Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Eulogy and the Fly

The third anniversary of my mom’s passing is just a few days away on February 2nd.  I’ve written one (near) fiction piece about her since she passed.  A gentle alteration of events, a slow walk in my mind through strings of thought and a need to explore my feelings…

The Eulogy & the Fly
I’d sat on the cold, hard floor of my mother’s hospital room for the past five days writing her eulogy.  It was a good and appropriate un-comfortableness, I thought.
I wrote through the titles of her life:  daughter, wife, and mother.  It was long, as eulogies went, especially for what some would have deemed an unremarkable life. 
I can’t stop writing; trying again, and failing, to reconcile the mother I’ve known all my life with the mother I’ve always looked for.  Like a tricky shadow, she’s eluded me each time I thought I’d managed a glimpse of the other woman, something that would connect with the restlessness deep within me. 
Most viewed her as an open book.  Her love of life, music and family shone through her infectious smile and optimism. No moment was too simple in her eyes to make extraordinary. Storms became magnificent opportunities to wait from the front window - breakfasts were picnics in the park – days often ended with a bowl of cereal at bedtime at the kitchen table by candlelight.
As a master gardener everything she planted thrived.  So when she decided she was done and it was time to leave this world, there was no question in my mind she had the will to make it happen.  I knew she’d put to use the strong, passive aggressive approach she applied to every task.  There’d never been any such thing as a battle of wills with her. She always won.  Five short days ago she was home in her glider and today she lay in a morphine coma, her final task almost complete, completely orchestrated by her design. 
A fly landed on the edge of my laptop.  He inched across the screen, and I pictured the words through his eyes, a prism of a hundred angles playing off each other, affording him a glimpse to see between and beyond the words I’ve written.  Could he see the life I know nothing of – the secrets, the desires, the shame and joy she’d known?  Were there any of the doubts and fears that I dealt with everyday in my life there to connect us?    
As the days had passed and she’d become a shadow of her former self, I found myself already mourning the woman I didn’t know more than the one I did. There was nothing in my pages and pages of words that revealed her private self.  The one that haunted me that I’d always dreamed she’d someday share. 
I’d never told her I didn’t believe her life.  A life of complete happiness, of total contentment.  Sometimes when she couldn’t know, I’d stare hard at her, willing myself to see beneath the exterior she presented to the world.  But she remained buttoned up tight.  Inpenetrable. It was an exhausting process, to reject the person she was, but necessary.  How else was I to live with the failure of never achieving her kind of grace?
I reached out for the fly, tried to capture him, to claim what he saw.  Like her, he eluded me and flew away, taking her secrets and my last hope with him.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My Best Birthday Present Ever

It’s the shared birthday weekend in our house, and a yearly date with myself when my mind dances through the years.  Twenty three years ago, on January 20th, two days before my birthday, I got the best present ever. The cesarean, premature birth of our son Abram, three weeks before his due date of February 2nd. 
Without regaling the full story (cue clapping and cheering from the assembled peanut gallery) I will just share that we almost lost him.  A high risk, fertility drug pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and an OB GYN that was new and not comparing weekly sonogram tests results almost cost us the joy of this child. We’d come within a day or two of him being stillborn. 
Unthinkable.  I’ve come close to losing some of the most precious things in my life, and have even lost some a few of them as well, but none measures to the level of that. 
Twenty three years is a good measure of time that’s passed in the blink of an eye.  I think of myself those many years ago, as a new mother and I barely remember what I was like – or what it felt like to be me…until…I flash through the moments of Abe’s life - like snapshots in time that happened only a moment ago.  I remember the exact weight of him on my chest as he napped, the smell of his bubble bath as he built castles on the tub walls with foam blocks, the sound of his unrestrained laughter as he wrestled with Steve, the force of him as he ran towards me and jumped into my arms.  My senses come alive and I am that mother again, at 26, at 33, and 44.  Small and not so small moments, pivotal times in his life and mine, wound together in this birthday dance in my head.
Side by side, our first 23 years couldn’t be more different.  At 23, I’d never lived alone, was married for three years, would soon buy our home (where we still live today), had had two miscarriages and felt “settled” in my life.  Abe’s 23rd year finds him dating, exploring life and searching for the road that best suits him. With a few years of college under his belt, he carries a passion for and more awareness of (and activist activities in) individual rights and social injustices than I will ever have. He’s traveled to Europe for two weeks on a French Horn music tour and lives on his own.  (Not counting Epcot, his dad and I have been to Canada and about 20 miles inside the Mexico border J).
And that makes me smile.  His life shouldn’t mirror mine.  When he looks back, at whatever age he does, he’ll know he’s lived his life on his own terms.  Just like my life is on mine.  We share enough.  We share the foundation.  We share his childhood, his teenage years and the time he’s come into being an adult and the intelligent, giving and loving young man that he is.  We share the laughter, the long conversations (pick your place – the dinner table, the car, during a walk), the private family humor, the tears, the arguments, the loving (and painful) lessons learned, the secrets shared, and the respect we feel for one another.  Oh, and the hugs.  Abe’s hugs are unabashedly long and heartfelt and damn near one of the most precious things about him.  Never having experienced one of them?  Unthinkable.
If I were to indulge in just one birthday wish for myself of our shared birthday weekend, it would be to time travel back about twenty years, give or take a few days.  Bath time is done, pajamas are on, we have our snack and are curled up on the couch to read a bed time story (or maybe watch Nature’s Seasons in the Sea).   There’s no yesterday or tomorrow.  We are together and time stands still.

