Searching for the red thread: On structuring a Turkish-American marital memoir (Part 1)

In search of my elusive red thread – the thing that will pull my memoir together…note that as in this photo, in which the spool is somewhat blurry, so too is my own conceptualization of the red thread that pulls this body of writing all together…

Today, I am going to talk about my elusive “red thread” as it relates to the writing of my Turkish-American marital memoir. My dear friend and soul sister K., also a professor type who edits students’ papers a lot, refers to the “necessary red thread” in any writing one does.  It is the theme that pulls it together, the point that acts like a magnet for all of the words included in any given bit of writing.

And it is this red thread that is elusive to me as I try to consider the revising of the first draft of my now 300 page memoir on my own Turkish-American marriage “road trip” as I like to call it.  Having completed the manuscript over a year ago, I can now see how crappy it really is – as it has a faulty red thread.  Now my M. read it and loved it, but, of course, he is a biased audience. I cringe when I look at it.  I especially cringe when I look at my first draft as I am so good at finding and elucidating red threads in my academic writing, but I really suck at it here.

I am sure my wonderful brother, would make some very fine bits of advice after a day full of cringeworthy reading.  I am too embarrassed to show it to him as he is an MFA who writes masterpieces full of thick red threads.  The thought of showing this work to him makes me even more stressed out and inspired to keep going, possibly with the help of the #38write movement developed by Kristin Bair O’Keefe over at Writerhead.  Sometimes, you just have to take the “butt in seat” approach, and write – and maybe that red thread will find you there.

Now, red threads also seem to have to do with what my friend, the Turkish-American playwrightSInan Ünel, has to say about the importance structure in writing (as well as in writing practice), and although he doesn’t know it, he has impacted me as I have listened to the few words he has said to me on the topic.  And that reminds me of what my e-friend Jack Scott once said about how he got his first book done (Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey), namely by remembering as a novice writer that “every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.” Well, when it comes to marital road trips, I suppose learning to drive and driving – that could fit with either red threads – and beginnings, middles and ends, – but I am not so sure…

But I digress, because it is easier to talk about others than to talk about my own struggles.  Let me get back to my faulty red thread.  So, in the first draft of the memoir, I center my writing around the idea of our marriage as a“road trip” with “backseat-driving Karagöz puppets.” When I started this project, three years ago, I thought about relationships and marriages as being akin the process of learning to drive- and driving.  There are all sorts of parts of this process:
  • Taking a driver’s education course,
  • Getting a learner’s permit
  • Practicing driving with an overly-anxious parent
  • Finally obtaining the damned driver’s license
  • Getting into an accident
  • Experiencing road rage
  • Missing an exit on the highway
  • Switching lanes
  • Cars breaking down
  • Buying new cars
  • Trading in cars
  • Bargaining for cars
  • Perfecting the art of paralell parking
  • Learning new traffic rules in other countries (such as Turkey, where there are no rules)
  • Getting a traffic ticket…and the like

…And on the face of it, it seems to me, marriage (however you define marriage, legal or not, partnership or otherwise), is really quite akin to learning how to drive a two-handled moving machine of some sort, is it not?  But I was not convinced….here is the current chapter structure

Chapter 1: Being driven: Navigating cultures (This chapter talks about how I came to accept the idea of dating non-American guys, and the various things I encountered along the way – including the beginnings of maneuvering a Turkish-American relationship)

Chapter 2:  Driver’s education:  Serving tea, Episode I (This short chapter addresses the cross-cultural aspects of tea drinking in my British-influenced American household, and M.’s Turkish-American household)

Chapter 3:  Choosing an insurance policy: On veiling and the perfect nightgown (This chapter addresses my preparation for my first trip to Turkey, in which all of my personal stereotypes about what I would find there, along with my families, are laid out in the open)

Chapter 4: Stuck in traffic:  Hair color, wine tastings in a mosque and the call to prayer. (This chapter highlights the utter confusion I often felt in the first few years of my relationship with M. when faced with Turkish realities that did and did not fit the stereotypes I didn’t know I had about Turkey, men and Islam in general)

Chapter 5: Defensive driving:  Turkish love rats, wind farms and environmentalism, Turk-style. (This chapter documents my easing into the realities of what Turkey is and is not as our relationship progressed)

Chapter 6: Three point turn:  Serving Tea, Episode 2 (This short chapter addresses my first botched attempt to acculturate in the form of serving M. tea when his friend visited, and my husband’s dual comfot and discomfort with this action)

Chapter 7: Managing road rage:  On Turkish bureaucracy and the demise of beyaz peynir  (This chapter addresses our families’ views on our elopement, our attempts to be recognized as married in Turkey -and how we drove closer to defining our own Turkish-American cultural space within our relationship) 

Chapter 8: Learning to use the GPS:  Co-navigating the road to Canakkale with Melia (This chapter documents our continued path to understanding how we are percieved as a married couple in the U.S. and in Turkey – and the joys and challenges therein)

Chapter 9: Parallel parking:  Serving Tea, Episode 3 (This short chapter describes a perfect tea service, alla Turca, performed in my United States’ living room – and everything that it meant to me)

So, this is contender #1 for my memoir’s red thread – and although I am not sure it works, it might work. However, tomorrow, I will tell you about my other potential red thread, using a theory of migration often used in social work practice with immigrants in the United States. TO BE CONTINUED

Papers to grade, tea to drink…life in a Turkish-American household revolves around the consumption of these tiny glasses of tea although we have shifted from the traditional sugar lumps to Agave nectar…(Image by Liz Cameron, it has been used before, as the papers I am grading today are electronic, and not those shown here – but the stack is equally large). The tea glass, however, remains the same!

