The Walls are Down: Publishing my Memoir Gave Me Nightmares

The nightmares started after I sold my memoir and signed a contract. Then it hit me-this is really going to be a book. My 92 year old mother will read it.

I knew I was doing the right thing. I’m an essayist and columnist who’d been trying to sell a memoir for a decade. After two failed attempts, I had finally figured out the right container for my story on the third try. I was thrilled when a small independent press signed me. I was 64. I’d earned this book, but now I was terrified.

I finally understood that Oscar Wilde quote, “In the world there are only two tragedies.One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

Only one chapter in my memoir, Looking for a Kiss, is about my family, but I was still worried. My Irish Catholic mother comes off as someone who has evolved, as she helped me get through the traumatic breakup of my 26 year lesbian relationship. But to give that section more gravitas, I had to explain how we once had a stormy bond since she was controlling and I’m the maverick middle child.

The flashback scene where I come out to my parents in 1979 and my father told me I’m abnormal seems comical today. But he does come across as an old school Catholic.

“It’s like coming out all over again,” said my long-time shrink, who is also a character in the book.

I decided not to show anyone in my family the manuscript since I had no intention of changing anything for their comfort.

“You are really putting it out there,” said my astrologer as I noted my memoir has several sex scenes. He reassured me that the publishing planets were lining up in my favor. “This is your moment,” he said. But those dreams kept occurring.

The nightmares had a similar beginning: I meet a cute woman at a party. We flirt, she likes me and I’m taking her to my loft in the West Village. Next scene we are walking through a dark alley and then up the back stairs of my childhood home in New Jersey. In one dream I enter the kitchen with my date and see my mother and a bunch of dead relatives, including my father. The dreams all ended with a scary scene- one had Nazis, another had police chasing us with the plague.

“The situations involve putting yourself in danger,” my therapist analyzed. “The relatives are ghosts inside you. You’re afraid your mother will read about your sex life and have a heart attack and die. The book brings up irrational fear.”

As we continued discussing the dreams, we decided it it would ease my anxiety if I told my mother that the book has sex scenes and it makes me uncomfortable to think about her reading it. Of course I also wanted her to read it and love it. This conflict dominated my therapy until I made a decision: I had a right to tell my mother not to read my memoir. I thought she would be hurt and feel slighted.

“Maybe she will be relieved,” my shrink suggested. “You’ve been upset about this for a long time and will feel better when you deal with it.”

I resolved to bring this up the following weekend when I visited my mother at the Jersey Shore. On a sunny afternoon, we were sitting on the beach chatting. We’d gotten into a discussion of my writing workshop and how I’d met my publisher though a referral from a member.

“Uh, Mom about the book…. there are some sex scenes. I’d rather you didn’t read it.”

“Okay,” she said and went back to her novel.

That night I dreamed I’m having a party in my loft and the wall separating my place from the next door neighbors is gone and they are wandering into my home.The music on the stereo is not my taste and when I go to change it, this guy grabs my arm and says he is a friend of Sue (who runs my writing workshop). He sticks a needle into my arm and injects a drug into my veins. I scream and wake up.

Yes, the walls are down. I’ll be exposed to my readers. I decided the drug is a truth telling serum.
Heliotrope Books will publish Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing in June, 2015.

About Kate Walter

Kate Walter is a master teacher and award-winning writer who specializes in essays, memoir and creative nonfiction. She is the author of the memoir Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing (Heliotrope Books) Kate has over 30 years of diverse writing and editing experience. This includes articles for consumer and trade magazines, arts reviews, profiles, personal essays, opinion pieces, reports, newsletters and curriculums. She writes about divorce and dating, religion and new age spirituality, urban gardening and neighborhood gentrification, and life in an artists' housing project in downtown Manhattan. Kate Walter has an MA in Media Studies from The New School. She teaches writing at NYU and runs private workshops at Westbeth Artists Housing. View all posts by Kate Walter

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