The Morgan Three today ~ lucky me!!!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

So Many Books – So Little Time.

I’ve started reading again. Voraciously.  To-do lists abandoned and hours lost to chapter after chapter – a few quick pages before work or while waiting for the pasta water to boil – waking in the middle of the night and not being able to resist picking up the story just to see where the next page leads.  Whether on the kindle Steve gave me or an actual book in my hands, I’ve reignited a passion that I had, sadly, over the years set aside.  Throughout my childhood and young adult years I was never without a book. I devoured them.  Not quite a speed reader, the pages still flew and I would often get to the end of a book, able to relay the plot, character development, setting, etc, but not able to recall the protagonists name if it wasn’t “integral” to the story.  The stories were what filled a void for me. 

And I wrote…but over the years as my reading waned, so did my writing.  Both were sporadic and when I picked up either passion, I noticed the resistance from lack of use. 
So I’ve started reading and writing again.  Finding a balance for the two is a work in progress.  Joyce Carol Oates, in The Faith of A Writer, shares advice for reading as a writer: “Read widely, read enthusiastically, be guided by instinct and not design. For if you read, you need not become a writer; but if you hope to become a writer, you must read.” 
I understand and agree with the sentiment and necessity for having both in your life. Not wanting to spend a few hundred bucks to get back in the reading swing, I turned to two free avenues for now.  When I got my kindle I downloaded mostly free classics I’d either not read or wanted to revisit.  I returned to a longtime staple, the public library and began to borrow books again (or to download them from their website).  Still, I felt a sense of distrust in myself and the choices I was making. Where to even begin to read good writing again to help me enhance my writing?  I didn’t feel a sense of trust in the New York Times Bestseller list.  I didn’t want to run down Oprah’s book club choices.  So I turned to the few blogs that I started to follow at the end of last year.  David Abrams, of The Quivering Pen, wrote two blogs, My Year of Reading: The Best Books of 2011 and My Year of Reading: Favorite Covers of 2011.  The second struck a chord with me as my library time often consisted of me standing, head tilted to one side, attempting to read titles, but most often picking a book off of the shelf because of the color of the spine, the font, or the wrap around bit of the cover that I could see.  Taking a leap of faith in Abrams and his choices, I have based my starting reading list from his two blog posts. 
For the kindle, I still go to Amazon to browse the free kindle section, but primarily download free books from Pixel of Ink.  Both Abramson’s list and Pixel have led me to a much wider variety of genres than I ever used to read. As I turn page after page and flow from one book to the next, what I find is that I’m feeling the flow of the writer better than I used to.  I’ve become more discerning of excellent writing over good (and bad) and have come to appreciate those small details (hah!) like a protagonists name or the name of a town can be integral to the plot, character development and setting.  I’m able to differentiate to a greater degree a depth to a plot, a writing style or theme – a true gift of an writer’s words to transport you to another place.
I’m grateful the fallow years of reading (and writing) nestled between my voracious years still managed to hone skills to recognize good writing and a desire to produce quality work of my own.  The trick now will be to not use my newfound reading passion as procrastination to my writing projects…let the balancing act begin!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fuel Your Passion – Even with a Migraine!

