Saturday, October 29, 2011

Steamless

That is the only word I can think of to adequately describe my state of being at the moment. And so I've not been blogging, but I have to say that it's nice to know some people have noticed—and mentioned their having noticed.
I'll be back to this, soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Eggs, Sunny Side Up

September 28 is my father's birthday. It's been a very long time since I got to wish him a Happy Birthday and, though I always made sure to call him to do just that when he was alive, the fact is there were sometimes long stretches of silence between us. The fact is, also, that I loved him the best I could and he loved me the best he could, too.

I miss him, even though I can easily conjure up his voice and what he would likely say about most things. I miss the smell of him—bay rum, gin and tobacco.  I miss him so deeply my body vibrates from the pain of it, even though it has been almost 20 years since he died.

Here's a memory from the night JFK was assassinated, a major event for the country and for my family, though we didn't know it at the time: 
 
My dad made eggs and bacon for dinner that night, serving it up to Bobby, John and me in the kitchen. When my father fried an egg, the edges came out frilly and crisp, brown lace trimming the ivory whites; I poked at the yoke with the tines of my fork and spread the yellow-orange over the whites and onto the plate where it would mingle with the droplets of bacon fat, so I could sop it up with the crusts of buttered toast. I loved the way all the flavors came together in the final bites, and I adored the way the sweet taste of the orange juice he squeezed from real oranges settled on the salty slick in my mouth before washing it away completely. 


I really miss eggs like that. No matter how hard I try, they never turn out quite the same. 



Saturday, September 17, 2011

What I Know About Love

I was honored to be asked to contribute to the wedding celebration of my dear friends Laura Fedele and Rita Houston. This is what I read:



For Laura and Rita
On The Occasion of Their Wedding (9/10/11)

We gathered on the granite steps of Greenwich Town Hall in the January cold, an insistent wind pummeling out of a crystal blue sky, snow squeaking underfoot. It was the kind of day when all the body wants, all the soul wants, is shelter. We gathered together in the full sight of the Universe, we gathered together with flowers and handmade signs and so much joy in our hearts. Sweet tears froze on our faces as we witnessed your bodies, your souls, legally bound in the shelter of marriage.

Now we gather again and again we are in the full sight of the Universe and again there are flowers and handmade signs and so much joy in our hearts. Again sweet tears flow freely as we witness your bodies, your souls, bound together again in this celebration of your love. 

Here is what I know about Love—it is everything. It is, in fact, the only thing, the shelter that our most essential selves require, the shelter built of cumulative moments of Yes. Love says, “Yes, I see you. Yes, I know you. Yes, I will show you who I am so you can see and know me. Yes, I choose you. Yes, I trust you with my heart. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

You are, each in your own specific, individual, magical ways, two of the strongest and most generous women I know and it is a wondrous, wonderful thing that you found one another. It is a wondrous, wonderful thing that you have chosen each moment of Yes from the first to this and beyond.

I rejoice, we all rejoice, that you two—who we all love so much—love one another so much.

You dwell together in the house where Love lives, the home you have built together, the home you fill with great music, great food, great wine, the home you share so generously with the rest of us, your family and friends, the community you have created. And the house where Love lives is the shelter of you, Laura, and you, Rita, and the new creature that is called “Houdele,” the magical co-creation made manifest through the specific alchemy of your shared love and your marriage.

Here is what I know about marriage—a true marriage is the shelter Love builds, a shelter made to hold two bodies, two souls, two minds, while also making space for the infinite distance that exists between even the two closest people. A true marriage requires strength, generosity, magic and a community that believes in and supports that marriage. A true marriage is made up of countless moments of Yes.

I know I speak for all of us when I say, “Yes, we see you. Yes, we know you. Yes, we believe in you. Yes, we support you. Yes, we love you. Yes. Yes. Yes.”


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Simple Magic

I took care of my grandson for most of today. This was our first time spending an extended period of time together and though I was a little nervous about diapers (I haven't changed a diaper in nearly two decades and I've never dealt with a boy and all that entails) I think we did just fine with that. Bottles happened, burping happened, sleeping happened. I drove him in the car for the first time, a friend came by for lunch, the dogs and cats played their usual territorial games, and everyone survived.

