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)

To Thresh, a letter from my inner writer

Today is a day of integration, but first: threshing.

I’m digging through piles of notes, scribbles, letters, notebooks; all in a effort to move forward with THIS BOOK! which is now spanning a third year.

To lighten the load, I’m posting any treasures I find among the rubble so that there is no need to “save” these for later…

This one is a letter that I penned to myself; but I’m not sure that it’s from my self. At least not the lower case self.

Dear Kelly,

Hi. Thanks for spending so much time with me lately. I thought it would never come. I have so much to say–the depth of which you have only begun to tap with your beautiful bursts of attention.

Listening.
Letting things come.
Love.

All aligned with that supple softness that you long to infuse your life.
It is HERE.

Like an underground sea, a depth of presence is required to access me, but once discovered, the way is easily recovered as you know more and more each day.

Yes, I know you are afraid of this bigger piece of writing that I have offered.
Apply the same principle as to the very small:

Listen.
Let it come.
Love.

Find the soft suppleness in even this.

No need to rush, as you’ve finally heard me saying to you.

There is nothing that you need to do that you are not doing.

Truly, wherever you are is the way.

That deep, soulful call of the thrush that you love so much lives inside you too.
It is to be shared. By each who possesses it and the aching need to dance with it and express it.

Kelly, your people are those many who don’t suspect that they have this depth, but you know they do. You’ve always seen the beauty or at least the potential in all–which is what made you such a gifted teacher–and a writer of the people–like Diana, the people’s princess, though you like to think of yourself as a peasant, among peasants, but as one who spends much more time thinking–so that others can sew or cook or tend the gardens–all of which feeds your writing as you know.

And of course, Kelly, there’s your Queen. Your inner queen of grace, beauty and integrity.
We know her well.

She is the jewel that lights the way to our crystal waters–allowing you to be a beacon for others along the way.

And now we’re ready to listen as you have listened to us,

With Love,
Your Inner Writer

(circa: 2014)

(read what I wrote back by clicking here.)

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.”

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.

Mirrors

This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. (Anne Lamott)

Is there a central metaphor around which each life is shaped?

I read about this at the ripe age of 25 and it resonated deep inside, but it was decades before I began to remember (and understand) the ways I played as a child, the place where metaphor thrives.

As a girl, I climbed upon my Nana’s bathroom counter to wedge myself between the large wall mirror above the sink and the mirrored medicine cabinet beside it.

There between two reflections, which I could manipulate by opening the mirrored cabinet door to just the right angle, I’d find a hallway of faces looking back. All mine.

Is narcissism my metaphor?

Some would say so particularly those who fail to recognize the sacrifice and generosity of the craft of memoir.

Admittedly, there were those years when I played the Queen, bestowing upon my imaginary subjects everything they needed and also those years when I starred in backyard song & dance & theater productions and orchestrated others doing the same–younger siblings & cousins & eventually entire neighborhoods–complete with ticket sales & concessions & telephone pole posters which morphed into forming my own clubhouse and hosting Muscular Dystrophy Carnivals and community clean ups.

BUT MIRRORS. In addition to the mirrors above my Nana’s sink, I loved the mirrored-house mazes on the boardwalk–the puzzle of distinguishing illusion from reality. I never minded the bumps on my forehead, and long after my companions had abandoned me for other rides, I’d persist, spending all of my tickets, until I could make it through the maze bump free.

Apart from mirrors (which seem to expand into a personal relationship with the Sun and a lifelong romance with light), there was a form of a play in the body that stayed with me for some time.

I discovered it on sleepovers, I suppose, while lying on my back talking to friends. I’d hoist my legs into the air, with my hands on my lower back, and when I was alone, I imagined myself walking on the ceiling in an upside down world.

As a yoga teacher, I would call this a supported half-shoulder stand. As a child, it was a homecoming in Philadelphia, New Port News, Denver, West Point, Wildwood Crest. Even now if I look at the ceiling long enough, I feel the transformation inside.

No matter where I lived, I often sought out the classmate who was out of the ordinary, particularly those whose parents spoke a different language and who ate different foods and listened to different music.

My favorite school field trip after the one to the Navajo Reservation was the one to the United Nations. Just the sight of the flags lit me up, and still does.

Food was central to traveling for me, and I still recall my delight (or was it a dream?) of the restaurant shaped like a tree, each branch leading to a buffet from a different part of the world. (Much like the offerings from our local farmer market here in Vermont.)

Early on conversation emerged as a form of play. At a young age, I leaned into the big questions, the argument, the sussing out what mattered most–with friends, relatives, and adults I met in the lobby of the hotel or the grocery store or the hospital where my father and grandfather worked.

