The writing class I taught, which began in the dark of the winter winds, has concluded in the twilight of the much welcomed spring. Six women, all with their own agendas, their own goals, came together and thoughtfully, and with extreme humor, lifted each other to a place, which I believe, never occurred to them they would go. At least not in the beginning.
The individuality which expresses itself in writing is a constant amazement to me. Thank goodness it always surprises me how the right words, the collective thought, conveys a new way of looking at a situation or an idea, which may appear, at first, mundane or irrelevant. For me, this provides hope. It’s a reminder each new day may start off with a pearly haze over the sun, but in the same way the jet stream alters the atmosphere, by evening, events not possibly imaged, have transformed lives and directions. This happens every day...all over the world.
Good writing takes you on the same trip. Reading the first words, ready to be sent off to one place and then, quite startlingly, when reaching the end of a piece, you discover you’ve arrived on a beach you never knew existed. Someone’s thoughtful introspect of words well chosen has the same effect. Said with kindness, it only takes a minute, a few seconds, to impart a positive change. Whether written or spoken. I saw it take place on the last night of our class and it made me want to come back for more.
It’s all over the news...well, publishing news that is. The debate over the memoir. Fact or fiction? Or a little of both? Reading the discussions it appears to be pretty clear cut. You don’t make up what happened in the past. But is it really so crystal? Could it be my recollection of an event...the memory which languishers in my psyche...could it reveal itself differently than someone else perceives it? Apparently so.
How many talks with my sister about past remembrances of our childhood differ? Many. She’ll say, "I don’t remember that." Or "I don’t think that’s true." And I’ll be firm in the way it manifests itself to me. As will she. And then we move on, each still absolute in how we remember a time, a place, something funny or sad. It doesn’t change anything between us. If anything it puts a new spin on what we thought. Sometimes her version will mesh together with mine and now it’s slightly different than I had originally thought. Never, though, has either said, definitively, "it’s not true."
As individuals we can’t have the same experience and we can’t recall, whether in voice or word, our shared memories the very same way. Some appear as a collective thought as opposed to an actual minute by minute factual account. Others are vague in time and place, but brilliant in emotion. Are they to be called false? I don’t believe so...but there you have it. I look at something one way and others will have a different opinion on that question.
But let me make one thing clear. I own my recollections. They belong to me and no one else. If someone differs, than they may do so. But they are not allowed to take my views and destroy them, citing their memory doesn’t include what I have written. Don’t venture into my mind. It’s all I have.
Finding the time to write...to write well..to collect thoughts which can turn into the story...the story which needs to be told. Whether to devote the time to all that is new, of which there is so much right now. Writing so much during the day, it's difficult (oh, there, if it wasn't dificult, everyone would be doing it), to write in the evening. Get up eariler..possibly. Keep more to myself...another possiblity. Don't relish doing either, but the story...I love Thanksgiving time...Rory coming home...just the two of us finally having some time together...dinner at JoAnn's...the fireplace glowing...back to the story...I'll get back to it...it's my story
A new piece of work has begun. Through it I’m hoping, fingers crossed, I’ll get back to my other project, which is bogged down. So I’ve decided to approach it from a different direction, that of the truth. Memoir. How do I remember the past and what do those memories mean to the present and the future? And by writing my own experiences, will that allow me to go into an imaginary world, so the reader will read it as truth? Who knows? Why not? Can’t hurt. Could be fun.
I get to go back and revisit my friends...and when I first met them...how we met...why we became close. I get to write about Peg, who I miss, so this will be a way to see her again. Courtney, whose spirit helped me to adjust to living here. And Patti, charging through everything with kids and dogs always at her heels. Kathy, her heart so much bigger than she is, she doesn’t always know how to deal with it. And Rory, so sure of herself, so full of life, before the awful teenage years dragged us all down. Maybe she’ll read it when it’s done and laugh at the full circle she’s completed, now that she realizes we all suffered at that age. And Katelyn, Rachel, Quinn the great, Heather, sweet Holly and Kauri. Did I not mention any men? They weren’t a part of this. This story belongs to the women...our playgroup...my friends.....and to the food that brought us all together.
