Letter to Inner Writer

Dear Inner Writer (aka. Bigger Self):

I have so much fun with you, and yet I worry about validity, income and… hurting others.

Even 5 years distance from the That’s My Daddy piece, and I’ve lost the edge that delivered that work.

Of course, my first work of memoir, 19, is a primary source, so that itself is very different, but how do I stay authentic without hurting others?

And what if the work isn’t meaningful enough to be read by tons of others?

Because THIS is the reach that I WANT.

I know, I know. The work is of value to me, no matter what, but can’t I want (and have) BOTH!

I INSIST!

Why?

Because it’s there.
It calls me.
Just as you call me.

Though perhaps the call I hear for success is the call of the annoying, repetitive bird (my ego) rather than the soulful call of the thrush.

But then what about my validity?
Fuck, why does income determine it and how blindly I follow that cultural norm without serious question.

But then what of practicality–of paying bills, making dreams come true, having ease in day to day living.

And what about the big O–OTHERS–the world–where does this fit into my work–how am I contributing?

Yes, in my writing.
Each answer is this.
In my writing.
In my writing.
In my writing.

I remember the words of Kabir…

Wherever I am, that is the entry point.

Kelly

Click here to circle back to Letter from Inner Writer  🙂

(circa? 2014)

Perspective

A memoirist and a fiction writer sit down at a picnic table.

There, in the park, high above the valley, they discover that they both have the same recurring dream:

A large wave overtakes them at sea.

(Does everyone have this dream?)

“I got rid of mine,” I say of the nightmare that’s haunted me for years. “One night, I turned to face the wave and it never came back again.”

“Oh, mine isn’t a nightmare,” says the fiction writer. “I just let the wave take me.”

Truck Driver

I wish I wanted to be a truck driver. There are so many truck driving jobs and the pay seems good. Also, it would be poetic to become a truck drive given that I’m broke because I’ve devoted so much time to crafting a memoir about an accident with a truck.

Alas, I’m almost certain that I won’t become a truck driver, but it would be cool to say: “Fuck you Fear & Tragedy, I’m the driver now!”

Which come to think of it, is pretty much what writing is all about.
Without the regular paycheck.

The page, as friend

The first page of my very first journal.

There comes a day, apparently, when my boys, having dismissed me as homework helper (somewhere around the 5th grade) renew my access–(somewhere around the age of 18) with a sudden and surprising request to read a piece of their work–which I ask them to read aloud.

Both times I’ve been struck by how much the day to day of our household obscures the subtlety of their attention and the profundity of their soul’s work as revealed by the light over the water off the jagged coast of Maine (Aidan) or the poetry of a small child and a bicycle on a dusty path near the Mediterranean Sea (Lloyd.)

I never intended to be a writer. I turned to the page in despair at the age of 18; and it would be another decade before I realized that I had become a writer, and I certainly never planned to raise writers. (They wouldn’t even write letters to relatives.) But they have grown up watching me write and edit and revise, almost every day of their lives.

“You care more about writing then you do about me,” said my oldest, at the age of 4.

Later they listened for themselves in my work. “Why aren’t I in it?” they’d ask.

Eventually, they were just as disappointed if they found themselves on the page.

“Mom, are you writing about me and sex?” my oldest asked after he came home from a weekend at a friend’s (whose mother was apparently reading my parenting blog.)

For many years after that, anything I wrote had to be screened. Sometimes the objections were fierce and final, but more often, they were few and accommodating. Both boys seemed to appreciate my dharma, while they carved out their own—sports, music, penguins, origami, mountain biking, economics, engineering, politics, philosophy.

Even so, ours has always been a family of words. Of audiobooks and speed scrabble. Of heated kitchen debates. Deep listening. Skilled communication.

Someday if I’m worthy, I’ll arrive on their page. I hope they will be honest and kind.

But mostly I hope that the page will be a friend.

Night Waking

Barely a sheet
Still waking
Sweat sliding
Between breasts

~

water
wedges
where
it is
unwanted

~

finally a chill
from the damp skin
of my own sweat

~

stiff joints
swollen in shame
baguette, burger, beer
but c’mon, i skipped
the ice cream!

