Posts tagged ‘writing’
July 24, 2014
If you’re just starting this reading adventure, start with part one. Here’s part two:
My father, Glenn, left us when I was seven and Scout was just two. I don’t remember seeing him much, because he worked nights fixing cars over in Montgomery. I remember sometimes he used to come and sit at the edge of my bed when he came home from work. I always woke up because even in my sleep I could smell the mix of gasoline and metal on his jacket. I’d open my eyes, and he’d be sitting there in the dark patting my back or playing with my hair. For years when I was little I thought Glenn was just a dream, not even real.
“Hey,” I’d say.
“Hey yourself,” he’d whisper.
“Lemme see your hands,” I always demanded.
He’d give me one of his enormous hands, and I’d sit up and look at it. It was always rough and scratchy and even in the dark I could make out the oil and dirt under his short nails. I’d run my hands over the lines of his palm and try to memorize them while he pulled a Camel from his shirt and lit up with the other hand.
“That dirt won’t ever come off all the way, will it?” I asked every night.
“Nope,” he said easily. “It’s here to stay. Now, roll over, rugrat, and get you some more sleep.”
I’d let go of his hand, and he’d pat my back until I fell back asleep.
The only time I remember seeing him in the daytime was when Scout tripped and her head on the corner of the coffee table and cracked her head open. I remember Mom being so calm as she scooped Scout up off the floor screaming and gushing blood from her forehead. I thought Scout was dying, and I started bawling.
“Sara,” Mom said firmly. “She’s gonna be fine. Now run and call Glenn and tell him to meet us at the emergency room.”
When Glenn got to the emergency room, I was sitting in a beige plastic chair swinging my feet and biting my fingernails. Mom was behind a yellow curtain with Scout and the doctor. They were giving Scout 10 stitches, and she howled and sobbed like they were killing her. Glenn walked up to where I was sitting and I looked up, surprised to see him suddenly there. His curly brown hair was wild and windblown, and the skin above his green eyes was pinched and tense. He looked scared and pale.
“Where’s the baby?”
“Behind the curtain with Mom. They’re giving her stitches. That’s her crying,” I said, my voice breaking.
He sat down next to me and pulled me onto his lap. I leaned against him, exhausted, and started tracing the red cursive letters on his jacket. G, L, E, N, N, over and over.
“You girls…” he said softly into my hair. “Sometimes I can’t hardly take it.”
July 18, 2014
I recently came upon a short story I wrote during my senior year of college. I can’t share this story without thanking my professor, Dr. Bob Ready. His early encouragement, suggestions, and thoughtful questions helped me craft a story that I think still works. Maybe you can let me know if it does. I’m going to share it in bits, so, here’s part one:
Mom always says that men are pretty dumb and that neither me or Scout, my little sister, should ever expect anything from them other than “heartache and headaches.” It’s funny she always that to us and then goes off every Friday night with some greasy loser from town with a limp handshake and a plastic grin.
The last guy she brought home, Earl, was just pitiful. Black hair slicked back, and the dumbest gold ring on his pinky he kept pointing at us whenever he said anything. He thought he was so cool when he lit up his Marlboro until I pointed out to him that he had lit the wrong end. Mom had shot me a look and laughed her fake laugh to Earl, and me and Scout almost threw up right there. I hate it when she laughs like that; it sounds like a sick hyena or that dumb Marjorie James from class who’s always sucking up to the boys. I managed to give Earl the finger while Mom was putting on her lipstick which Scout thought was the funniest thing ever. Stupid old Earl just grinned and nodded. After he figured out which way to light his cigarette, Mom all but pushed him out the door. She knew we hated him; we hated all of them. Mom stuck her head back in the kitchen and shook it at us.
“Honestly, girls, he’s an O.K. guy. Give me a little credit, huh?”
Scout stuck out her tongue and began to pout.
“He’s too greasy,” I said. “And that ring is the silliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s a crucifix ring,” Mom said. “He’s Catholic,” she whispered, like it was some secret. “I’m leaving,” she said suddenly. “Bed at 9:30. No fighting. No horror movies. Who loves you?”
I rolled my eyes. Scout stopped pouting long enough to shout, “You do!”
The screen door slammed as she disappeared into the dark. We could hear Hank Williams, Jr. hollering out of Earl’s Duster as they backed down the gravel driveway. Mom says Patsy Cline is the only country music worth listening to. Hank Williams. Barf.
