Welcome to Keeper of Stories

Welcome to my open memoir blog. In this space, I will share the writing of what I hope to publish someday as an unusual memoir. Authors don’t typically write in public, baring imperfections of early drafts and engaging readers in the writing process . But I was inspired by my husband’s blogging his experience of writing his latest book on microfinance.

I was born in Saigon and immigrated to the United States as a child in 1975. I learned to speak English without an accent and have other markers of the model minority – Harvard and Hopkins degrees, medical training, a successful career as a researcher and federal health policy official. I’m a happily married urban dweller, and mother of two biracial boys. I vote reliably. This is the only book I ever hope to write.

I used to think of a memoir as the summation ledger for a life, where we line up debits (crazy families, disabilities, natural disasters) and credits (nurturing parents, natural talent and grit, or the kooky acquaintance who takes us on an adventure), and assess their net effects. I would write such a memoir knowing who the heroine will be at the end, before I type the first word, and merely work backwards to reveal how and when her parts developed and came together.

This + That – Those = Girl.

But what if all I know is the shell of a heroine, the thing labeled with my name, and not what all the pieces are or how they fit?

Girl  = a2 + x – (32c)/b     and        Girl – 6 = (63 – e)/d3

Then the Girl is a puzzle, and maybe I can solve her through a memoir that tests many simultaneous equations.

Dissociation is a psychological phenomenon so common that it hides in plain sight. On any day, you might say that “your mind drifted away” and focused on something else even while you drove flawlessly down twenty miles of highway without remembering them. Or you self-gaze and say, “Oh, that’s the part of me that’s a six year-old,” after doing some mischief and enjoying it. This is normal.

At the other end of the spectrum, some heroines have what used to be called multiple personality disorder, and now is labeled dissociative identity disorder. This is the Many Faces of Eve, a freak show and a fascinoma. It derives from Sustained Trauma + Creativity, as a coping mechanism that can manifest as depression, forgetfulness, or bizarre behavior, and may go unrecognized for years.

In between these two poles is where I live, my insides a volatile jumble of fantasy, inherited traumas of generations, and tactile memories, but inching closer every day to normal.

I write in “chapterlets,” short bursts of association 2–4 pages long. I will post them in sequence, but they don’t form a tight narrative. That’s because I experience this memoir more as a series of dreams and poems than a linear history. Stay with me, and hopefully you will see the pieces falling into place. I’m inviting you on my exploration of my outer- and inner life. I would welcome your feedback and comments along the way.

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5 Responses to Welcome to Keeper of Stories

  1. lydia413 says:

    (for anyone else who didn’t know: “Fascinoma: Medical slang for a fascinating case, usually involving a rare disease.”)

  2. Christopher says:

    Panic really sucks – keep following the bread crumbs and you will find your way. It may not be where you imagined it, but it will be home. I would say that the two most useful things for me on my bread crumb path were the hope and encouragement of others and the powerful need to not be in a constant state of panic. It was very motivating.

  3. While browsing a lovely boutique shop on Capitol Hill, I noticed that there were quotes written on the walls and attached to various items decoratively placed. The following quote, which I am paraphrasing, resonated poignantly: “Every once and a while I visit the skeletons in my closet so that they don’t come after me on their own.” It would appear that this is a direction that you are pursuing.

    • Mai Pham says:

      Charles, I’m smiling. I can confidently say that the skeletons have acquired flesh, and are now my friends. The process of getting them to that point certainly does match the sentiment of your quote, though. For me, this book is about voice, and becoming visible and fully seen for the quirky, complicated montage that I am.

  4. Pingback: Engagement | Keeper of Stories

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