Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Memoir Madness: driven to involuntary commitment (Notes on Narrative Threads: Flashbacks, Other Voices, and Dramatization)

Primary Narrative Thread
Christmas Eve 1968 to May 1969. Although the prologue is from the perspective of my current persona–thus, past tense–the primary narrative thread (the bulk of the memoir), recreates Jennifer L. Semple’s 18-year-old voice through the present tense.

My goal: to place the reader in the middle of that volatile time and into the life of a rebellious teen.

I incorporate other narrative approaches as well:
Secondary Narrative Thread
August 18 through August 30, 2004. Beginning in Chapter Eleven, Jennifer’s youthful voice is interrupted by Jennifer the adult attempting to make sense of her past.

On August 18, 2004, as I ponder a return journey to Cherokee, I address some issues I have not really addressed in the primary thread: my relationship with Stoney, my drug-dealing boyfriend and my guilt over a "Dear John" letter I had written in November 1968 to a fiancé, a Marine stationed in Vietnam.

August 29: after experiencing some anxiety, I decide to make the journey to Cherokee to take pictures and remember.

August 30: I describe my return to Cherokee, Iowa, as a sort of catharsis. While there, I experience past emotions, feelings, visions, and smells. I also speculate about the current incarnation of Cherokee.

I also contemplate living abroad for the upcoming year (2004-2005) and reflect on the convention of letter-writing as a tenuous connection between long-distance lovers.

These intermittent present tense passages include Chapters Eleven, Twenty-Six, Thirty-Five, Fifty-Nine, Sixty, Sixty-One, Sixty-Three, Sixty-Seven, Sixty-Nine, Seventy-Four, Seventy-Six, Seventy-Eight, Eighty-Seven, "Released," and "Short History..." (2010 Epilogue).

In terms of length, these passages are short interruptions but important in that they offer a distant perspective of my past and a glimpse of young Jennifer’s future.
Flashbacks to Fall 1968
Although these Hollywood events occur in close proximity to the primary narrative thread, the main focus of the memoir begins on Christmas Eve 1968. Yet, some revealing and important events have occurred before that time. These flashbacks, interspersed throughout the book, are written in the past tense because, for young Jennifer, they were well into the past.

For clarity, most of the Fall 1968 flashbacks have been afforded their own short chapters, which are interwoven contextually (thus, not necessarily in chronological order) throughout the primary narrative: Chapters Three, Nine, Fifteen, Seventeen, Nineteen, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Seven, Thirty-One, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Seven, Thirty-Nine, Forty-Two, Sixty-Five, Seventy-One, Seventy-Five, Eighty-One, and Eighty-Three.
Childhood Flashbacks
In addition, three flashbacks to my childhood, short italicized, present tense, dream-like passages, are included within the primary thread, not in their own chapters.

These passages include a near-death experience at age six (in Chapter Thirty-Four), my younger sister Robin being taken away from our family (in Chapter Forty-Six), and a nightmare, at age four, about bed-wetting and snakes (in Chapter Eighty-Four). These memories tie in with events occurring depicted in the primary thread.
Perspective of My Childhood Guardians
Harley D. Semple, my grandfather, passed away in 1974, Olive Semple, my grandmother, in 1987. Therefore, for their first person narratives, I have referred to interview summaries contained in my hospital records–interviews conducted and summarized by my psychiatrist (and other hospital personnel). I have also relied on my personal knowledge about these people who raised me. Their voices, which I have recreated, are what I remember.

These short present tense narratives have been placed in their own chapters.

During this time in my life, I was harsh and judgmental toward my grandparents; as an adult looking back, I owed them an opportunity to tell their side of my story.

Intermittent passages occurring between December 31, 1968, and February 19, 1969, include Chapters Five (Harley), Seven (Harley), Thirteen (Harley), Twenty-One (Harley), Twenty-Two (Olive), Twenty-Nine (Olive), Forty-Three (Olive), Forty-Five (Olive), Forty-Seven (Olive), Forty-Nine (Olive), Fifty-Two (Harley), part of Fifty-Five (Olive), and part of Fifty-Five (Harley).
In Chapter Fifty-Four, I have included a dramatized scenario between my grandfather and Opal Casey, the Sioux City police matron, as they draw up the papers required for my court hearing, ultimately resulting in my commitment. I based this dramatic scene on my actual court papers, in which my grandfather’s name, as "Informant," has been scratched out and replaced with Opal Casey’s name.