January 28, 2014
Aaron Draplin is an incredibly talented and prolific graphic designer, and I’m a huge fan. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak a few years back. Even got to shake his hand (solid, warm grip), get a signed South Cackalackee Draplin poster, and grab a photo with him. He was as great in person as I had imagined him to be. Who lives up to that? Awesome.
I follow Aaron’s blog and work, and like all of his friends and fans, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of his Dad’s sudden passing last October.
If you’ve been on this site before, you know I did a lot of writing about my Dad after he died in 2009. I did a lot of reading, too. All, I suppose, in an attempt to make sense of his death, his life, my feelings, and who in the world I was supposed to be without him. And, I suppose, to keep him “alive” even after he was gone.
Aaron wrote about his Dad, too. His 30 Day Sad For Dad series is full of heartbreaking, funny, warm, and honest moments of grief and memory. And I couldn’t be more grateful that he wrote his way through them. Some men speak kindly about their Fathers. Some men revere them.
Meet Aaron’s Dad:
And meet my Dad, if you haven’t already.
It’s strange. When Dad died, I learned that the fathers of two friends from high school had died around the same time. In those early days when my grief was at its most raw, I thought of my friends and imagined what they were going through. Sometimes they commented on posts I wrote about Dad, and I think somehow it all helped us feel a little less alone.
Reading Aaron’s posts about his Dad made me remember those feelings, even now, 4 1/2 years later, and again, I feel less alone.
Thanks to Aaron for writing down the things we’re often afraid to even say. And, for sharing his Dad with us. I wish I could’ve met him. And I wish he’d met mine.
March 7, 2012
I found this poem while going through some old folders. It started with Emily Dickson and ended with me.
“adored with caution, as a brittle heaven” is no way to approach love.
she sees more than I
knits sweaters I wear
comfort against the bone chill of my fears
and insistent spirits
is it because I feel called to make sense of my past
that I often forget my now
wring my hands
point to the door though no one asked to leave
so easily torn in two
my own skills the finest
me the undoer
me the albatross
that’s where my head goes
until I pull back
past my past
to long days spent climbing trees
splashing through creeks
though shyly so
when I was older
Annie Dillard recommended
spending the day
as it can’t be taken with
no brittle heaven
no such thing
just open acres
rooms without doors
and a woman with better vision
February 6, 2012
First of all, applause for my fellow blog goddesses, writers, and friends Amanda, Ami, and Monica who aren’t just staying true to this post-a-day challenge, but who are also cranking out some beautiful, poignant, and hilarious tales.
Special thanks to Monica for her amazing post on overcommitment.
And for calling us all bitches in the sweetest way possible.
There is almost always something else you can do rather than write.
Let me get specific as I am one who makes her living from writing for others.
There is almost always something else you can do rather than write for yourself. Laundry. Masonry. Animal husbandry. The list goes on.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr. (author of Life’s Little Instruction Book, remember that?) wrote,
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
Ouch, H. Jackson. Take it easy. It’s Monday.
But I ask you.
Did Michaelangelo have to sift through 50+ emails about timeshare opportunities, male enhancement, and casual sex in my area inquiries each morning? (Oh really, it’s just me?)
Did Mother Teresa worry about being mowed down on the streets of Charleston by a college coed in an SUV who’s applying mascara while texting her BFF about some OMG LOL moment while drinking a Red Bull? Nay, I say.
Did Leonardo da Vinci ever even hear of a Kardashian? Methinks not.
This modern age is hard on the gentle soul of a writer. But the glimmer of hope is this: the angsty, I-have-no-fargin’-time-for-this slowly melts away as you write. The beginning is still uncomfortable, in a middle school first dance kind of way. But it’s well worth pushing through, because on the other side of the angst are the words, arranged by you and you alone. And as you read it, you discover that you’ve shared something, and it’s often not the thing you expected to share at all.
That’s the gift. That’s why we write. For that. And for our bitches.
December 5, 2011
I recently read Joan Didion’s new book, Blue Nights, a memoir about the death of her daughter Quintana, who died at age 39 of pneumonia and septic shock.
This is a heartbreakingly beautiful book full of grief; vivid, happy memories – and a long list of questions about what it means to be a mother, a writer, an aging woman, and the surviving member of your own family.