Note: Hello dear readers, this is the first post that comes to you directly from my mouth to the computer screen, no hands involved.  Here’s to Dragon Naturally Speaking Software – it has its bugs, but it works pretty darn well! You can learn more about Dragon Naturally Speaking by clicking on this link.  This is a software program that you train to your voice, and use to speak into the computer’s microphone in order to have your words made into text on the computer screen.  They key, I find, is to speak slowly and pause after each word.  You have to add paragraph breaks on your own – and often it mis-hears names, so you may need to do a bit of editing, but I would say it is 90-95% accurate.  When M. tried it, however, the computer did not recognize many of his words due to his Turkish accent.  So far, we can’t figure out how to train it in Turkish, but luckily, he’s not the one with the shoulder injury! Unfortunately, Dragon doesn’t provide any red thread guidance, either, thank god that artificial intelligence has not yet gone too far.

Today’s post comes as I am failing trying to finish up my grading work before my medical leave begins in earnest.  So, I hope that my momentary procrastination has been interesting to you -perhaps if you too are struggling with your red thread, or how to structure some of your writing.

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13 Responses to Searching for the red thread: On structuring a Turkish-American marital memoir (Part 1)

  1. Rosamond says:

    It all sounds very exciting 🙂 i wish i was able to write half as good as you. I have had 45 years of drama,fun,misunderstandings,adventures etc since the day i was 16 and first met my husband. People always tell me it would make a great book but alas i couldnt even begin to put pen to paper.
    I look forward to the day your book is published 🙂

  2. E. says:

    Hi Rosamond, thank you for these kind words. I think that your story would indeed be a fascinating one. Instead of putting pen to paper, perhaps you could begin by narrating your story into the Dragon software – just tell it chronologically as it happened and close your eyes to remember the feelings, sounds, tastes, etc. Or, you could hire a ghost writer! I think that your story especially, given when you converted to Islam and how that did and did not relate to who your husband was, and the time in which it all took place, would make it an especially interesting memoir about England in those times – and up to these times! Sending you my very best. Liz. XOXOXO

  3. Vividhunter says:

    I think a lot of people have a great interest in how international marriages work, especially between quite different cultures. I’m married to a Japanese guy, and live in Japan, so we sometimes get questions from strangers about what it’s like. There have even been a few best selling memoirs about it (My gaijin (foreign) darling), so there’s a market in Japan as well ^^

    Good luck! I love the concept of the red thread. I wonder if it could/should be applied in other writing style beyond memoirs.

  4. E. says:

    Hi Vividhunter,

    Thank you so much for stopping by – and for your very thoughtful comment. I agree, there is a lot of interest in this topic – but I find that there are not many books that truly get at the guts of it. I reviewed the “Globalization of Love” which had good elements, but I think fell short. I know of the books you mention – and they are super. I am hoping to dig a bit deeper in this work, and I think the puppet characters help with that.

    On the read thread – glad you love the concept – take it and run with it! I think that yes, absolutely, it does have application to other writing styles – I use it in my academic writing all the time!

    Best wishes and thanks again,


  5. Rosamond says:

    Thank you for the encouragement 🙂 it has made me think and i will certainly look into it more. My daughters and foster children are amazed that their sensible and moral mother could have had many of the experiences i have had. We have shared laughter and tears, especially in relating the early years of my life/ marriage. My concern in writing a book is that it might hurt or upset hubby’s family members and perhaps change their opinion of me. We will see xx

  6. Rosamond says:

    Reblogged this on The Daily Muse and commented:
    I am very interested to know more. You are an amazing young wonam? I hope to learn from you 🙂

  7. Pingback: Migration as a cross-cultural marital metaphor? On structuring a Turkish-American memoir (Part 2) | Slowly-by-Slowly

  8. I absolutely loved this post!

  9. Nancy says:

    I love the redthread journey, your thoughfulness and playfulness and wisdom in it, and your writing! And now I am trying a new email, as the**## thing won’t accept my regular one –

  10. Nancy says:

    Aha! That works! So, I’m re-writing parts of an earlier comment, that your frame of a car trip for your marriage is inventive, imaginative, interesting, and adds a dimension. I like it a lot, You don;t need to change it, and also, do need to try to avoid the sucking bog of rejecting your own stuff – that’s what editors are for, so you as a writer can stay in forward gear, and they can do the backing and doubting and redirecting. So, send it to S- and keep on driving!

  11. E. says:

    Hi Nancy, thank you so much for the comments. I’m really glad you’re able to figure out how to leave them. I think perhaps that different way that you log into WordPress may account for the problem you have with leaving comments. I also really appreciate the feedback am on waiting for what an editorial might
    say that’s very helpful. But it is also helpful to know that you had a good sense about where it was going thank you so much for this feedback.

  12. E. says:

    Hi crazy train, thank you so much for your comment. I am so glad that you loved this post. May it be of use to you as well and you’re writing about your experience. I am so glad we found each other.

  13. Jack Scott says:

    Thanks for the plug! I’ve been so busy I nearly missed it 😉

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