At one point he was in his seat and began to stir in what seemed a meaningful way. I peered down at him, asked him how he was doing. He smiled at me—a purposeful smile, a smile of recognition, a smile that, for the first time, reached his eyes. And I fell even more deeply in love with him.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Reason Some Things Are Funny

My friend Jane Brda just wished me a happy Rachel Ray birthday. This is funny because of this.

(Yes, that's a link to my book, "Every Freaking! Day with Rachell Ray: An Unauthorized Parody." )

Another thing that is funny (albeit in the "isn't that odd" and "well, one just has to laugh because otherwise one would cry" senses of the word) is that Rachael Ray, for all her mediocrity, is so very popular—-and powerful, perhaps--that some publications wouldn't review or even mention this parody of her for fear that they would lose advertising money or something. Therefore, Rachael Ray is a huge success and I am not. Funny, right?




Sunday, August 21, 2011

Overwhelmed

My office is a mess. This is, partly, because I walk in here, sit down at the computer and begin to work on whichever project is on deck. This is, partly, because there are so many projects rotating to the top of the pile:

  • Memoir revision (and coming up with a workable—according to my agent—subtitle)
  • The novel I've decided to revise as a sort of break from the unrelenting me-ness of the memoir and as a way to explore specific issues of craft
  • A ghostwriting project that I'm enjoying working on
  • Syllabi and lesson plans and reading so I can come up with lesson plans that make some sort of sense to me and, more important, my students
  • Freelance projects
Yes, it's too much. But what do I not do? Clearly the novel is the thing that could be set aside. I don't want to, though, for so many reasons—it's fun and it is, I think, teaching me much about writing that can be applied in other areas. Plus, the novel and the memoir make me feel like a writer.

I guess the thing to do is to clean the office. The whole thing makes me cranky.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

No Ketchup

One waits, the waiting accompanied by a pulsing of anticipation/excitement/worry.

Seven months ago I waited for this to be done:


Once the snow melted, I began to wait for these:


Today I waited for my grandson to be born.

This was different than when my granddaughter was born. Sixteen years have passed and life has changed, of course. On that day I was an active participant in the birth and while the pulsing was certainly there, my attention was on my daughter, my focus was keenly on her and the incredible ordinary magic of the process.

Today I waited. I sat on the couch in my living room working while the dog and cats slept nearby, the historic heat pressed its estimable weight on the world and, a few short miles away, my daughter once again labored through the incredible ordinary magic of giving birth. The pulsing this time was nearly deafening, pulling my mind and heart away from the work at hand. When the pulsing overwhelmed, I called friends and talked until it was just a hum in the background.

In the evening family assembled—my daughter's sister and aunt, my husband, Florida Freddy. We ate pizza, we laughed, we talked. We waited together. Then a point came when I knew I had to go to the hospital—worry had overwhelmed all the other elements of waiting. I drove the few miles, walked in to the labor/delivery room, checked out what was going on and, after a little while, came home again.

Two hours later my phone buzzed. "Baby's here. Shannon says Wendy's, please."

We all piled into one car and headed for the drive through. I spoke into the intercom, gave the order. "A #1 with cheese and no onions."

"No ketchup?"

"No. No onions."

Shannon's aunt said, "Where did she get 'no ketchup?'" 

We all laughed, releasing the swirl of anticipation and excitement (no more worry). We laughed again when the two giant cups of soda were passed out of the drive through window. We laughed again when we saw the sign proclaiming that ketchup and salt were available by request. We even laughed when we got stuck behind a man on a motorcycle following the white line on the right side of the road at 10 mph in a 35 zone—though our laughter was once again tinged with worry.

In the vestibule we had to wait to be allowed in—a group of five giddy adults carrying tubs of soda and a paper sack redolent of grease and salt, surrounded by a pulsing halo of excitement and anticipation that was surely visible.

Down the hall, the nurses calling congratulations from their station and then the waiting was over and there was this:


Look at those eyes. Look at the old soul peering out from inside.


When I held him for the first time, I felt a pulsing made of wonder and gratitude and the incredible ordinary magic of love.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Elizabeth Who?

I may have killed my blog.

To be more precise, my life may have killed my blog. Perhaps it was that I have been doing other things (like writing) in the time I would have spent blogging.


(Yes, a lot of the time this is how I write.)


Or maybe it was summer that did it.



Whatever the cause, my blog has lain fallow, untouched by me since my birthday which was over a month ago.