Write your heart out. Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for the subject”.
~ Joyce Carol Oates
A few months ago, on November 28th, I stood on the steps of the Montante Cultural Center with a pounding migraine as a cold rain fell.  All that could place me there would be the opportunity to listen to Joyce Carol Oates (and the gentle nudge of my husband, Steven, who always encourages me to follow my writing road). Part of the fall 2011 Contemporary Writers Series offered by Canisius College, the chance to spend an evening in the company of one of my favorite writers was too great to pass up.

At 7 pm she walked to the podium at center stage, set her papers in front of her and her purse to the side.  I was spellbound for the next two hours and she spoke with wit, charm, intelligence and yes, passion.       
She invited, and then carried me over the threshold into her writing life.  The stories ranged from growing up in Middleport, NY, to the time spent teaching creative writing to inmates at a maximum security prison near San Francisco.  She read some poetry and an excerpt or two from other pieces, and mused about the genesis of what she wrote, of what it meant to be, or to be viewed as, an artist.  She didn’t elaborate on “the process”, but more on what was behind what she wrote.  The passion she felt. 
I thought back to the first time I’d heard of Joyce Carol Oates.  The year was 1998 and I was taking an adult education creative writing course.  We named ourselves the Rough Writers.  Our instructor, Bill Joseph had a passion for writing that was infectious. He introduced me to great writers, incredible literature and techniques to emulate. He encouraged me to follow the areas of my writing that I felt passionate about (the writing I mostly kept hidden).   
After a short story I shared with the group (my first foray into sharing a darker literary piece) he took me aside and told me my writing style reminded him of Joyce Carol Oates. I’d never heard her name before, but went home and researched her.  Now I’m no Joyce Carol Oates – nor do I ever expect to be – however to have someone who’s opinion I so highly respected say my style reminded him of hers, well I was humbled, and inexplicably I have felt this connection to her writing ever since. 
When she finished speaking, I immediately went to the small reception room outside the hall and bought a copy of The Faith of a Writer and The Falls, a novel of the beauty and mesmerizing pull of Niagara Falls, just a short and drawing 8.5 miles from me.       
The autograph line moved quickly.  I rested my pounding head against the cool wall as we moved forward.  What would I say?  My head was too full of her and the steady pounding of my migraine to plan anything out.  All too quickly it was my turn and I handed her my books.  I thanked her for her work, for The Falls.  I may have uttered something about her influence on “my writing”.  She smiled, asked my name and signed my books, including my name with her signature when she signed The Falls.   
I took a lot of notes throughout the two hours; little snippets on what she read, anecdotes to a time in her life or an insight to a poem.  Maddeningly I can’t find them now.  I believe they are in the house somewhere – waiting for me to unearth them at a time that I need my own personal session with JCO.  Just her, me, the writing, and a nudge to follow my passion.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What I Did (and didn’t) Do Over Christmas Break…

I finished 2011 with a yawn. You could almost view it as a bon-bon on the couch type of finish. I didn’t intend it to be that way, but nonetheless, that’s how it ended and I’ve decided that’s all right. 

The university was closed from December 22nd until Jan 3rd, which gave me 12 days of home time to work through THE LIST.  Those who know me know how much I love my “to do” lists.  This one was massive.  A couple of random items were:

·         Clean out closets
·         Finish an abandoned picture album project
·         Major basement organization sweep
·         Start a blog
·         Pull out writing projects from over the years and review them
·         Rearrange kitchen cupboards
·         Stock freezer with soups, lasagna, dinners, etc.

Well, you get the idea.  The actual list probably totaled about twenty items.  What it didn’t include were everyday tasks of meals, cleaning, shopping, etc and of course totally discounted the two holidays that fell within those 12 days. 

It was a list to be reckoned with.  Of course I didn’t plan on the epic "Amy End of Year Stall of 2011.” What happened? 

I read.  A lot.  I curled up with the lap throw Steve got me for Christmas last year from Pottery Barn that’s like covering myself in warm butter.  I sometimes read two books a day on my Kindle.  A couple nights I stayed up until 2 or 4 am to finish a story.   

A few days Steven ran errands and I went with him.  Sometimes we’d be gone the whole day – sometimes a couple hours.  The first day it happened I thought about THE LIST and what I wasn’t getting done.  Then I let it go and enjoyed my time with him.  A lot.

