request for sabbatical – fall 2014 (submitted today)

On my previous sabbatical (Fall 2008), I researched women’s writing and read letters that my mother (Harriett Ann McDonough Gesteland) wrote to her mother-in-law (Berniece Jeanette Elver Gesteland) from 1956 to 1990. My goal was to trace the development of my mother’s feminist persona. I began a writer’s blog—which I continue to write—and outlined a biography of my mother. Since I’d written my dissertation about women’s southwestern autobiographies, I thought I was prepared to write such a book. However, writing about autobiographies and actually writing an auto/biographical account are quite different activities. I drafted an essay about my mother grandmother (“Breaking boundaries: A thirty-year relationship in letters from a daughter to her mother-in-law), but decided that I needed to take Judy Elsley’s “Life Writing” class at Weber State University, which I did (Fall 2011).

In Judy’s class I drafted two autobiographical pieces (“Addicted” and “Fanning the Flames”) and sent the latter out for review. After receiving a rejection and helpful feedback, I continued writing and blogging and resolved to write a memoir that incorporated all of these various elements. This resolution led me to the 15th Annual Taos Summer Writers’ Conference (Summer 2013), where I participated in BK Loren’s workshop, “Beginning Memoir.” There, I drafted a piece about my ex (“!@#$”) and continued developing a shape for my memoir. I now have that shape.

Within the textile world, the noun “warp” refers to the series of parallel yarns that are strung on a loom to form the foundation of a woven fabric. The verb “to warp” means to wind yarn onto the warp beam. In a textual sense, warping and weaving mimic the act of writing. First a writer strings her warp, lays the foundation for her fabric (text), by twisting or raveling the yarn (raw narrative material: experiences, thoughts, images, and so on) into orderly lines. Then she weaves through them her design and creates the woof, the texture of her fabric. I want to retrieve the warping process of my life and reveal how the warp lays a foundation for the woof, how my experience supports the creation of a text.

Tentative title: Warping

Preliminary outline:

  1. Knitting – about my mother  & grandmother (Mom’s mother-in-law)
  2. Breast cancer – about my aunt (Mom’s sister) and her smoking, drinking, and cancer
  3. Fanning the flames – about graduate school, my boyfriend, and my summer firefighting in Yellowstone
  4. Addicted – about my grandmother (Mom’s mother)
  5. Panic attacks – about my boyfriend and my daughter
  6. Hula hoop – about my ex

In the Taos workshop I met four women (Liisa Atva, Shelley Armitage—an American Studies hero of mine—Debora Murray, and Ouida Touchon) with whom I’ve formed a writing group. We now review, edit, and encourage each other in our various writing projects. Moreover, these women have helped me discover avenues for publication.

My experience at Taos was so positive that I hope to receive funding to attend the workshop on “Intermediate/Advanced Memoir” that will be offered in summer 2014. Then I will revise and submit my new pieces for publication. By the end of fall, I hope to have a book proposal ready for review.

About BJ

living the dream in northern Utah
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1 Response to request for sabbatical – fall 2014 (submitted today)

  1. Harriett M Gesteland says:

    this is amazing Becky. What a taks you have set for yourself. I doubt that my letters to Grandma G were very substantive. Can’t wait to see you final work I have such admiration for your talent and perseverance. Good luck and much love Mom


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