For a few weeks after I read Blue Nights, I found myself thinking nonstop about how old, or rather young, Quintana was when she died, mostly, I’m sure, because I am the same age. I thought of my mother and where she was at 39. It was 1976 – she was married, had three children: ages 16, 9, and 4 (me), and was making beds and dinners and building people. I cannot fathom what my life would have been like had we lost my Mom when was 39, any more than I can imagine what my Mom would do if she lost me right now.
The truth is, none of us can fathom loss, expected or sudden, until we are in the midst of it – and even then it carries a surreal quality that, at times, feels so foreign we catch ourselves watching ourselves from the outside in.
Which makes me think of what Mona Simpson, Steve Jobs’s sister, said in his eulogy: “We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.”
Even when we “have time.” Even when we “say what we need to say.” There is always the thought. It wasn’t enough time. I need more.
During an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Didion shared a conversation she and Quintana had near the end of her life about what kind of mother Didion was. “Quintana, to my surprise, said, ‘You were okay, but you were a little remote,'” said Didion. “That was a very frank thing for her to say, and I recognized myself in it.”
What are our parents to us and we to them? A collection of tics, idiosyncrasies, stories, secrets, assumptions and hyberbole? Do we ever truly know one another, or are we bound by our own definitions of parent and child?
A friend whose father has terminal cancer told me recently that her father is cleaning out dresser drawers and organizing things. “It’s almost as if he were a pregnant woman nesting,” she said. I was so struck by that – the notion that what we do to prepare for a new life could so mimic what we do to prepare for the end of life.
As our conversation continued, I spoke about my Dad, who died nearly two and a half years ago. I heard myself say, “I’ve adjusted to his death, but I don’t think I’ve accepted it.” I could not have surprised myself more.
My Dad lived a full life, 80 years, and by his last days, he was not living the way he nor anyone who loved him would have wished for him. And yet. But still. Grief is muted and morphed by time. And I still long for the sound of his laugh, his eyebrow raised in jest, his warm hand on the top of my head when I was young. As Didion writes, “Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.”
So she writes. And remembers.
As I do. As I will.
June 23, 2011
Last Saturday, we lost Clarence Clemons, the dynamic saxophonist and partner in musical crime for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, far too soon.
If you haven’t yet done it, read the beautiful tribute, Bloodbrother: Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011, David Remnick wrote for The New Yorker.
“His horn gave the band its sound of highway loneliness, its magnificent heart. And his huge presence on stage was an anchor for Springsteen, especially when Bruce was younger, scrawny, and so feral, so unleashed, that you thought that he could fall down dead in a pool of sweat at any moment. At the brink of exhaustion and collapse, Springsteen could always lean on his enormous and reliable friend—an emblematic image that is the cover of “Born to Run.”
As a New Jersey native, I came to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band early in life. It’s no exaggeration to say that my early definitions and vision of what it meant to be in love, to struggle, to long, to want the hell out of my hometown, were formed listening to those haunting, heroic albums – devouring lyrics and singing to the breaking point of my voice, eyes closed, arms outstretched.
That Clarence Clemons could, through his saxophone, breathe longing, loss and triumph into a song, into people’s consciousness and souls, was his gift – and one that thankfully lives on.
To me, there was always something so heartbreakingly beautiful about the bond between “The Boss” and “The Big Man.” That their relationship broke racial barriers is an incidental, albeit important, social statement. That their musical and physical chemistry was the stuff of other legendary partnerships – Jagger/Richards, Plant/Page, Lennon/McCartney, Simon/Garfunkel – minus the breakdowns and breakups, attests to their mutual respect that withstands life and death.
It is that elusive, intangible connection between these two men that fascinates and moves me. Their “brotherhood,” a term so cliché and overwrought with emotion, it has nearly ceased having meaning. But you need only watch them together onstage – Springsteen leaning into Clemons as the sounds of his saxophone fill a stadium – Clemons with arms raised beside Bruce as he sings his disciples into ecstatic epiphany – to understand what beauty do love and friendship and music make among men.
June 15, 2011
April 6, 2011
I’ve written a number of posts about my Father. His life and death have served as my lens since that day in July, 2009. I talk and write about my Dad because it helps, because honestly I think I might go crazy if I didn’t. It’s also a way to keep him part of my life.