I promise to be more diligent. After all, where else can I indulge myself in the way I do here?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Again, Around The Sun

Yesterday was my birthday.
It was a delightful day: my husband and I went to the NY Botanical Gardens to experience the special exhibit about the gardens of Alhambra, to look at the peonies (my favorite flower), to walk through the rose garden; then an early dinner (or was it a late lunch?) at the Tarry Lodge with good wine (very good wine—thank you, Joe Bastianich, for that wine list) and good food (very good food—thank you, Mario Batali, for that menu).

This was a departure from my usual mode of celebration, which involves inviting people over and me cooking (which I love) amid the hubbub of talk and laughter and the kids braving the not-yet-warm pool. One of the by-products of having a birthday that usually happens on the "unofficial start of summer" holiday weekend is the tradition of a cookout, after all. And I love that, usually.
But this year I needed some time to walk among the flowers and trees and shrubbery with my best friend, needed to reconnect in a new spot (we'd never visited together—which is unbelievable), needed to smell the perfume of a garden I do not tend. I needed, frankly, to be tended to myself. Because I made the space for that, it happened.
My daughter and both of my brothers called with birthday wishes before we set out for the day—as did my friend, Miguel, with whom I share this birthday. I was, frankly, stunned by the number of birthday wishes I got on Facebook; an embarrassment of riches, that.




The weather was glorious. The peonies are beginning the end of their glorious blossoming (a surprise, each time, that just a few degrees to the south makes that much difference—mine have just begun!) yet they were still showing off, as peonies do and which is why I love them so. The roses were, as they always are, an inspiration. And as we rode on the tram through the shade of the forest (a forest in the middle of the Bronx—it still blows my mind!) with a good breeze blowing, I thought, "Oh, yes, it's my birthday. Happy Birthday to me."






This is a Peace and Love rose.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Graduation (Redux)

I walked in the "big" ceremony for Fairfield University's graduate programs today, celebrating—once again—the completion of the MFA program. There were six of us from the first cohort representing and it reminded me of the very first residency, when the original 27 gathered together at Enders Island.

We wanted to be writers.

Over the next two years, we read about writing, we talked about writing, we argued (sometimes quite heatedly) about writing. We wrote. Some of us wrote poetry, some wrote short stories, novels, memoirs, essays. We all wrote craft essays. Most of us wrote monthly missives to our devoted mentors. I think all of us, at some point, wrote a few emails to one another in which we wondered why we were writing at all.

We gathered together for 10-day residencies on that magical island (and it is magical). We ate three meals a day together. We negotiated those showers (oh, those showers!). We "workshopped" the poems and short stories and novels and essays and memoirs. We partied. We listened to our peers and our faculty read.

We became writers.

It was nice to be reminded, today, of the special journey we shared.

Google Self

Once in a while I conduct a Google search of "Elizabeth Hilts," just to see what I've been doing. Normally I find a link to this blog, a number of links to the Amazon pages for my books (here's my Amazon author page), LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

Tonight I found links to a Dr. Helen Hilts in Scottsdale, AZ whose middle name is Elizabeth and the obituary of Elizabeth W. Hilts. Frankly, that was a little unsettling (even more unsettling to learn that she had a daughter-in-law with the same name as one of my sisters-in-law).

Then I read the obituary and I felt better. This other Elizabeth Hilts seems to have had a good life: a family and friends who loved and admired her, she accomplished things, and had community connections.

I have to admit that, even though I took an active role in the snark about this whole Rapture non-event, I have been reflecting on the quality of life—just in case the world did end, how would I be judged by the Universe? My hope is that my efforts to live as authentically as I can—to be as kind as I am able, to act out of love as much as I possibly can, to bear witness and support the people I care about—would be recognized and my frequent failures would be forgiven (or, at least, understood). I guess what I really hope is that, like the late Elizabeth W. Hilts, I would be remembered kindly.

Now that we know that the world continues, what are you hoping for going forward?

Friday, May 20, 2011

An Oldie But (I Think) A Goodie

I originally wrote this for "Pimp My Wry" and would have forgotten about it completely if I hadn't gotten notice of a comment (that was certainly spam). Anyway, I liked it when I wrote it and I like it now so I figured I'd repost it here. Hope it doesn't attract more spam. Hope you enjoy it.

