On Feeling Haunted

I knew why I submitted my essay “The Performance” to the “Haunted” issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review, but I wasn’t positive the story would resonate as a haunting. The central conflict in the story, like my book, is internal. The essay explores how I feel haunted by my relationship with my mother as I parent my children. That feeling is visceral, and I have struggled against it as I emerge into my own life.

Having my essay published in HFR confirms the central conflict I set out to illustrate in my book-length manuscript materialized. That’s a huge turning point for me. Other people see the story as haunting, too. Naturally, when I received the acceptance last fall, I screamed and did a happy dance.

Issue 67 available for order at https://haydens-ferry-review.asu.edu/

In my memoir, I hold myself back. It’s how I have functioned for most of my life. In the present tense, I have learned to better controlling my anxiety and depression, but for a long time, I couldn’t identify or classify those feelings. I didn’t question my toxic thoughts. They were my baseline. I had to actively learn to feel something else.

I am antagonist number one.

Antagonist number two, my mother, is a hilarious and flawed human being. And she always steals my scenes. One of the hardest tasks about writing this memoir has been controlling these two characters. In past drafts of “The Performance,” my mother’s character engulfed my persona on the page like she did in real life.

Craft to the Rescue

To remedy this storytelling dilemma, I learned to develop my character in the present tense. I couldn’t change the events that transpired between my two main characters, but I could reflect on how I think about them now. Developing my reflection has been hard because I have to risk sharing my ideas with an audience. What does grownup me think about the shitstorm that transpired? And what if the publishing process makes me realize more truths I hadn’t considered?

But I can’t stop writing now. Instead, I have to trust people will want to read a story from my perspective. And I have to keep developing my ideas by asking for feedback from others. Recently, I asked my mom to read some of my chapters to double-check them for authenticity and interpretation. That’s been a whole journey in and of itself–getting my mom to read my writing. She once threw out a journal that contained a published essay of mine because she didn’t like her characterization (BTW, she wasn’t even a central character in that story). I think I need to develop this experience into its own essay, too.

For now, I will stand guard next to my mailbox as I patiently wait for the delivery of Issue 67.

6 thoughts on “On Feeling Haunted

  1. Good to read of it and glad you’ve discovered a successful strategy. I have the same issue – surely many of us do – wondering if my memoir reads too much like a biography of my mother in places. You’re brave to have your mother read chapters. I know Mary Karr did so successfully and i suppose it depends on the individual diagnosis of their craziness. After letting mine read an autobiographical college paper for which i interviewed her and used too many of her words, only to have her hate it, i’m strategizing ways around that for my memoir….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Sonya. It’s taken years to establish this relationship with my mom. I give her my writing little by little. I also mail her copies of the print litmags, and sometimes she doesn’t read them 😊


  2. I applaud your bravery for sharing your story and also for being open to continually peeling the onion to learn more and more about yourself. Your story will resonate with more people than you can imagine I am sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations, Jennifer! I’m excited to read that you’re working on a book 🙂 Much of what you describe in your post is what keeps me from writing memoir, at least right now. My family has always looked askance at my writing; to them it’s just a hobby. For now, I just write fiction when it comes to my family. Safer that way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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