Later it was history that compelled me. Not the patriarchal glorification of conquest and war, but the stories of lives lived. Like those my great-grandmother told and those I read of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which my friends and I reenacted out on the open field, after lunch, becoming pioneer girls each recess.

Excavation equally captured my imagination–the Leakey’s work as archaeologists, the discovery of ancient cultures, the Cliff Dwellings. At the end of sixth grade, I bought my social studies textbook so unable was I to part from it.

When I became a sixth-grade social studies teacher myself, I taught through story–beginning with those of each student, harvested from their homes and the traditions of their ancestors, and then further back in time exploring what gave rise to the first communities.

Between mirrors and stories, there was another way I played as a girl back when 2,000 miles separated me from my Nana and her mirrors. This play came forth when my mother began drinking during the day.

I played alone.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…

If didn’t get into the house before…

3, 2, 1…

My Nana would die. I would die. Everyone would die.

Play isn’t always born of joy. It is also a matter of survival. A chelation of the toxicity of the world outside. Even now.

Play never came easy to me as adult, too anxious was I to sit down and play with my own children, but put me back at the beach, and I will plop down in the wet sand, and cover my legs with it, and fashion drip castles and moats, and then run into the surf to jump in the waves.

Perhaps some people have a single central organizing metaphor and others a buffet from which to harvest the devotion of a lifetime.

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

what we carry

What I packed for my writing retreat.

There must be some psychological diagnosis/profile for she who carries too much (both literally & figuratively), especially since I can no longer claim, with any credibility, given the swath of time, that I once traveled through Europe for entire seasons with a single backpack; or that as a girl I was so happy-go-lucky as to disregard all details like the dock from which my scout troop was departing for the camping trip to the island across the Hudson. (It wasn’t the South Dock.)

Is this older, weighed-down self a result of accumulation? Fear? PTSD? Particularity? Self-care? Self-neglect?

Or a casualty of my life’s passion–history, culture, family, memoir?

I’ve met people whose counters are completely clear and I’ve encountered entire homes absent of clutter.

I love when my own spaces are similarly simplified, but I’m compelled to place something down on those empty surfaces as if to say…

What?

I am here?

I was here?

We were here?

We mattered?

Life is messy.

MY Daughter, the MEMOIRIST!

This hung in my father/grandfather/great-grandfather’s office

I was 13. He was 20, a cadet, at West Point.

My father no longer works for that corporation so it’s probably safe to say that I scrubbed with him and headed into the operating room, on not just this, but 3 other occasions. (A gallbladder. A thyroid. And something I can’t recall.)

To my father’s discomfort (and mine!), we arrived in surgery on that first occasion before the cadet had been fully prepped (and covered.)

I still remember the orange inky swab across his toned abdomen, his dark pubic hair, his penis, his testicles.

I looked across the operating table uncertain as to whether I was to feel clinical, embarrassed or curious.

This awkward father-daughter moment was offset by our masked attire and the work at hand.

“If you feel sick at any point, there’s a trash can,” my father said, nodding to the corner as he lifted the scalpel to the body.

I remained steady on my feet beside the anesthesiologist.

“Even I was woozy at my first surgery,” he later said, clearly impressed.

Outside the operating room, we removed our caps, and it was then that the assisting surgeon warmed to me.

“Kelly, I hadn’t realized it was you!” said the man who was our neighbor and my father’s best friend since their residency in Denver. “I thought your father was instructing a new nurse.”

I still remember what I learned that day: Tenderness on the right side and a low-grade fever—check for Appendicitis. White blood cell count up.

30 years later my father misdiagnosed my younger sister in the months after her wedding.

She almost died.

There is a saying about physicians and family. But it’s too convenient to receive medical care on the fly, and also the only way as a girl (or a grown up) to capture my father’s fleeting attention, so dependent is it on the extraordinary.

“The shoemaker’s daughter without any shoes,“ the school nurse said, when she reviewed my chart.

Something else I learned after my first penis: Avoid contact sports when diagnosed with Mononucleosis.

40 years after scrubbing for surgery, I returned, alone, to West Point, and felt the same ache when I passed the Lacrosse field where the cadet died.

Lethargy. Swollen lymph nodes. White blood cell count up. Enlarged spleen.

In my senior year, I would return to campus with my own case of Mono, which my father had missed like he had my broken arm–at age 4 and age 10. Even my grandfather missed the broken bones at 4. And my grandfather’s broken leg had been missed by my father.

Blind spots, they’re called.

Decades later my father insisted that he was the best in town, and while I didn’t doubt it, I drew the line when it came to my husband’s vasectomy. (Freudian slips and all.)