~

the work I have to do write/right now
is so compelling as to prohibit
my own comfort

the most
story
i’ve ever been
sung

Productive like a peach or a field of poppies

When asked if my time on the Cape has been productive, I pause.

16 days holed up in a basement apartment with a small dog and a singular purpose.

If that doesn’t produce results, I should give up, right?

But first, let me be sure of the meaning of this word:

And second, let me consider enlarging my understanding of what it means to “achieve results.”

At the end of the first week, for instance, I described all that I’d discovered in the neighborhood:

the lila tree

At the end of the second week, I catalogued the diet of a writing retreat:

recipe for a writing retreat

And, now on the eve of my return home, I’d like to list some additional markers of this extended stay:

3 loads of laundry
3 rolls of toilet paper

2 grocery runs
3 to-go pizza dinners
5 microwave meals
a half-dozen seafood meals
2 breakfasts out
1 absurdly expensive and mediocre (but perfect) lunch on the water
several cafe’s
one trip to Boston (Museum of Fine Arts)
a day at the beach
several exploratory drives
daily walks (woods, marsh, ocean)

3 shampoos
2 leg shaves
3 vacuumings of dog hair

But writing, you ask?

Not so much.

But wait, we can’t throw our arms up in despair!
Because I didn’t actually come on this writing retreat to write.

I have thousands, maybe even a hundred thousand words already.
I am a copious producer of words!
My mouth was taped in the third grade by pretty Mrs. Campbell.
I have more blogs than my mother had children.

Let me see how many I can round up:

Oh wait, I forgot this one:

I’ve always had plenty to say.
(This is the age with the tape.)

I did not come on this journey to speak so much as to listen.

Not so much to create as to thresh.

Not so much to gather as to sort.

No so much to be productive, as to distill.

To be still.

To ask:

What is the story I am trying to tell
and how do I want to tell it?

So while I can’t say that my time has been productive, I can say, without a doubt, that it has been been fruitful

producing good or helpful results

Though I would define fruitful in more sensual terms.

Like the shape of a peach.
The round weight of it in your hand.
Its soft fuzz against your lips.
Juice dribbling down your chin.

Or like the orange poppies here dancing in the sea breeze…

Which is to say that I am writing this post as an act of self love.
As an insistence on recognition and celebration, even in the absence of productivity.
Even in the presences of bags and boxes of writing materials, many of which did not come to bear on this journey despite the careful selection and packing and hauling and unpacking and hauling and the copious amounts of time available in which to delve into them…

In times of anxiety, and particularly in transition, and especially at ending points, I am prone to hide from the immensity of my feelings (those in the present and those stirred up from the past), by deriding myself, by cataloguing all the ways  I fell short, or the situation fell short, or others fell short. (My parents were good teachers in this regard.)

But since I have recently decided to welcome any thought of a problem as an invitation, I welcome this problem of derision, and I accept the invitation to notice how much is churned up on this eve of my departure. This Sagittarius full moon culmination after a Taurus new moon beginning.

Yesterday, I walked the long stretch of sand at low tide and felt as if I had arrived at the edge of the world where the planet curves.

I walked.

And I walked.

And I walked.

Until I reached water.

And then I kept on walking…

recipe for a writing retreat

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writing retreat

noun

eating, sleeping, walking, talking, thinking–revolving around one axis

eg. 14 days in a friend’s apartment on the Cape with a dog named Buster

MENU:

65% dark chocolate bar with chrystallized ginger,

a single sleeve of toasted coconut cookie thins

a container of pistachio butter crunch toffee (finished in the first week)

2 bags of black licorice chews (one for each week)

Endless cups of herbal tea, a half-dozen green teas, one mug of Earl Grey, 2 chais

3 lattes (the most notable of the personal excesses)

4 glasses of wine, 3 beers, 1 Mojito

1 bag of kettle-cooked Himilayan-salted potato chips (primarily consumed on the drive)

2 sticky buns, 1 muffin, 1 full service afternoon tea

(also shrimp, scallops, crab, fish; a handful of salads; half a cucumber; large doses of asparagus; an entire container of micro-greens; and 2 jars of Trader Joes peaches without added sugar.)