Oh, and just for the record, I feel the same way now as I did when I wrote this.

Alice Waters, What Are You Thinking?

I’m a little bit annoyed with Alice Waters.

Betteregg

Oh, sure, she deserves her props for her food advocacy, for helping to raise awareness about the value of organic foods, yadda yadda yadda. I admire all that.

It’s her smugness that’s bugging me.

Did you see the segment about Ms. Waters on “60 Minutes”? The one where she cooked breakfast for Leslie Stahl?

The steps involved in preparing this "simple repast" go something like this:

  • Open a restaurant in Berkeley
  • Pretend it’s a co-op, but retain the majority share
  • Make a couple of million bucks
  • Build or renovate your kitchen to include a wood-burning hearth—conveniently at standard counter height
  • Pick up some hand-forged iron spoons with really long handles
  • Stock up on firewood
  • Buy eggs, tomatoes, olive oil and herbs (organic, of course)
  • Have your assistant build a fire in the hearth about an hour before you want to make breakfast—for me, that would be at 7 a.m., so my phantom assistant would have to get up before 6
  • Chop up some tomatoes and herbs (are they organic? If not…), allow the mixture to marinate
  • Slice some bread bread bread*
  • Grill it
  • Spoon the tomato mixture on the bread (which has been placed on a hand-painted plate that you got in Italy—part of a set of 40)
  • Take a nap
  • Coat an iron spoon with the olive oil (did I mention that the olive oil should come from your good friend’s grove and be organic?)
  • Crack an egg into a bowl, slide the egg into the oil-coated spoon
  • Walk across the kitchen to the fire shove the egg under the flames gently fluttering from the log and stand there until the egg bubbles up and cooks through
  • Walk back to the counter where the plated bread/tomato thing is
  • Scoop the egg on top of the tomatoes
  • Serve
  • Repeat as needed

This is the kind of every day food that’s perfect for a family of four or more because, really, making it creates an oasis of calm amidst the panicked searches for the missing homework and the right pair of black shoes. Those family members who are not sweating it out at the fire can make brown bag lunches at the same time. (You did include a separate lunch prep area in that kitchen redesign, didn’t you?)

“And you don’t really have to do it in the fire,” says Alice. “You can do it in the cast iron skillet on the stove.”

Well, thanks for that tip, Alice! Because, honestly, that never would have occurred to me.

The flaws in Alice's thinking are, in my (extremely humble) opinion, these:

Not everyone lives in California, with access to farmers and their foodstuffs—the only locally-grown organic tomatoes I can find right now look like they're made of styrofoam and they cost something like $20 a piece

Organic food costs a LOT—and I've got other expenses, like my mortgage

Shopping carefully for each ingredient takes time—I love meandering through my local farmers' markets (which operate in my neck of the woods from late May through November; the only food in stock after September being turnips) but since I have to also make a trip to the regular grocery store, shopping turns into a day-long event

But the worst part is, her serene self-satisfaction creates anxiety. Who can live like this? Do you live like this? Or are you wedging a trip to the grocery store in between work, getting the kids to their activities, going to the gym, doing a load or two of laundry, finding the lost homework, and refereeing arguments about who's turn it is to set the table with the chipped plates you inherited from Aunt Thelma?

Because that's the life most of us live—and we're the lucky ones who don't rely on public transport, aren't trying to stretch the food we can buy with food stamps, haven't had to visit the local food pantry...do I need to go on?

So, yeah, I admire the woman, but I don't think she lives on the same planet I inhabit.


* This is a completely gratuitous inside joke.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kudos

My friend Phil Lemos finished the first draft of his novel yesterday. In blogging about it he wrote something that touched me deeply (for reasons both obvious and not-so-very-obvious):

"I may never get this puppy published. But at least when I'm on my deathbed I'll be able to say I wrote a novel."

To start something is easy. To prevail to the end (even if it's only the first end) is, I think, heroic when the only "reward" of which one can be certain is that the work will matter just because the work has happened.

Bravo, Phil. "Bravo!" to all of my writer friends who have finished the things they have started. And "Bravo!" to all who are still making the work happen (which is, as you all know, each and every one of us).

Check out his post here. And tell him I sent you.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day

On Facebook, many of my friends have posted photos of their mothers in honor of Mother's Day. For days I've been reading posts about mothers who inspire, mothers who are present, mothers who are gone.

