for everyone except yourself, won't the revealing of your own name (particularly your last name, Jesson) sort of, kind of betray the purpose of hiding identities...? Particularly because this is supposed to be an (auto)biography of you and your siblings' childhoods.

Peter Lucas said...

Hi Jacob

As a Jesson descendant myself I have spent time building up the family trees of the various Jesson families, including yours.

But I had no idea of your unusual upbringing. Amazing.

You wouldn't have any idea of the family history back in the Arkansas days would you?


Jake Jesson said...

...Seriously? Well that's something I never though anyone would ask me!

My paternal grandparents are from Arkansas originally, or so I was told as a kid; I don't believe my father actually lived there, but I could always ask. Actually, I could try to get in touch with my paternal grandmother...

What started you off on this project?

Peter Lucas said...

Hi Jake

We in Britain are more interested in our ancestry than you in America. Perhaps the voyage across the pond broke all the links to the past.

I had to map all the Jesson families to try and find the common starting point and I've had a lot of success in that respect.

But I can't imagine how your family got started in Stone,AR.
It's so far off the beaten track.