A Year of Writing

When I was a little girl, the humid, bitter cold of Lake Erie winters rattled in my lungs. Every year, I wheezed, gasped, and fevered my way through bouts of colds, flus, chicken pox, or some other childhood rite-of-passage illness. Once, flu and pneumonia compounded into a three-week hiatus from school. I was six years old. At its onset, I negated the cold outside with a fever so hot that I felt like I could toast bread by placing it on the skin above my ribs. Of course, I would have been unable to eat the toast. Nausea kept me from eating for weeks, and the ever-present thermometer hanging from my mouth obstructed the way.

When my mother came to read the lines where the mercury fell, I moaned, aching for comfort. “Why me,” I  asked.

These simple words were loaded. I fought my willingness to tackle the predicament not by wishing it onto someone else, but by wondering what I had done to deserve it, hoping for its course to run faster, doubting my strength to persevere. These concepts and my six-year old vocabulary didn’t align. I was, as we all are in youth, muted by age.

Forty years later, I can look back on the event and see its beauty. In the space between thought and words, a world of unknowns transpired. How did my mother feel? Why did I choose to say these words? Was I really aching for comfort, or was there something else, bigger, less immediate, that I needed? And it begs the question: Why do I choose to write about it?

If you want to burrow inside my brain, these types of questions circulate on an incessant track, day and night. I am plagued by curiosities, motivations intrigue me, and I am no longer mute. To uncover the possibilities of why I do what I do, I must write.

 

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Christmas Tree with Nest

 

This past year of writing has brought me closer to my goal of finishing my childhood memoir, although it is nowhere close to where I would like it to be. Each scene, each description, is like one tiny line on the thermometer. A book-length work is comprised of these dashes, settling into place only after the fever burns. For my truth to manifest, I must get comfortable being uncomfortable, enduring each moment with hope that my words will truly express me, not my intentions, but my humanity.

I am persevering by letting go of doubt, the judge, the critic, that sits on the balcony of our life-stage and haggles us with inane commentary. The way I see it, the world is our critic. My only job is to continue the show, which I plan on doing when I send my messy manuscript to an editor in January. I trust her to take its temperature, read between the tiny lines, tell me where it runs hot or cold.

In the meantime, I can look back on the year’s progress with a sense of accomplishment. I’ve made some dashes, increased the mercurial importance of my story, settled into its heat. Despite the vast world of unknowns, I wrote. It’s warm in there. I think I’ll stay.

 

 

 

Mother is Scared, But…

This summer I felt my first earthquake while sleeping in a teepee. A loud boom erupted in the distance. My first thought was that train cars were connecting on the railroad on the other side of the Jefferson River where I was camping, but it didn’t make sense that railcars were active in the middle of the night. The mountainous landscape was dry and sparse, a synchronous description of the activity along the wide river’s valley.

The earth rocked beneath me—really deep beneath me. Later, I would learn it was a 5.8. Zipped inside a puffy sleeping bag, I shook like a cocoon in a breeze. I sat up and said, “Earthquake”. It was more of a statement than a warning. My two daughters, and Charlotte, our French exchange student for a month, formed three-fourths of a ring on the ground and I wanted them to know the cause of the rattling. For them, I wanted to pretend that I wasn’t afraid.

I was, of course, very afraid.

I waited for them to respond. Aileen, my oldest daughter, twisted her head to look at me.

“Did you feel that?” I said, probably a little too emphatically. My heart was racing. The other girls hadn’t moved.

Aileen nodded, sleepy-eyed. I waited for her to react appropriately, to tuck her head beneath her arms or something like that, to show that she was just as scared as me.

“I have to pee,” she said.

I groaned inside. Then came the dreaded question.

“Will you go with me?” she said.

I wasn’t excited to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night with my sixteen year old, but I did it anyway, because I knew she was afraid. A mother intuits her child.

Teepee
Teepee, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, MT

My sleeping bag completed the fourth part of the ring. I had taken the girls to Lewis and Clark State Park for a night under the stars. The next day we would tour the caves that snake through the depths of limestone rock like secret passageways to a hidden world. It was supposed to be an adventure, and with a bright waxing moon in the sky it would become a night-day mix-up, a transversal of daylight’s stretch stopped within the gaping mouth of limestone that continued to a nighttime world.

I walked with my daughter to the outhouse. Rain began to fall in quiet, little drops on my shoulders. After we climbed back into our sleeping bags, two aftershocks waved through before I was able to fall asleep. Meanwhile, the rain pinged the canvas walls with a softness that only happens in summer. Lightning flashed overhead.

It wasn’t perfect. I was afraid of entering the caves the following day. Despite knowing I had no reason to worry about a teepee catastrophe, I imagined being deep in the caves during another earthquake. The worst part was that I imagined bringing the girls to their doom.

After an unrestful sleep, I had to make a plan in the morning. Do I go? Do I not go? Do I let them go without me? Certainly, they were old enough.

But what if they were inside the caves without me and an earthquake struck?

While waiting for hot water to boil on a propane burner, I chose the ultimate job required of parents–—I sacrificed. A hiss formed the background noise while I consciously solidified my life’s prerogative: I was willing to die for my children.