As a mother, I appreciate this. As a daughter, I am filled with longing. Rather than post about my mother, I figured the best way to deal with this longing is by sharing this snippet from my memoir.

There are days when, encountering a woman my age out in the world with her mother, I am struck by a tsunami of envy, grief, anger, sadness, bitterness (!) and I tumble, taking shallow breaths and refusing to weep until I can get my feet on the solid ground of survival, until I can grab hold of remembering that I am okay now.

Laughing, bickering, walking together in silence, even arguing. The daughter, my peer, says, “Mom!” or “Mother!” or (sometimes) “Mommy!” and I am submerged in a longing so deep I know I will never touch bottom. One look at them and I can see what these daughters have learned from their mothers, see the ways they cannot help carrying all their mothers have taught them, see that there are some things they have taken on by choice: a certain flair, the habits of grooming, the legacy of caring and guidance.

I am standing in the shoe aisle at Marshalls, surrounded by the hodgepodge of footwear from last season, the season before, the overstocks of the latest fashions cast off by a ritzy department store. A woman in a Chanel jacket, crisp white blouse, black trousers, tasteful gold chain gleaming against her Florida tan set off with the just-right-shade of red lipstick reaches for a pair of flats. She drops them on the floor, wiggles her right foot out of the shoe she is wearing, revealing manicured toes under a veil of nylon. As she slips her foot into the new shoe, the fingers of one hand pressing lightly on the edge of the shoe rack for balance, she says, “What do you think of these, Liz?”

“Um,” I say, startled that she knows my name.

“Let me see, Mother.” Her Liz steps into the aisle. They look at the shoe, considering it carefully and so they do not see me looking at them, considering them carefully. The daughter is wearing a nearly identical outfit (though she has on jeans), her hair is slightly more modern version of the mother’s bob, the diamond on the daughter’s left hand set in platinum rather than mother’s gold, both have short rounded nails with French manicures. “They look just like the one’s you’re wearing,” this other Liz says, and they lift their heads in mirror image timing and laugh.

I leave the store and when I get into my car I have to take ten deep breaths before I can even think about turning the key, starting the engine, maneuvering out of the parking space, driving myself home.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Exhale

Today, everything was something other than I anticipated.

When I got to the grocery store, expecting a crowd, instead I found a parking spot immediately and hardly anyone in the aisles. Once I was done, however, two drivers played chicken with their big SUVs, inching forward and angling toward the space as I loaded my bags into my car.

My usual source for cooking gadgets and paraphernalia did not have the one thing I needed; I had to go to the paper goods store that I don't particularly like instead.

A phone call I'd planned for never happened.

Then my internet and phone modem failed. Five hours of my day was spent on this.

There was also this, however:

When I pulled in to the parking lot of the cooking gadget store, my mind registered some oddness that made me pause, let go of that one thing I needed for a moment, focus on the world around me.

At curbside, where the road met the parking lot, just by a small island of grass and dirt, was a bird of prey. Feathers streaked with muted gold, fierce beak, sleek head scanning and, clutched in its right talon, a rather large bird of some sort. Feather and down scattered, tumbling over the asphalt. Other birds swooped and clamored. The bird of prey—a hawk? probably a hawk, though those golden feathers...—noticed but didn't seem bothered at all.

Just as I aimed my phone to take a picture, a pickup truck pulled into the lot, stopped a few feet away. The bird took off, flying low, its catch dangling. The guy driving the truck rolled down his window. "I wanted to take a picture but I guess I scared it away!"

"But we saw it," I said. "We both know we saw it. How cool is that?”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Multimedia Blogging

As an experiment I decided to post a selection from the reading I did at my graduation residency. My impulse is to apologize and explain and make self-denigrating comments, but I'm going to resist that impulse and just let the words stand.


video

Friday, April 1, 2011

I Am Not A Poet

Poetry appeals to me for so many reasons—such a disciplined form, the world stripped down to only the essential words—but it's not my form; I'm too verbose, I think.

In observance of National Poetry Month, however, I figured I'd share a poem I wrote a few years ago for a class.

✤ ✤ ✤

For Marian Fisher, 13

Only sunlight illuminated the room,
the dust from the chalkboard sparkling
as it settled on the wood softened
by a hundred sweepings, the thousand footsteps
of the children rising to their lessons.
Five times
one, two, three, four, five
ghosted in the milky gray sweep of erasure.

