Why I Stopped Writing, Jan. 21, 2018
Which time that I stopped writing? It happened twice.
I must have been about 12 when I told Grandmama I would be a writer. Don’t know why I said it or why I remember saying it. Through junior high, high school, and college I jotted verses in my school notebooks. Took a college course in creative writing, the first time I showed my work to anybody. Graduating with a degree in English and a teaching certificate, I turned my back on my youthful writing interest and entered the adult world of real jobs.
For 23 years creative writing disappeared from my life. Working in the public library, I wrote a monthly book review for the newspaper. Readers didn’t rush in to check out the reviewed books, but my fans looked forward to the next review because they liked my writing. I felt odd that my reviews didn’t persuade people to read those books.
Years passed, and I was curled up on the couch on a Saturday morning. I finished reading a novel, put it down, and stood to get dressed for the day. In the shower hot tears dribbled down my face while the water sprayed my body, and I said, “I wish I could write like that.”
The logical side of me said that was odd, that tears should have been for the characters who finally muddled through their plot twists. Where did my statement come from? And what to do about it?
I attended writing workshops at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, University of Iowa, and Indiana University. A writer at Indiana, looked up from my work and told me that I couldn’t write because I was a librarian, and librarians don’t write. He knew it because his mother was a librarian. In Kansas City Sharat Chandra, the poet, looked over some of my work and said, “Something unique is slowly emerging.” I stifled my urge to yell at him what do you mean SLOWLY? My young adult days were past. If writing were going to happen in my life, it needed to take off soon!
In another twist, I turned all my energy to running the college library, first as acting director, then as director, telling myself that I would write again but not now.
In 2011 my husband and I decided together to retire 2 years later. Sitting at home on a Saturday in June, we wondered what we would find to do when we didn’t have our jobs. I said, “When I retire, I’ll write.” A little voice inside of me said I had hardly written in 10 years. How was this plan going to come together when retirement began? My writing self didn’t wait 2 more years.
Within a couple of weeks, I stood in the library looking at a magazine, maybe National Geographic, at an article about Homo sapiens nearly going extinct. This happened 70,000 years ago when a widespread drought killed most life forms in Africa. Few people survived, some on the south coast, some on the west coast, and a group by the Nile. How did they cope with seeing themselves as the only people left on earth? I strained my brain, trying to see them in a world of 70,000 years ago. Not much clue what it would have looked like. Putting the magazine in its place, I went to my office, and the images went with me. Days passed. Instead of fading, the prehistoric people talked to each other in my head about their fears, despair, hope, plans, chance events, and their dream for a better life for their children.
I began to write.
Clouds moving through mountains, sunlight streaking across yellow autumn trees, and grazing elks breathed their magic on us at the Cross+Gen Conference held at the YMCA of the Rockies on October 1-4. My husband, Dyke, and I went with our pastor, Chris Deines, to figure out where our congregation was heading after a year of trying the Cross+Gen approach in our rural Missouri church.
The conference grows from the brain child – the faith child – of Dr. Rich Melheim, and his dream of stirring fresh energy into people of faith and their churches. So many children who grow up going to Sunday School find no place for church in their lives as adults. As a young Lutheran pastor, Rich searched for ways to surround his own children with the gift of Christ’s enduring love.
Over the years, he developed a process for both home and church, “. . . not a way of doing Sunday School. It’s a way of doing life.” Drop a Bible reading “onto a table with costumes and food and glow sticks and food and paint and food. . . . Watch both people and the text come alive.”
Two Novels and a Memoir
Hearing steady rain outside, I woke this morning from a dream of stiff, yellow weeds leaning across the sidewalk to my door. How our green, mowed lawn morphed into parched, unruly growth puzzled me.
Now I’m thinking about two novels, set in different places, both stories agonizing over a mother worrying about a lost child. In Persons Unknown Susie Steiner’s Manon, a pregnant police detective in Cambridge, U.K., has moved away from London for the sake of her adopted black son, Fly. In this murder mystery things don’t go well for Fly in Cambridge, and Manon is torn between her feelings for the unborn child inside of her and for the boy she first loved as her son.
Susan Straight built her novel, Highwire Moon, in the fluid worlds of drug culture on one side and of undocumented immigrant workers on the other. Three-year-old Elvia, found in a car abandoned at a church, was put in California’s foster care system. Nine years later her American father got custody of her, determined to do what he could to care for his child. Here, my prejudice kicks in.
Separation - Becoming Whole
A young woman went to court in California to re-claim her children from foster care after she spent 5 years in prison for drugs. In the courtroom her eyes opened to the damning truth when her youngest said “Mom” to his foster mother. The young woman’s head told her that her own babies were no longer hers. She signed away her parental rights, so that her children would not be separated from their loving foster parents.
She did what needed to be done for her children, but she couldn’t face the horror of having abandoned them and used drugs to dull the nightmare of her heart ache. Eleven years later, she found herself in a shelter for abused women in a small Missouri town. The shelter staff helped her learn to care about herself, get into recovery, and reach a point where she now lives on her own.
This week the director of that shelter said to me, “People don’t realize how thin the line is between them and the broken person they pass by on the street.” Some of those who abandoned their homes to flee Hurricane Florence are about to see that line dissolve when they return to find little they can salvage of the life they have known.
In the Radical Middle
Nate Boyer said this:
Personally, I do not endorse Kaepernick’s method of protest but I absolutely support his right to do so. That is an unpopular place to stand these days, in the radical middle, defending someone you somewhat disagree with.
Sep 6, 2018 https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/colin-kaepernick-national-anthem-america-how-military-service-influenced-my-ncna906956
Reminded me of something that I thought Patrick Henry said in the 1700’s: I disagree with what you say but will defend your right to say it to the death. Maybe he didn’t say it, but someone else did when describing him. I recall that phrase as a bedrock of America coming into being as a nation – before the Constitution was written, before the Pledge of Allegiance was spoken, and before our National Anthem was first sung. About the same time as Betsy Ross sewed 13 stars on our flag.
Here in rural Missouri my friends – those who glow with pride when speaking of President Trump and those who went to the Women’s March (Kansas City, Jan. 21, 2017) – greet me with warm handshakes and friendly hugs. We compare rain gauge readings (now ½ inch; oops, it’s pouring again), complain about the small number of eating places in this town, and compare notes on books, movies and shows.
Is It OK for a White to Write about Black or Brown Characters?
I can just imagine Toni Morrison’s reaction to a white presuming to write black. As a long-time fan of Tony Hillerman, I remember feeling shocked on learning that he was no more Navaho than me. And now I’m reading Highwire Moon by Susan Straight, who apparently wasn’t born into a family like her Mexican and Native characters. And I’m happy to see Sherman Alexie, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks and Dan Brown sitting alphabetically together on my shelf, along with some dead white men.
The question of a white writing black hit me nearly a year ago when I was working on an assignment for an online fiction course from GrubStreet. Nathan Oates had asked us to write a story in which a character returns to a place and encounters someone unexpected. I wrote “Axe and Blaze” about a woman going to a deserted house that had been in her family since before the Civil War, and she encounters a man whose ancestors had been slaves owned by her ancestors.
Ready to Start Blogging!
It’s 2018, and I’m starting to blog. Why? There is so much clutter and confusion on the Internet. Why add to it?
Which brings up another question: who invented the Internet? Who conceived of the idea, designed it, and created it? NOBODY! Some technicians made connections between several large computers so that scientists could exchange information. Other information appeared from fields of study outside of the sciences. Then they noticed odd little notes. And email emerged with no designer, no plan.