*also one entire jar of dog biscuits
(that one’s on buster)
also, daily walks implied (ie. demanded)


results:

an opening & closing setting settled upon

3 distinct story threads revealed

a strategic plan for outlining each thread

distillation of purpose

*bonus: a new friend
(See Week I: the lila tree)

 

the lila tree

From time to time I come across a note:

Feeling lost?

Find out where you are.

I penned this to myself when I was in a good place with my writing.

I’m not.

Today marks the end of the first week of a two-week writing retreat, ie. dogsitting on the Cape with a four-legged companion called Buster.

Buster and I spent a chunk of time together when he and this work of memoir were quite a bit younger, back when I thought I might finish writing this book, say, in a year’s time.

That was the Spring of 2014 and I was already a year behind.

I wrote through the first draft in the previous winter and the following December the final chapter spontaneously arrived at the stroke of midnight on the eve of my 50th birthday.

Alas, that became the discarded first version of the book.
A dozen incarnations have taken place since.
My memoir is like an app, always updating, never quite right.

Before Buster, there was a snowbound week with a pair of kittens on a mountainside, and after Buster, several wintry weeks on Lake Champlain with a cat named Clyde–including a spectacularly ice-encrusted March, a unseasonably warm Thanksgiving, and another December birthday (my 53rd.)

In addition to retreats with four-legged friends, I sourced the supernatural. An intuitive. a channeler, and a week at Kripalu with the esteemed chakra teacher Anodea Judith.

I also considered an MFA, but the more I worked on the book, the less I earned so an MFA seemed an impractical direction and one that might put too much weight and expectation upon love.

I had loved my writing practice until this book. Had written in a journal every day from 18 (the summer my parents were divorced) to 30. Began publishing as a new mother. Began writing personal essays after my mother died. Began blogging once a book began stirring in me.

I wrote through two memoirs before this one. Both were pleasures to write (one in a single summer, another in a school year’s time); both placed on a shelf until my voice ripened.

But this work was the first time that I brought what I loved into my deepest hurt.

“Some things you must always be unable to bear.” Faulkner

Writing became a stranger then. A struggle. A burden.

It was into this ache that I began to shape an apprenticeship with authors in the form of assisting leading presenters at Kripalu Yoga and Healing Center where I had previously served as an assistant to Let Your Yoga Dance teacher trainings.

It was in my unfolding relationship with yoga, that I came to an understand that my grandmother’s name was Sanskrit for the divine play, the dance of life if you will, and it was through this dance, this play, this lila, that I began to soften around the ancient wound that had made such an apocalypse of my life as a girl of 14.

“A single accident is worth a thousand meditations.” proverb

40 years have passed since that time, and 54 finds me just a year shy of the age that my grandmother Lila was when she died on that bridge outside of Philadelphia on a beautiful July afternoon with my Auntie Fran and Auntie Ruth and their new friend Myra who was driving the Thunderbird that was crushed by the Steven Nosel, age 33, in the Mack Truck.

As I keened into that wound and out of it, I began to open into the larger context of my life which gave rise to an unfolding inquiry about what my grandmother meant to me, and what it meant to have lost her, and how that loss shaped me.

“Les vrais paradis sont les paradis que nous avons perdus.” (The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost.) Proust.

“Grief pierces our boundaries, giving us access to wider zones of the heart and the spirit. Navigating them is an art and an initiation.” Swaha Devi

Each layer of understanding delivered yet another invitation and I began to fear that I might never arrive at the center of my longing.

My boat struck something deep.
Nothing happened.
Sound, silence, waves.

Nothing happened?

Or perhaps, everything happened
And I’m sitting in the middle of my new life.

– Juan Ramon Jimenez

Where am I?

I am beginning my 7th year with a work of memoir that has transformed my relationship with my deepest loss.

Which is to say that even if this work never sees publication, it has served me well. Blessedly well.

My deepest wish is that it would serve others.