Flash back a few years to a humid summer evening somewhere in the middle of Ohio. Questioning my judgement in flying out to Dayton, certainly not a renowned resort for summer vacations, I walked, with slow step, towards a dining hall and the opening night banquet of the week long Antioch Writer’s Conference, in Yellow Springs. Trepidation slugged along beside me, as I opened the door, a plastic smile across my face. What could I have been thinking to come out here alone, putting my writing out for strangers to see? And for a week? Staying in the Days Inn, right off some highway, with only corn growing across the street to look out upon. But when that hardly-a-banquet was over, I’d met someone who would become a life long friend and a bond, I am so grateful for, began. It only got better as the days went on.
During the week I came to know, who I refer to, as my Ohio friends. Three, wonderful, unique, vastly different women. Writing introduced us, but it’s their warm, bright and caring personalities which has kept us together. Pam, Ann and Mary.
Pam, a writer for children is a woman at ease with the earth, a laugh always about to break out and twinkle in her eye. Ann, so smart, her humor quick and intellegent, her writing lofty and sweeping, and Mary, with an open and inviting smile, though lurking behind her eyes is the seriousness that posses great Irish writers. I love them all.
We have a little chat room, all our own, where we join up for a hour every few weeks. We start with talk of families and work and eventually end up speak about our writing. We read each other’s work and we’re honest in our critique. We encourage, offer suggestions, and in between make jokes, unique to us. When we sign off, we know we’ve just been someplace special, as only good girl friends can understand.
Dare to step out of the comfort zone.....fly off to Dayton, Ohio and spend a week in the little town of Yellow Springs. Take a chance and seek out others whose interests are yours, for they’re there for the very same reason. Look what happened to me. Here’s to the Ohio girls....
I’m reworking a piece of fiction I wrote quite a while ago. I keep asking myself, why would anyone want to read this, and I haven’t quite come up with answer yet. I better soon, for this "why" is affecting my commitment to this particular story.
Quite possibly it’s because I know the story well. I know these characters because they’ve been sitting beside me, begging me to tell what happened to them, for a few years now. Maybe, I’m tired of their predicament. I’ve heard it over and over again. I know what’s going to happen at the end, and I know how they'll arrive there. Get it over with, is what I think at times. Move on, it’s old news.
But if I don’t tell their story, will they forever hang out with me, nudging at me and kicking up sand as they shuffle around, their heads down, feeling abandoned? They’re getting to be a pain, though I really do like her. He’s not my favorite kind of man. Not courageous, but I can only hope he’ll turn out all right eventually. They sit on my bed at night, looking at me with eyes asking how much did I write about them today. I’ve got to figure out if anyone wants to know about these two or I’ll have to drive to the beach and bury them.
This is the summer of reading classic books. Some I haven’t picked up since college and others I’ve never read before. One, though, in particular, I read every few years, always finding a scene...a sentence...which I missed before. I stop and marvel at how these carefully chosen everyday words, convey character, and purpose. "Thus we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin...."
It’s getting late in the summer, but a glorious afternoon, and I’ve read today of careless people. And it’s made me think of all the careless people I’ve known. Unfortunately I’ve known quite a few. That’s not to be disparaging, for, of course, I’ve known the caring also. But those careless ones...how they’ve thrown so much away, attempting to gain so little. And at such a huge expense. They’re not the type to read this, but if they did I don’t know if they’d recognize themselves, for like the characters in this book, the careless move along in a small world, they’ve created with only enough room for themselves.
I'm thrilled, though, with this theme. Which is why I’ve chosen to read these books. I needed to be reminded the careless and the selfish aren’t the only ones in my life, the courageous and honorable are also by my side. As this summer hints of ending, these classic characters have once again, as they were meant to do, shown me the wide choices within our circumstances. And I’m bullied looking at the decisions I’ve made and am about to make. What to read next?
A friend sent me a website, this morning, with a story on the arrival of late summer and the heralding of fresh heirloom tomatoes. I seem to wait all year for those and she knows that.
