I was damned lucky to begin to speak to family when I did. At the time (13-years ago?), I found that there were elderly cousins still alive descended from each of my grandparent's siblings. Cool. Trace their paths (and their long-dead parent's paths) from around 1900 - 1945- those who left Europe and came here and those who didn't.
Okay, I now have a plan. But it required calling all these people I'd never spoken to and many of whom my mother hadn't spoken to in eons. Maybe they didn't like Ma. If that were so, they sure wouldn't like me. (My saving grace was my father. He seems to have universally made a good impression with everyone. And everybody loved my grandmother.) But for the first time of my illustrious career, I had to make cold-calls. Granted, I wasn't trying to sell anything. In fact, I'm giving them an opportunity to talk about themselves. Who doesn't like to talk about himself? And hey, what's the worst these people can do to you? Tell you, chica, I'm not telling you shit. So get off my goddamned phone, to keep the line free for calls with people I actually like.
Well that never happened. I spoke to an awful lot of people who first had to tell about where their bodies were hurting and what diseases they had and how miserable they felt. After that, I usually ended up with a cheery person who was more than willing to share with me some very brutal stories. These cousins were actually quite remarkable. I'm telling you, Mengele would have sent me off to the gas in two seconds. But these people wend their way through the maze of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, forced labor in armaments factories, winter death marches, and live to tell me about them. For me, I really felt honored and humbled by their candor and courage. Okay, one cousin refused to let me buy her tape from the Shoah Foundation, but I could come out to Queens where she would show it to me in full. Huh? God, I never took notes so fast in my entire life. Shit, I needed steno. But she told me everything. I just had to play by her rules. I can do that.
Then I went through what I would call an emotional breakdown in 2002. We had our first "crazy Hungarian" reunion late that summer. I knew I had to be a little manic. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And it was all good. Damn. No wonder artists are nuts. When you've got the high (and mine was only a wee one), can you produce. and produce big.
I crashed sometime in September, so Since When was put on hold for a long time.(A person in the abyss really can't be especially productive.) I edited and re-edited what I had. The work got tighter and tighter. But I couldn't make myself finish it. Then...I became deadly ill. The first year or so after I left the hospital, I was busy. I had to relearn how to walk, go to the bathroom...basically everything. This kept me occupied for a good long time. But late fall of this year, I got the utz again. I was heading to Pittsburgh to check on the possibility of a lung transplant. (Bottom line: I've been invited onto the Lung list, but I don't want it and I never will.)
But those weeks leading up to my week in Pittsburgh in early December, I just started cranking. I rewrote everything. It had been written tastefully in the third person. It still is with exception of my new and exciting comments which pepper the whole damned manuscript. Anger seems to bring the best out of me. Because after doing that, I wrote caustic, profanity-filled stories from my life. And interspersed them with the historical chapters.
I think it works. But try and explain all this to a publisher. But I'm not even close to that stage yet, so I can just dabble with all the pieces necessary for a pitch. goodnight all.