Who Do I Think I Am? (Notes on writing ideas)

Twice during this week, from two different sources, I was told to search out some of the WPA essays. These are essays written by out of work writers for the government during the depression. So I googled WPA Essays. Wow! The amount of hits were mind-boggling. The subjects covered everything from knitting to history. But I was drawn to the slave narratives. These are scans of the original handwritten interviews of former slaves still alive in the early 30s.

These pieces of art–they are art–are archived in a digital form on the Library of Congress’ website. I couldn’t imagine these treasures had been around and I never knew about them. The writer in me wanted to read this work, these stories. I began with an one hundred year old former slave still alive in the 30s in south Georgia. At any time in my life I would have been entranced with this writing, but now, it holds a more poignant interest. My family became richer and more diverse with my youngest daughter’s wedding a couple of summers ago. And with the birth of my new granddaughter, a new history and culture was added. I guess what I’m trying to say is all those years of pledging that I would continue my outspoken belief in civil rights and my open love of the many different voices we have in this country just became personal, more than wonderful words. And maybe it was this personalizing that led me to read these essays with new eyes.

A germ of an idea sprang up two-thirds of the way through the second essay. I could begin a body of work concerning slavery. Whoa! Who do I think I am with my white southern relatives, who always believed the south was a country of its own and who weren’t always people I wanted to claim as kin? I couldn’t even pretend to crawl into a skin of a different color. Or could I? Is it not expected of me as a fiction writer to be open and willing to be any character that presents itself? The thought is scary. Why was it I wanted to begin this project? I spent the afternoon pondering this question. And then it came to me. I always write about what is nearest and dearest to my heart. A body of work always begins with a need. The need in most cases involves me finding the answer to a questions. In this case there is more than one? But the biggest is: how important is our family history in our lives? How does our relatives’ choices form who we are, even if we never knew them?

So, I have decided to take on the challenge of writing from a completely different point of view. Who do I think I am? I am a wife, mother, and grandmother, who wants to leave a legacy for those far ahead of me, a path to explore. Yes I will take the road less traveled on this one and prepare to open to my art and allow it to flow in the direction it chooses.

A World Of Difference

This morning as I drank my coffee I saw on a morning news show that a farming couple in Colorado decided to allow the locals to gather what onions and potatoes were left after they harvested their crops. The couple thought, possibly, thousand people would show up. Forty-three thousand was the end result. As I watched this spot, I was moved. What could I do?. I mean if I lived in Colorado instead of Georgia, I would have been in line for the free veggies. Times are tough for many families this year. What is tough? I asked this question of myself? I looked around my home. I had everything I needed. NO, I don’t have a flat screen TV. I don’t even have dish or cable. I made a choice two years ago to follow my dream of writing full time. This required an adjusted budget. No more eating out two and three times a week. Not as many raids on the bookstore :). But, what have I gained in this endeavor?

Ah, I have a completed novel that is now sitting with my agent. I have a slower more productive lifestyle. I take the time to listen to others. I’ve published many short stories and personal essays. I’m no longer beating my head against a glass ceiling that will never break. Instead, my worth is measured by something much bigger than mere money. I’m living a life of art, creativity, and peace. Gees, what kind of price tag can one put on this?

What has this change done for my family? Have they been hurt from the lack of material things flowing through our door? I’m here everyday when my nine year old comes home from school. She gets my attention and help with homework. My husband comes home in the evening to conversation about writing, family, and such. In my previous life, any given night was a blur of conflict and aggravation. Just this summer my granddaughter was born nine weeks early. She now spends her days here with me as I write each morning, so her mommy can go back to being a chef.

In Christine Baldwin’s book, Storycatcher, she says: “Every person is born into life as a blank page–and every person leaves life a full book.” We are the writers of our lives.

The farming couple in Colorado chose to write a new chapter when they allowed others to come into their fields to gather what would otherwise have rotted. I chose to give up what the world thought of me for a more inspiring life. In these choices people are changed. No, I haven’t touched forty-three thousand people, but I seek to make a difference. We leave our mark on every day with our choices. I’m glad I’m awake and aware of the designs I’m leaving behind.

What chapter of your life is waiting to be written?

Babies and Such

I forgot what it’s like to have a baby in the house, the different smells and sounds. My granddaughter, the one who was a preemie, has come to live with us for a while. Yes, at the age of fifty, my husband and I seem to be starting over. Of course the difference this time is my daughter, granddaughter’s mommy, has moved in too. So, not only did we gain a baby, but we acquired an extra grownup. Thank goodness we never downsized our home.

As I write, this the wonderful bundle is sound to sleep in her chair. The rhythm of her breathing is enough to put me under. Yes, I agreed to watch her during the day while mommy goes back to work. Yes, I do work out of my house. Writing is work, even though many don’t view it as that. But how could I say no? How could I allow someone else, someone that doesn’t even know us, take care of a child I have such a huge investment in? Now there’s a question.

I listen for changes in her breathing just like I did when my others were babies. I hold my breath when she wiggles, praying she doesn’t wake until I finish my thought on in a coherent sentence. Today she did not sleep from seven in the morning until one-thirty in the afternoon. She’s not even three months old and only weighs ten pounds. But she’s alseep right now and all is straight and proper in the world.

The art of writing with one hand while balancing a baby on your shoulder does come back to you. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t. Her little head bobs around and once in a while she leans enough to get a good view of my face. Then, she breaks into a smile. Baby smiles stop me dead in my tracks every time. I can walk away from a novel scene or an important point I was about to write.