“The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world.” Natalie Goldberg.

Where am I?

I arrived on the Cape with the New Moon just as the flowering trees came into bloom.

I arrived full of doubt and angst and defeat.

When I took my first walk in this new neighborhood (Buster had moved since we were last together), I was stunned by a view that I came across–the sea through the marsh–a communion that I first came to know as a girl at The River Place–a secluded family retreat on the Indian River Bay in Delaware.

“We’re fascinated by the words–but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” Ram Dass

It was there that my bold and beautiful, apron-clad grandmother gave a spirited performance of Sinatra’s My Way as it played over the radio.

And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…

The timing of this drama has only recently revealed itself as occuring just six months before the accident.

This past April, I returned to what remained of The River Place for the first time, and except for the boat house which was miraculously still standing, what had once been ours was barely recognizable–the land and the view polluted with homes.

Ever since my return, however, “The River Place” has echoed in my mind.

Am I meant to go back there, I wondered? What is this sudden hold it has on my attention?

Auntie Fran crabbing off the dock at the River Place.

Where am I?

On my first morning on the Cape, I headed out into the surrounding area to stock up on provisions, which in my devotion to local and organic took much longer than I planned, and as such, I berated myself, not just for the wasted morning, but for all the time I had spent on this work, so many years, so many versions.

For what purpose?

Just then I passed a road sign:

Kelly’s Way

And then, a pond of the same name.
And today, a chapel.

Sometimes the absurdity of signs is overwhelming.

Where am I?

I had expected to be alone in this apartment on the Cape, but the owner of this second home, above the apartment, is here unexpectedly, not just on the weekends, but full time.

Lissette is an avid gardener and the world she has created around her house is inviting and inspiring and overwhelming–with piles of debris and competing needs for attention.

Much like my book.

Each day she returns to her gardens, and each evening, with a glass of red wine or something softer or stronger, she surveys her work, noticing what is fair and what is missing.

I suppose I am here to do the same.

Over a plate of fish, Lissette tells me that her mother died in a car accident, a loss from which she has never recovered.

Where am I?

In a week’s time, the trees have released their blossoms and floated through the air like white and pink and purple snow until the ground became of carpet of color that has since faded brown, as if the magic never happened.

On that first evening, I took a photo of the tree beside Lissette’s window as it glowed iridescently in the shifting light.

“I planted this after my grandmother died,” Lissette told me, when I came across here working in the garden the next morning. “I call it my Lila tree.”

“What did you say?” I asked, pulling back on Buster’s leash, thinking her Venezuelan accent must have confused the sounds in my mind.

“Lila,” she said, “It’s short for Lillita. It’s what we called my grandmother.”

Where am I?

“The prana flows where the attention goes,” they say at Kripalu.

In a week’s time, Lissette has transformed her gardens in a daily practice that begins before and after she commutes to Boston and back.

In parallel play, I’ve spent most of this week in sublter realms, feeling hopeless, while sensing that something deep is stirring, even as I want to escape the work ahead.

“This feels a lot like the last stages of labor,” I say to Lissette, as we share a pizza in her window seat.

We look out over her gardens as the sky turns rosy and then bruised and finally inky with night.

The house grows dark around us and we remain talking without light.

“Tomorrow is the twenty-fifth anniversary of my mother’s accident,” she says.

~

Where am I?

As the second week opens on my writing retreat, I pull the table out from the wall, and turn it so that I can face the gardens.

Buster snores at my feet as I write.

 

memoir & motherhood

I’ve jotted down things my children said since they first began stringing sentences together, mesmerized by the way they understood & expressed the world around them, as I am still. Jotting down. Their insights and proclamations, questions and fears.

And here’s something unexpected. They jot now too.

“What did you say?” they ask. “Will you say that again?”
Over the phone. In the car. Side by side.

I am surprised & honored to be recorded. To be relevant.
And something else—reluctant. unnerved. concerned.

Is this how it felt for them/feels for them?

I remember my youngest asking, at the age of 4, as I scribbled in my notebook:

“Are you writing down my prays?”

(I felt like a thief.)