When as a teenager, new policy prevented me from continuing to accompany my father into the operating room, he brought me on staff at his office where I did intake–blood pressure and the like–and assisted him, after hours, with minor procedures when there wasn’t a nurse on hand or seved as female chaperone for a lumpectomy follow up; while I continued to accompany him on his weekend rounds, like I had my grandfather on housecalls .

“Come in with me on this one,” my father said, outside the ICU. “This kid is waking up and I have to tell him that by some miracle he’s alive.”

I stood across the bed as my father added a post script to the miracle,”You lost both your legs.”

When I relay this moment, others ask me what happened next, but I can’t recall a thing after that except adding–Avoid motorcycles–which was added to my growing catalog of ways to stay alive.

Roller coasters was on that list too, added a decade earlier, after a call came in to my grandfather from the amusement pier that I frequented with my cousins.

Wear your hair in a pony tail, I notated, or better yet, avoid whipping rides.

Just home from my freshman year in college, major yet undeclared, my father fired me in bed before sunrise after I refused to skip my shift at his office to help out with the mountains of laundry produced by 5 younger siblings.

“Why don’t you ever help with the laundry!” I said.

A month later he moved out.

No one noticed.

I regretted not going into medicine after that for a very long time. If for no other reason then to be beside him again, and to garner his attention and pride like I had when I didn’t need to vomit beside the operating table; And something else—to carry on the family legacy–my grandfather, my great-grandfather, my great-great grandfather. All of whom neglected their families on behalf of others who needed them more.

“Did you want me to leave the guy on the operating table?” my father would say when he’d arrived hours late to pick me up from play practice. It was after midnight, and I was sitting alone on the steps outside the auditorium.

He often suggested a career in nursing as better suited to the obligations of my gender. At 18, he was digusted fo find that I did not know how to make him mash potatoes from scratch when my mother was no where to be found.

“If I ever go into medicine,” I said, “I’ll be a surgeon too,” so unwilling was I to be subservient like my mother for the rest of my life.

Later he made a point to introduce me to the one female physician who attended the cocktail parties that his new wife threw at the house they built on the water.

“She’s a doctor and a mom,” he said, at New Years and again at 4th of July, as if proclaiming a miracle.

The doctor and I smiled at each other uncertain as to what we were supposed to mean to one another.

But while I had a steady presence in the operating room, and even did a summer stint in pathology which was housed in the morgue, and worked for years as a Candy Striper on every floor, the call to medicine eluded me.

Or had it?

It could be said, and I have a growing hope that it will be said, that I wield the pen like my fathers before me wielded the knife.

And isn’t the carving of consciousness as far-reaching than the scalpel—healing not only the body in the here and now, but into the past and forward into the future–body, mind and soul–ancestors and progeny.

Only my work has never delivered vacations in Aspen, or houses on the water, or a hefty God complex.

And yet, curiously, the same advice might be true for both vocations:

Don’t treat your relatives.

Which is tricky with writing, or should I say: sticky.

The ink has a way of lifting their stories with mine.

And it’s no understatement that this exposure, despite any lofty intentions, isn’t as welcome as say a prescription for antibiotics or a line of stitches or even an unwelcome diagnosis.

No matter how arrogant and authoritarian and entitled, everyone takes pride (and relief) in having a doctor in the family, but no one is like:

My daughter, THE MEMOIRIST!

an artist by any other name

“My creative life is my deepest prayer.”
Sue Monk Kidd

I’ve only just realized, this week, that I’m an artist.

This is the first time I’ve said it.
Except to my husband who insists he’s been telling me this all of my life.

I’m 52.
Shouldn’t this have occurred to me sooner?
Isn’t it something you know all of your life?

I’ve suspected it for a while now, maybe a year or so, and in my defense, my conception of artist is/was limited to my childhood notion of painters, like Picasso.

It was only a decade ago that I admitted that I was a writer.

Maybe there are 12 step programs for this?

I need one.

In the meantime, I read books by writers about the process.

I hate books about process.

I hate process.

But I need a greater understanding of myself, and it turns out that these people seem to think and feel and suffer and celebrate a lot like me.

I feel grateful that they’ve reached out.

Here’s a running list in case you need them too:

Pippi Longstocking
Harriet the Spy
Suzanne Kingsbury
Jennifer Louden
Katrina Kenison
Dani Shapiro
Elizabeth Gilbert
Mary Karr
Jess Weitz
etc. etc. etc.

Add your own in the comments section below?

(written, circa @2016, ha! the year Trump was elected. the year i went through menopause. both of which no doubt awaken artists & advocates.)