One of my children was raised on my lap as I wrote. She’s now nine and loves to read, write, and draw. I take complete credit for that. I can give you one reason why she is a math whiz with scores that goes through the roof. She listened to many of my story drafts and slept nearby just as this little one does.

All week I’ve slowly taken my writing room apart so Mommy and Granddaughter will have a private space. I thought I would mourn this. I wanted this space for so long, but I found I write just as well tucked away in my bedroom that seems to sit high in the trees. I’ve found I am a writer and that means I fall into writing no matter where I am. So, I believe when Virginia Woolfe wrote of a room of one’s own, she spoke <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} span.mceitemhiddenspellword {mso-style-name:mceitemhiddenspellword;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –>
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metaphorically about that part of our soul that must be closed away so we can create. I believe women can create anywhere. I think of my own grandmother, who never had any true space that wasn’t invaded by us grand kids. She made the most intricately designed baby dresses. What she call handwork was art.

My bundle is still asleep. I look at her and see the future. One day she’ll look at me and see an old woman with white hair and a pink scalp. She remember that closeness even though she might not be able to remember exactly when the bond began. We are the essence of our own lives. Live up guys. Each moment is a hoot.

Purple Moon Shadows

Here’s another personal essay I wrote for my class in writing retreat.

Purple Moon Shadows

When Jeff, my brother, and I were young, we shared a bedroom. Our full-size bed was positioned under a double window. On some nights we would talk and laugh as the moon moved across the sky. Full moons were our favorite. We would watch the shadows and half light stretch across the backyard.

“Purple moon shadows.” Jeff would call them.

But brothers grow up and become adults. The change is inevitable. In this growth barriers and differences far to vast may develop. Jeff and I went into our separate lives. As years came and went, so did we until one day we stopped seeing each other at all. Was it my straightforward way of stating my position? Was it his drug use? But through our distance I clung to a belief we were both survivors of a turbulent childhood, connected through moon shadows.

Our mother died on September 27, 2003, throwing us together once again.

“What funeral home will be coming for your mother?” The hospital nurse asked.

I dialed Jeff’s cell and went into voice mail. “I chose Crestlawn Funeral Home to pick up mother.”

The next morning I still had not heard from Jeff. How does a sister plan a funeral for her mother all alone? At noon I called Crestlawn.

“Your mother’s body was picked up by another funeral home this morning at your brother’s request.”

My heart beat in my chest and my head spun. I left to go to my mother’s house in hope to retrieve some clothes for her. I made up excuses for Jeff. He had been out of Mother’s life for over two years. He was probably overcompensating for his guilt. I was in denial.

Mother was a self-medicating bipolar and displayed her insanity throughout my childhood and adult years. The products of her existence as a mother was one overachieving, co-dependent daughter and a son who was addicted to both drugs and alcohol. Who could blame how either of us acted?

I slid the key into the lock of mother’s front door. It froze and would not turn. On further investigation, I found the side window of the house had been kicked in from the outside. Now a board had been nailed over the opening from the inside.

Jeff had stolen my right to be part of the burial of my mother. I attended the funeral. Still clinging to the idea that all would be good between us, I told myself he just misunderstood. He was in pain. I stared holes into the back of his head, willing him to turn and look. If he could just turn and look at me, then I’d know he believed in what he did. He left the chapel without ever looking my way.

Rage built inside of me. I went to my car and screamed. I screamed at God for ever letting Mother be the mother she was. I screamed just to scream. Finally I screamed that I was all alone. How could one forgive this kind of betrayal? How could one walk through this kind of pain?

Healing was a long slow process, but slowly I worked through my pain one step at a time. And then one day I was able to forgive. It didn’t come overnight. But I became aware of it for the first time one night when I watched a lunar eclipse in my front yard and smiled. I enjoyed the memory of a young girl looking out a double window into the night sky.

Jeff appeared in my life two months ago, five years after my mother’s death. He was eightenn months clean. I cried for what we never had. Still I searched for purple moon shadows, but the logical part of my mind understood that the shadows were only figments of two children’s imaginations. Children who desperately wanted to believe in magic and fairytales. Ah, but I’ve always been one to follow my heart before my mind.

Book Junkie

The Book Junkie

I have a dark secret. Yes, I am an addict. My addiction takes money out of my grocery budget, and it sure doesn’t help that a bookstore is located next where I shop for food.

“Yes, I’m Ann, and I’m a bookoholic.”

You think I’m kidding, but I’ve been known to have several copies of one book, example: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I use this book to lure unsuspecting readers into the hardcore material.

I’ve been known to have both hardbacks and softbacks of the same title. And–this is even worse: I will purchase a book I own because the cover art changed; case in point, The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

Of course at Christmas and birthdays, I’m an easy present. Just give me a Barnes and Noble gift card. I just love their bargain book selection. Shame on me! That is not how a published author is supposed to act.  We’re support the industry by paying full price. What can I say? My need outweighs my ethics.

My addiction has worked for me. I have a writing career due to my insatiable desire to do more than just drink in words. I allow sentences, paragraphs, and pages to move through me onto paper. I still write a lot of old fashion longhand, just like I must hold books in my hand, instead of looking on a screen.  My writing room’s walls are lined with floor to ceiling bookcases and every shelf is full. This leaves my desk to sit in the middle of the room, a queen overseeing her subjects.

My addiction has been widely accepted and even useful. High school and college students will come to me for required reading of the classics. Friends and family now understand they will receive a book for special occasions, whether they want it or not.

I’ve accepted my need, embraced it. Those closest to me have learned to live with my passion. I am what I am, a book junkie.