On the blue sky day they were called
to reciting, they were called
to their reading, they were called to their sums.
Always ready,
Marian said “Me first.”

The milk had been delivered,
his children hugged tight then
released with words of love. Then he
went to work, backed his truck in
for the delivery
of his unimaginable emptiness.

Out of the blue sky day came
the checklist, the wire
the guns, the strange length of wood
and his unimaginable emptiness.

Only sunlight illuminated the room,
the scent of fear quavering
as it settled on the wood softened
by a hundred sweepings, the thousand footsteps
of the children rising to their lessons,
Two lines,
one assembled for dismissal, one assembled in
a row by the chalkboard
with its milky gray sweep of erasure.

Out in the blue sky day the police were called
to awaiting, they were called
to their duty, they were called to their guns.
Inside, ready,
Marian said, “me first.”

Five times
one, two, three, four, five
ghosted in the crimson red sweep of erasure
and his unimaginable emptiness.

✤ ✤ ✤

Here's a little more about Marian Fisher: http://www.marianfisher.com/

Saturday, March 19, 2011

SuperMoon

We went to the beach to watch the moonrise, arriving as the sun was setting in the west. The parking area that faces east was as full as it would be on a summer day; some people sitting in their warm cars, leaning forward and scanning the horizon. Photographers had staked claim to each bench along the sidewalk that runs the length of the beach, their cameras sporting long lenses mounted on tripods. People were sitting on the sand and on the seawall, leaning against trees, standing by the water's edge or on the rocky shoreline.

All of us looked east.

We walked out on the wooden pier. After the sun had fully set the wind dropped for just a moment, then picked up again. We shivered and wondered to one another where the moon might rise. "Is the sky brighter over there, behind that island?"

Then there it was. A sliver of orange shivered at the top of a cloud bank. The sliver became a crescent, became an arc, became the full full moon. It seemed to pause, as if it knew we had been waiting, as if it knew we were watching.

There was a clatter of shutters opening and closing, opening and closing; a few flashes. And: "Oh!" And: "Woooooooooowwwww!" And: "Beautiful."

Mostly, though, we were silent as we remembered, again, that this wonder was part of us and we were part of it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Thing I Always Think About on St. Patrick's Day


March 18, 1972


I’m getting married. My father and I are standing in the entry way of the church, me in my white dress, the tucking of the bodice straining over my breasts that are already swelling, an absurd crown of flowers fading on my head.

This isn’t how I wanted to look when I got married, something I hadn’t even realized until that moment less than ago an hour when I stood looking at my reflection in my mother’s bureau mirror. Had I always imagined myself wasp-waisted in satin? How did I not know that about myself? But here I am, holding a bouquet of roses, my arm hooked through my father’s, and I am carefully not looking down the length of the aisle toward Mike because everyone will see, certainly, that I do not really love him.

Instead I look at the faces turned toward us, my dad in one of his everyday suits, me in this dress I cannot stand. Felicia and Lisa, seated on the aisle in the pew closest to us, wave and smile and wave again. Mike’s parents and sisters are down in the front, craning their necks for a better look; his grandmothers’ stare toward the altar, resolutely showing the backs of their heads. My brothers are on the other side of the aisle, and I can tell they are joking with each other. The rest of the pews are full of people I know and care about in varying degrees, people I’ve invited because it’s a party, right? Just a party.

My father’s arm flexes, pulling me off-balance, and suddenly I am closer to him than I’ve been in years, the fit of our bodies so natural and perfect that I remember suddenly the simple truth that I am made from him. I remember that I love him completely, in spite of everything.
“We don’t have to do this,” he says. “We can figure something out.”

Yes, I think. Yes, please, Daddy.

I can’t imagine, though, what else can be done. I have decided. The only way I can save myself is this way—marry this boy, have this baby, escape my mother’s madness. But yes, my heart says. Yes, my body tells me. Yes, yes, yes please let’s leave right now and go somewhere safe to figure out something else. Please save me.

But here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. And he has offered this too late. I shake my head, pull away from his strange and familiar comfort. “I’m doing this,” I say. And he nods, the music begins and we step into the aisle.