I worry sometimes about talking about him “too much.” Worry that friends and family will grow weary of me and my occasional tears. The other part of me thinks, why do we ever stop talking about those we’ve lost?
I’ve negotiated and endured grief the past year and eight months since he died. I’ve read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and you should too, by the way. I’ve had long conversations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances about people they’ve lost. I’ve even asked friends to write about their grief. Maybe there’s a book in here somewhere for all of us.
I’m always fascinated with each person’s grief, as unique as their fingerprint and just as beautifully complicated.
Here again, is some of mine, from a journal I keep. Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts.
March 22, 2011
Grief is not orderly – it follows a path only it knows. Talking to a friend the other day about her Dad’s dementia, I told her about the day we left Dad at Birchhaven. I use the word “left,” because that’s what it felt like to me. I felt as if we abandoned him. I felt as if we did what he said as my Dad he would never do – leave. I wish I could forget the way he hung his head when Steve so calmly explained things. I wish he hadn’t seemed so lucid that day – that it didn’t seem like the world’s biggest mistake to leave him in someone else’s care. There’s nothing natural about leaving your Father behind like that. It was the worst day of my life. Worse than laying my head on his still-warm chest after he died. Worse than imagining him in the frozen ground. Worse because I feel like we broke him. Worse because we have to find a better way to care for each other than this.
March 29, 2011
Dad’s birthday. He would have been 82 today. A terrible night’s sleep. Up at 5 am and cried over coffee. Huge spider in the bathroom that I caught with a glass and plate and put outside. I sang my heart out to Adele on the way to work. Korean for lunch with the boys. Ate bee bim bop – rice, five kinds of veggies, spicy pork. Delicious. Tried a taste of red bean ice cream. Lovely with a slight chocolate flavor. Will tells hilarious (though alarmingly awful) story of a centipede he encountered while living in Hawaii. They are large and move as if on ball bearings. Listened to Purple Rain on the drive home. Called my brother to talk about Dad and asked him for a story.
When Steve was 13, we spent a few weeks on North Lake. One day, Steve, Dad and Grandpa Ray took out the neighbor’s aluminum fishing boat. Three quiet men; lines in the water. Grandpa Ray suddenly passes gas, and the sound reverberates so much in the aluminum boat that Dad looks up and says, “Did you say something, Ray?” Without missing a beat, Grandpa says, “I said, ppfffffftttt!” mimicking the sound of his own gas. Steve cracks up with laughter and our Puritan father who never felt comfortable acknowledging bodily functions, blushes red with embarrassment.
Later, I kill an enormous bug, obliterating it to pieces. Which reminds me of how I relied on Dad, because he was the killer of bugs. The righter of wrongs. That evening, friends send me text messages telling me they just toasted Dad with a bit of whiskey. Little by little, I find ways to celebrate him.
April 6, 2011
Yesterday, I spoke with two friends at work about the moment he died. I talked about how surprised I was at how quickly after he died that he no longer “looked” like himself, how it has assured me all the more that our bodies are vessels for the energy, spirit or soul within.
I say that, though it’s nearly impossible to parse, because it’s their flesh and blood, hair, skin, laughter, smell that we miss. In the thick of life, body and soul are hopelessly, undeniably tangled. We forget where one begins and the other ends.
As I finished the story, one of my friends began to cry – and immediately began apologizing. Then, I apologized for upsetting her. And we all struggled for a moment: she embarrassed; me apologetic; the other friend nervous. It’s easy to forget how very close to the surface we carry our pain and losses. They exist like a first sub-layer of skin, so incredibly resilient you ignore them almost entirely. And then, like finding a massive, deep bruise on your skin that you have no recall of how you obtained, there too is that flash of pain, the sub-layer penetrated, bleeding now, tear ducts springing into action, your body reacting in turn.
March 8, 2011
While drying between my toes after a bath the other night, I remembered how the four-year-old me used to stand on the closed toilet lid and hang onto the towel bar as you dried me off after my bath. “Left leg,” you’d say and I’d hold it out for you to dry. Each limb in turn.
You dried toes vigorously, and it’s that moment that strikes me. The thought of my own small toes in your large, towel-covered hand, how you meticulously dried each one, your brow slightly furrowed in concentration, how I could still feel the strength of your hand.
And I, standing tall on the toilet seat, obediently following your instructions, waiting for you to look up, pleased with yourself and me.