Like the fourth arc in the ring of life, having a clear initiative transcended the fear. I felt complete. I wonder now, how many times have I initiated out of fear rather than love? How often have I disappointed rather than embraced? Is it really that hard to sacrifice?

That morning, with the hot morning sun burning our skin through our shirts, I walked into the dark mouth of the cave with my daughters. It was day. It was night. I walked into the cave with my daughters because it was the right thing to do.

On Writing: Memoir Update

I am how many years into writing my memoir? Three? Four? I bet you’re wondering when it will be done. I can’t say. As in, I have no idea.

It sounds tireless, but in these three or four years I have gained more than 130 pages of text. I have participated in conferences, attended workshops, taken numerous classes, and have read everything I can get my hands on, about, or in the form of memoir. It is a drive for understanding.

Because I began in confusion.

I was confused about my anxiety, my worth, my purpose. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

And now people tell me they like my writing which is like putting a soft, fluffy pillow on the hard chair I sit on. It makes it easier to come back to, allows me to stay a bit longer.

This is crucial for memoir. I have found that self-knowledge by introspection sinks deeper than I had originally imagined. Sitting alone, I have burrowed into calcified memories and pried them apart to have a good look at their meaning, usually one that files me under the category of, well, mortal.

In other terms that means horrendously flawed.

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I’ve learned to be objective. The classes didn’t teach me this. The books didn’t teach me this. It’s just a little wrap of kindness I realized was there all along. Sometimes we put it around the shoulders of someone else, and other times we clutch its corners like oncoming death.

Because that’s what the world requires from us.

In the past several years, I have received more than my fair share of kindness after sharing my story. It erupted from a state of vulnerability into a full blown shower of appreciation and gratitude from strangers, friends, classmates, editors, and authors. Because they believe my story matters.

Everyone has a story that matters.

The hours, days, years suddenly don’t mean anything because what I’ve found along the way has impact. It has scoured away my original doubt and confusion and gives me purpose. Wrapped in the beauty of kind words, I’m grounded here. With you.

I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir Review: Love Warrior

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton is an inside-out version of what it means to be a female who struggles with finding a Self she can live with. At the age of ten, her desire—or as she says, the world’s desire— for female perfection sends her to the bathroom after every meal.

She struggles through high school, sending forth to the world her Respresentative, the illusive persona created by a mind who aims to please society by succumbing to external wishes, leaving her true identity feeling lifeless and numb. In other words, this is a typical  female struggle, one that I, and I assume many other women, can understand. She verifies the intensity of this cultural dogma which won’t change until it is challenged by the Self.

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The author tells her story with blunt truth. Being female has pressures that can drive us into a void. She reveals the layers of these pressures and provides us with a blood and guts portrayal of her journey to empowerment. She sheds her skin within the pages of the book, revealing a compassionate heart who learns to love herself as much as she loves others.

This is a must-read for women in their their 30s and 40s who yearn to reclaim their identity lost to children, spouses, work, family, and everything else spinning on the globe. She inspires the reader to find their grounding, connect, and make choices based on volition instead of obligation. Ironically, the world will thank you for it.

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My Thoughts: A beautiful story written with raw honesty and endless courage

 

 

Words: On Trump, but Mostly My Dad

Politics are not my thing, but a little nagging voice inspired me to write about Trump’s disparaging comments about women. Saturday night, with my laptop on my lap and a glass of wine (from France, of course), I sat down and let my fingers type their way through the messiness to find meaning in the words.

What Trump said out loud wasn’t shocking to me. Nor had I placed him on a pedestal high enough to induce feverish anger. To me, the news was as blasé as hot dogs for dinner.

But I was unhinged about something. The words poured out Helter Skelter crazy with no sensibility to them. The slant finally began to drift toward my father.

Ah yes, my father.

He had been in town last week. Knowledge of his proximity had rendered me into a weak-kneed, vulnerable scaredy cat. My heart raced at the first phone call. I did not answer.

My dad, father to three girls, was known for the opposite of exquisite praise. Fed up with bickering, he would say, “Good God I wish I had boys. One punch and it’s over.” Then he’d shove a triple decker of Saltines with cheese in his mouth.

His method of parenting: insult. He swallowed food. I swallowed anger. As I grew, the words inside me built from Shut up to I hate you! Of course, I never said any of these out loud. Well, maybe I did. Yes, I did. But nothing answered the eternal burn of his influence: What’s wrong with me?CircleRocks

As it is, I love my father. I recognize the gap left by unmet needs that made him violent and explosive, drunk and unpredictable. Still, in his presence I waver between the woman who deserves respect and the daughter who yearns to make her father proud.

I have no say in the latter. I never did. Growing up, my sisters and I were present and vulnerable to his needs—the needs we should never have had to shore up with our innocence. His words diced us into shards just as a fist punches. The pain wasn’t visible, but the scars will last a lifetime.

My father’s words speak of the culture that raised him. He had no say over it. It is forgivable.

But I couldn’t summon the strength to answer the phone the second time he called. I was afraid he would avoid the conversation I need with him. I was afraid I would cave in to his needs and avoid it too. My love for my father is courageous and raw, wild and stray. I no longer want to feed it, but I can let it run.

I know this hurts him. People are wild, we hurt each other. But we can stop hurting with words.

Words make all the difference.