As a reminder, I'm writing a somewhat unique family history novel from the perspective of an inanimate object, a pocket watch that passes from generation to generation and tells the stories it witnesses. I'm writing this novel/memoir/family history in 30 days as a part of NANOWRIMO - National Novel Writing Month in November. The notes are not only notes on the novel itself, but the feeliings it inspires in me as I write, the challenges of writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days, and I must also add - the evolution that my story itself takes along the way. I'm hopeful that my author notes are helpful to future readers as well as to those who may want to participate in NANOWRIMO in the future.
Day 2: I didn’t want to write today. It’s a rare feeling for me. I found no enthusiasm in my writing even as I found joy in giving life to Ulysses and Johanna Kehl. Introducing Pierre felt forced, but I know that he is essential. Part of the problem may be the scope of what I’m writing. My protagonist - the gold watch - is composed of gold (which seems to have a consciousness of its own) and is also the watch itself. This may have been confusing. I’m liking the voice of the watch and the exploration of what it means to be gold was one of the rabbit holes I’m always thrilled to go down. Perhaps the watch is actually Watch I. Gold - it’s quite arrogant and rightly so. I feel like I could write an entire book about Pierre and his brothers or the story of Ulysses and Johanna. The scope of this though is meant to be huge so I have to continue though I would like to dwell further upon them. Tomorrow I may jump back to John and Christopher.
Day 4: I’m really having to force myself to get these words out. Yesterday, I wrote more of the story of John and Christopher. I feel a certain amount of guilt shitting on my dad as he sits in Arizona his mind being erased by Alzheimers. There is a certain amount of fiction involved in writing this - much more fiction in the early history as compared to that which I experienced but even that part gets a little bit of treatment. I didn't intent to write a memoir. I probably feel worse writing about Dad’s shitty decisions than he felt making them. I know that I have a desire and tendency to want to clean up what he has done and also that there is a small part of me that wants to use my words as revenge. Finding the balance between those two areas is where I need to be. Today, in writing about the Damitios in France again, I was forced to skip over the death of Ulysses Kehl, ignore the wartime stories of Pierre, Albert, and Antoine and jump to young Antoine making the decision to go to America. In time, I may come back and flesh out all of these stories, but for now I need to rush a bit to get to where Antoine’s story meets mine and flesh out all the players in between. There are five generations between us. Antoine -> John W-> Albert Anthony -> John Albert Sr -> John Albert Jr. -> Me (Christopher)
Day 5: I’m really uncomfortable with how negatively I am portraying my dad, but the truth is, I’m not lying here. I’m sure there must be extenuating circumstances for his actions - but I just can’t see them and while I’ve asked him in the past - he has never really expressed remorse or justification for his actions. I take that back, there was one time - sitting on a porch of a project he invited me to work on when he had a few drinks and said how bad he felt about everything. I swear it was the only time I’ve ever seen him cry. Two days later, he knocked on my door at 6am and told me to pack my shit and leave - even though he knew I had nowhere to go.
Day 6: I’m making up a bit of the history to fill in the facts about the Damitios arriving in the New World. Since maternal family history is so badly kept, I know very little about Catherine Jung or her family. In truth, she and Antoine were in their thirties when they arrived in the USA and already had several children - but looking at the photos of them as distinguished old people, I can readily believe that their courtship went down in some way like I have described.
Day 7: Now, I’m veering too far into personal memoir. Thankfully, the watch will limit that through possession. I’m not entirely sure I should include some things - but I can change it up in the editing process. It keeps occurring to me that perhaps I should change the names of those who are living i.e. my father and myself.
Day 8: While I’m not writing too much about Catherine, it gives me a lot of pleasure to give her this strong and willful presence. It’s also nice to finally give the page to how we came to be an Italian family. I grew up thinking we were Italian and it was only when I started doing family history that I found out Damitio was actually a French name. I’m not sure if that mistaken sense of identity is something that only my immediate family had or if it extends to the other branches of Damitios as well. There is a Michigan book of pioneers entry for Christopher Damitio that mentions how my 4th Great Grandfather (Antoine) came to Detroit. It doesn’t go into detail - so using it as the base, I’ve put together this story which also accounts for how he came to be a wagon maker. Christopher will be the second son of Antoine and Catherine, little Tony will go into the lumber business with John W.
“CHRISTOPHER DAMITIO. one of the oldest residents in the eastern section of Detroit, was born in Alsace, France, in 1826, and is the son of Anthony and Catherine (Van Buren) Damitio. When but five years of age his parents emigrated to this country, landing in 1831. Leaving his family in New York, the elder Mr. Damitio pushed on into the interior, and after considerable travel finally located in Detroit, purchasing a homestead on the Gratiot road, and in 1832 it was occupied by the family. From his eighth to his fourteenth year Christopher attended district school number one of Hamtramck. He then began to learn the wagon-making trade with his father, and at the latter's death in 1858, succeeded him in business.”
Day 9: As I wrote chapter nine, I realized just how much damage my father has dealt to me. The psychological games, the manipulation, the power plays. They’ve happened again and again when I turn to him for approval and validation - the words are always there but the action I seek from him that demonstrates he means it are what is missing. I suppose I have to classify this as a memoir at this point - a genre I’ve always looked down on for some reason. Writing this is a bit of catharsis - and it’s helping me to deal with my own trauma. The watch barely played a role except that of narrator in this chapter and one of the challenges was only allowing the watch to narrate what it witnesses - but I feel like I can stretch that a bit by having it know what it’s holder knows. I wonder if I should reveal that detail in exposition.