My mom has always been all about stories. When I was little, she read and read to me: Winnie the Pooh,Ramona the Pest, the Book House books (which, heartbreakingly, were lost in a move.) She was, and is a teacher, and she made sure I became a reader.
But there was another gift she gave: she showed me that stories come from ordinary people–and that it is our birthright to create them.
I lost my father in July. Then in August, my husband underwent a high-risk surgery. And then last week, I had surgery to determine whether I have cancer. (It looks like I do not.) Now everything that has always felt certain is entirely up for grabs. We have been so well-loved and supported by friends and family that I am not frantic or filled with dread. In fact, the time feels distilled.
“Some days I feel the ground shifting beneath me, the revelations bursting like fireworks over my head,” I wrote a few days into inviting the bogeyman of Dad’s mental illness onto my blog.
“I’ve thought that too much introspection was keeping me from my work. But I’m noticing that I’m suddenly finishing things and embarking on new ones: I graded all my papers yesterday, wrote to an editor about some work, took an assignment from another one,
The day after I put my secret blog post together about the Children of Suicide, I got emotional backlash. I had thought I could write about other people’s trauma, throw in some psychobabble, and remain unaffected. But facing the Bogeyman isn’t like that–even if you think you are only doing a research paper on the literary imagery of bogeymen, their varying cultural forms and their psychological implications. We’ve all got a bogeyman. If you are a writer,
One of the things I loved about this book, besides the winsomeness of its protagonist, Stevie, was that it didn’t present easy answers. Stevie has grown up in an intolerable situation, but she loves her mother despite her mother’s flaws, and is determined to be loyal to her.
It’s funny how a poem can capture a particular moment, so that when you read it years later that whole period of life comes back. Here’s one I wrote when my kids (now grown or nearly grown) were little. I’ve never shared it, since I didn’t consider it a “real” poem and probably intended to revise it. Here it is:
I should be rewriting a children’s story. It’s due today and my son has set a buzzer on the stove for when I have to leave for an afternoon meeting.
I’m thinking about journeys tonight, as I get ready for a drive to Yellowstone. And I’m thinking about the journeys we take in our relationships. Sometimes, as a parent, my journey has been about saying good-bye and allowing for the journey of one of my children. I ran across this poem as I was planning a lesson on journeys. I wrote it in 2008, but tonight it seems especially applicable.