But it was the sidebar on this site which caught my attention as it contained a link to Steepletop, the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, in Asusterlitz, New York. Down a narrow road, thick with trees, and then a quick turnoff and up a steep hill, the home site is now owned by the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, a non-profit educational corporation chartered by the Regents of the University of the State of New York. It’s not open to the public, though they are looking for ways to preserve it.
As a child my mother would take me up to Steepletop when we vacationed in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as it wasn’t far, and mother was enthralled with Millay’s work. I don’t remember anyone else being around as numerous times we walked the grounds, peering into the house, and touching the wood on the cabin where she wrote. I seem to remember her sister might have lived there, but we never saw her and I’m unclear about that. Memories aren’t always like cut crystal, sharp and clear, but appear soft without edges, allowing them to burrow into many different places of the mind.
And so Steepletop brings back varied emotions to me, reaching from my childhood to the present. My mother and her love of poetry and literature, myself as a small child, late summers in the Berkshires, and a St. Vincent Millay poem read, too recently, for a wonderful, vibrant friend, no longer here. I imagine as the day goes on these memories will stay with me, and possibly meander down roads I’m not aware of this minute.
Afternoon on a Hill
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.
And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!
I’m waiting for my daughter to arrive home. She’s driving up from DC, where she lives and works, along with her dog and cat. This makes me a bundle of nerves. It’s the Jersey Turnpike I can’t stand, with all those trucks, which upset the dog. He ends up sitting on the cat cage and my daughter worries the cat can’t breathe. This goes on for five or so hours. Compounding all this were the storms barreling through around noon.
These are my worst days as I wait for her to get here. I have a feeling it’s never going to get any easier. I could move down there, oh, wait, there’s a reason she wants to live down there and it’s because I’m up here. Of course, I brought her up to set her free, so I’ve gotten what I wished for.
Not unlike most mothers, I thought the early days of her life were the most difficult. Now I’d trade these times of struggling towards maturity for the nights, turning into early mornings, when we sat, just the two of us, while I rocked her back to sleep and the sun’s rays began to angle through the skylights.
She’ll be walking through the door any minute now. All long legged and antsy from the drive and I’ll be surprised, once again, as to how far we have come. My daughter and I.
I’m not much of a collector, in fact, I’ve greatly reduced the material items in my home. I thought they brought me much joy, but found I prefer now to be more selective with my surroundings.
But I do have a collection of photographs of New York City. Most are vintage...one, a long shot taken from Sixth Avenue (long before it became The Avenue of the Americas...and what New Yorker really calls it that anyway?) looking east down Forty-second street. Bryant Park is clearly on the right, its trees still saplings, hardly even visible against the towering back of the library. So new, it looks pristine and small... almost out of place in the city. Cars are parked on either side of the street, trolleys claim the center, and the Chanin Building reaches almost to the top of the photograph. The Chanin Building has a brief history in my family. Oh, dear, another story.
Another is of the Brooklyn Bridge, taken from the Brooklyn side, warehouses lined up in the forefront. Across the river the downtown skyline is sparse, except for the Woolworth Building, still, at the time of the photo, the tallest building, by far. My grandfather said he walked over the Brooklyn Bridge the day it opened. I say he did also. He would have been eleven.
Another must be around Times Square for there is five or so story tall movie marque for "Home of the Brave". I looked it up and found it was written by Arthur Laurents, who also wrote "West Side Story", and"Gypsy" and was blacklisted in the 1950's. I’m still learning from these photos. Circling around the top of the building is a lighted advertisement for Palisades Park...but that too, is for another entry.
These photos are all hung in my little office, with no windows, downstairs. I go in there to write, do paperwork and sometimes to think. I love it down here. My desk where I write, and another desk, which belonged to my mother, two chairs and now there’s no more room. I lean back, at times, studying these photographs over and over again. I never tire of them.
New York City is the place I feel most at home and so I’ve chosen to surround myself, in the place I’m most comfortable in this home, with these images. There are more and I’ll have to write one day about the Sinatra photo. It’s a beauty.