The 2nd anniversary of my dad’s passing was on Dec 26th.  I thought of him.  A lot.  I’d brew a pot of Constant Comment tea with my German Cane Rock sugar from Abram and think about my mom and dad – both of them having passed in 2009.  I thought about their life together, the people they were outside being my parents, my life with them and my life without them. Those were some emotional hours.

I spent time on the computer.  Yes - a lot of time.  I started with my favorite author’s websites and their blogs and happily clicked away for hours on their links.  It took me to a few pearls that I plan to follow regularly.  That was on THE LIST – an accomplishment!

Sleeping in isn’t something I’m often found doing, but there were days my feet didn’t hit the floor until after 9:30!  Those late nights reading and emotional days took a bit of a toll, but were well worth it.  They gave me days that I allowed myself to just continue in slow fashion.  It was odd to not rush to catch up on my time lost in sleep.  On top of that, I took a few naps with Steven.  Quite a few of them.  Now I understand the value those little siestas can bring.

Hit another accomplishment on THE LIST with my blog.  Time spent on that?  A lot.  And I couldn’t be happier about it.  Technically, it didn’t start until the 2012, with my first post on January 1st, but the prep time was all 2011. 

So what got done in my 12 days of Christmas break?  In between the hours I’ve already described, I got a few list items done, managed my day to day activities, had good friends over for dinner, and was lucky to have two relaxing holidays with my family. 

Doesn’t sound like a yawn, but it was for me.  My 2011 wrap up was a good thing.  I stopped.  I spent time with and thought of the people I love.  I rested and laughed and cried and ate and drank….all the while recharging myself to start 2012 in a good place.  Right here, in my own little corner.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Let the Adventure Begin!

I’m not known by friends and family for being a very adventurous person.  So to start off 2012 with a blog and an invitation to share “My Writing Corner” is a bit like making a decision to do more outside and picking skydiving for my first activity. 
I’ve talked about and dabbled at writing for as long as I can remember and began to put pen to paper somewhere around the age of ten (oh, to have those long gone now pieces of paper back in my hands….).  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few pieces published; however, I still don’t refer to myself as a “writer” (although I like to roll the title around in my head and imagine the possibilities.)
Somewhere around the time I was about six years old, my sisters and I performed Cinderella for my parents.  I got the coveted role of Cinderella and all I recall about our performance was when I would sit in my wooden rocker in front of the fireplace and sing:
“In my own little corner in my own little chair
I can be whatever I want to be.
On the wings of my fancy I can fly anywhere
and the world will open its arms to me".
Years later, that little corner I sang about developed into my writing corner in my mind.  It’s filled with characters and bits of story lines – snippets of poems – conversations – celebrations – tragedies and my personal viewpoint on everyday life.  In my writing corner, I am what I want to be.  A writer.  But what I write generally stays there and I haven’t yet truly ventured out into the world on the wings of my words.  I have no expectation that I am the next Joyce Carol Oates.  But there is the need, somewhere probably in that little girl inside me, that I’ve ignored most of my life, to write and to share what I do.  To have someone read a piece or what I write and be touched.    
So here I am, ready to take the plunge and open myself up to sharing my writing.  In doing so, I look to hone my skills as a writer, dedicate myself to the craft of writing more and see where this adventure takes me.  I’ve spent a couple months preparing – reading a lot more, following more closely my favorite authors websites, introducing myself and sifting through the enormous amount of blogs that deal with writing and sharing.  I’ve sifted through some of my pieces, started organizing thoughts for current and future pieces and even (finally) getting my own website up and running. 
I don’t expect it to be easy and already know that it won’t always be particularly enjoyable or comfortable for me.  It’s taken me quite some time to reconcile that fact that even though I want to write, I’m scared to share what I do.  There’s a mountain of self-doubt, and concern that what I sometimes come up with in “my writing corner” is a little on the dark side or that even the lighter “slice-of-life” observations are not so unusual.
I invite you to share the journey.  The beauty of writing is that you can take on any subject and I expect this blog to do just that, but center mostly around my writing and the craft of writing.  As I begin, I think of two of the most influential people in my life, my mom and my husband, Steven.  Steven has been the most ardent supporter of my writing and one of his favorite mantras comes from Yoda:  “Do or do not.  There is no try”.  Many years ago, mom gave me a plaque by Henry Van Dyke that reads:  “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”   
Well, hello 2012 and continuing to write.  Thanks mom and Steve. Let the adventure begin!