If there were one moment in time I could summon back, it would be this moment when my father remembered—too late—that he had the power to save me.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Essay"

I am working on an essay based on a section of the memoir. There is certainly so much work to do on the memoir itself, yet I feel compelled to rework this piece, to approach the subject matter in this section from another direction, to see the story through a different lens.

There's an argument to be made that I'm simply avoiding the hard work of revision, but I think there's something more going on. One of my students complained about how hard it is to write an essay—"How am I supposed to develop a thesis when I don't even know what I think about this yet?"

"Who said you had to write the thesis first? Why not think of the writing as the process that will help you figure out what you think?"

She asked if that's how I do it. In the case of this essay, it turns out that's exactly how I do it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Packing for Travel

I had breakfast with a friend the other day; he's someone who has been a great supporter, a mentor, and something of a nudge (in the very best sense of the word). We were talking about how teaching takes such a commitment of time and energy and, because I'm an adjunct at two different schools, a sort of mental flexibility that can be challenging. Then he asked, "Are you writing?"

Not enough. I'm simply not writing enough. But I am thinking a lot about the work, which seems appropriate at this stage, when I'm revising the memoir. "Big picture stuff," asking myself the tough questions about whether this scene is necessary, have I gone off track here or does this chapter actually move the story along, did I serve the story well? Just as hard as the initial writing, certainly, yet progress is being made. Large chunks of marble have been turned to dust, revealing the shape hidden inside.

And there this: in one small sliver of my writer's mind, I've started to think about what to write next. So I was happy when, later in the day, I came across this:


There's a story here. I can't wait to find out what it is.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow. Again.

Again?

Or is it, more accurately, "Still?"

Just in case I was operating under the illusion that I have some kind of control over..Life, weather patterns, prevailing winds, cold and warm fronts continue to conspire to remind me that the only "control" I actually have is my choice of response.

This is the view through a window in my house.


It's kind of inspiring and, I must admit, beautiful. As fragile and insistent as Life.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Unflappable Normalcy

"When you write non-fiction, you have to at least pretend to be a person of some unflappable normalcy who is making reasonable judgments.” Nicholson Baker

I've been thinking about this quote since it landed in my inbox the other day, via The Writer's Almanac. As yet, I haven't come to any conclusions about it, but what a ripe juicy thing to roll around, to chew on a bit.

There are some assumptions to be made:
• He's probably not referring to writing memoir; rather, the non-fiction in this case is more likely essays or books about specific things, ideas or notable people.
• The "reasonable judgments" in question may be related to facts or statistics or something along those lines.

I keep thinking, though, that the very act of writing memoir does require one to situate oneself at a distance from whatever drives the impulse to write, the...abnormality? unreasonableness? dysfunction? surrounding the period about which one is writing. To be unflappable in looking back seems a minimal requirement, considering some of the events that haunt so many of us, making it necessary to write a memoir in the first place. Isn't there something hopeful about the idea of at least pretending to be "normal" (whatever that is) while involved in such an endeavor?

As I say, no conclusion at yet, but then there's this: the rest of the quote is about writing fiction, about which Mr. Baker says, “Fiction, on the other hand, allows you to be a little more provisional and vulnerable, and truer. You can think over the self-medicational function of rhyme and, on the same day, cut some of your finger off with a breadknife."

Now that sounds familiar.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Graduation

Last night was the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of Fairfield University's MFA in Creative Writing—-a group of which I am a very proud member. To have witnessed the growth of these writers, to have shared the moments of struggle and of triumph, to have grown and struggled and triumphed in their company is a great privilege.

The ceremony had moments of particular magic—-lining up as a cohort, jittery about the hood ("is it right? is this thing on right?"); entering the chapel full of family, friends, the faculty, fellow writer-students; seeing everyone's proud smiles and hearing their applause; passing before the pew full of our writer-teachers who worked so hard for us; the call and response in Chris Belden's speech ("What are you going to do," he asked. "Keep on writing," we answered).

Then this: Baron Wormser, poet/novelist/essayist/wonder, called us forward and read our words as we walked across the altar to shake hands, receive hugs, get our diploma. Read our words.

One line. Chosen after much consideration--what one line can stand for all the writing we have done over the last two years?

Here's mine:

"The secret I carried closest to my heart, however, was that I still believed that if I could just say the right thing, my mother would remember that she loved me and she would come back."