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Memoir Madness Excerpts: Table of Contents


Before the Institution

Prologue: Caged

Chapter One: The Crystal Ship

Chapter One: Blue Moons

Chapter Two: Dark Side

Chapter Two: Flying Solo

Chapter Two: Weed and Seeds

Chapter Two: Funny Little Naked Clowns

Chapter Two: Decision Time

Chapter Two: Thirteen Tabs

Chapter Three: Wallich's Music City and Eleanor's Radio

Chapters Four and Six: New Year's Eve, 1968--Fire

Chapter Eight: Rudy

Chapter Ten: Cops

Chapter Eleven: The Luckiest Hand

Chapter Twelve: Downers

Chapter Twenty Three: Sioux City Blues

Chapter Twenty Four: ..."While I Kiss the Sky"

Chapter Twenty six: The Miracle of Google

Chapter Thirty: There Must be Some Way Outta Here

Chapter Thirty Eight: What to Do With My Life?

Chapter Forty One: My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny

Chapter Fifty One: Nabbed at the Bus Station

Chapter Fifty Three: "Let's See What the Police Have to Say"

Chapter Fifty Four: A Possible Scenario at the Police Station

Chapter Fifty Six: Driven

Chapter Fifty Eight: Driven 2

Memoir Madness Excerpts: The Institution

The First Five Days

The Other Patients: Perky Penny

The Other Patients: Carrie the Cutter

The Other Patients: Joyce

The Other Patients: D.J., The Mighty Sage

The Other Patients: Anna on the Lam

Proving My Sanity

Memoir Madness Excerpts: After the Institution

Denise's Tips

Leaving Sioux City: Dee Dee

Epilogue: A Short History of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute

Memoir Madness Excerpts: Flashbacks (Fall 1968)

October 1968: Rev. Arthur Blessitt and His Place

October 12, 1968: A Mother's Warning

October 12, 1968: The Birthday Party

October 1968: Wild Man Fischer's Merry-go-round

A media-rich version of these excerpts (with photos, artwork, videos, out takes, essays, etc.,) can be accessed here.


About Memoir Madness...

Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment (Amazon)

About Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment...

Christmas Eve, 1968: history is made as Apollo 8 astronauts deliver their Christmas message from orbit around the moon.

On earth, at The Crystal Ship, a rock and head shop near Hollywood, California, Jennifer Semple listens to the iconic broadcast and, through the fog of drugs, ponders the future.

In the ensuing days, the 18-year-old girl experiments with LSD and other drugs; juggles a crumbling relationship with a notorious drug dealer; and tries to make sense of life at 2001 Ivar Street, a Hollywood, California, apartment complex where hippies, drug dealers, freaks, strippers, groupies, college students, Jesus Freaks, counterculture gurus, drag queens, rock stars and wannabe rocksters, svengalis, and con artists converge during one of the most volatile periods in history.

Then her grandfather finds the girl and coaxes her into returning to her Iowa hometown, where, unknown to her, she is still considered a minor.

After a series of events and blowups with her grandparents, she is dragged into the Iowa court system and involuntarily committed to the Cherokee Mental Institute in Cherokee, Iowa.

While incarcerated, she corresponds with Jeff, a new boyfriend, and also interacts with other patients: Wolfie, a psychopath who preys on other patients; Penny, a 17-year-old unwed mother; Carrie, a teen cutter with strange obsessions about rats; Joyce, a young married mother enthralled with “10 ways of suicide”; Drew, a young man facing a stiff prison sentence for possession of marijuana; and D.J., a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25-year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Finally released from the institution, Jennifer flees Iowa and settles in Pennsylvania, where she still lives today.

As young Jennifer narrates her late 1960’s memoir, how will the older and wiser Jennifer, now voluntarily returning to Cherokee as a visitor, reconcile that painful time in her history with her current ordinary life as a wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher?