Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Visiting the Parents

It's a blessing, having old parents. Yes, they're creaky and crumbly and leaky and shuffly, and shrinking in size and stature. But I adore them. And every time I see them I come away with a new slant on my own life--and on theirs.

I notice how my mother, who also adores me, still needs to make comments about my appearance . . .and other people's. I see more clearly the provenance of my own judgmental streak.

When I first arrived in Philadelphia, after not seeing them for three months:

"You've gained weight!"
"Mother, is that the first thing you want to say to me?"
"Oh, it suits you, only I think your life is better when you're, you know, lighter. Things go better for you."
Note to self:
Never never never comment on my own daughters' sizes.

"Don't you think those ends should be trimmed?" she asks, touching my hair.
"Yes, Mother. I just haven't had time yet."
"That's right. I remember. You got a cut just before you came last time."
Subtext: Please get a hair cut before you visit next time. I want to show you off.

"I didn't know women wore their shirt tails out. That must be a new style."
OK. She hates my new Gap shirts, even though I painstakingly ironed them and they're
fresh and bright and without stains.

"Mother. That woman over there told me she liked my outfit."
"Oh. Her."

"Don't you want to shower before going?"
Note: I'm going to the dining room to get a to-go styrofoam cup of coffee since my parents don't drink it anymore. It is 7 AM. I am fully dressed, hair brushed, and I showered yesterday and nobody, in the dining room, is going to even notice me.

But really my mother and I are incredibly close; we always have been. I'm not being ironic.
Some of the best times in my life involve lying on my mother's perfectly made bed, a cross breeze wafting through the open windows, and chatting with her--watching her as she bustles around her room getting ready to go out. I remember watching her get ready for work--slip, girdle, stockings, bra, linen dress, heels. And watching her get ready for parties--perfume, matching hand bag, pearls. Always always: lipstick and a compact.

Eureka! Maybe that's why I love lying down so much, and always want to stretch out on a couch or a bed--wherever I am. Lying down reminds me of being with my mom. I lie in bed to talk on the phone; I lie on couches at parties to drink wine and talk; I lie on my living room couch and stare out the window. I've never made this connection before.

See. Having parents who last a long time is a blessing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tears: They happen

I always say at the beginning of a workshop: if tears come, don't worry. Let the waters flow. Don't even try to hold them back. Writing and reading our work aloud can unleash emotion like nothing else.

In one workshop, a young woman who was reading aloud for the first time choked up and couldn't go on. I read her piece for her; it was about being scolded for trying to use dialogue in a third grade writing assignment. The teacher told her: "We haven't studied that unit yet. What do you think you're doing, young lady?"

The young woman couldn't read her own work aloud for several weeks. She learned that, even though she had written a dissertation and was earning a PhD, she didn't feel she had written anything true since that experience in the third grade.

"I can't believe this," another teary woman said, in another workshop. "I don't remember having any feelings like these when I wrote the piece."

Writing brings stuff up. It just does. So does reading our work aloud. That's one reason I encourage people to read in workshops. We find out how close to the artery we're digging.

Last week, I surprised myself and suddenly couldn't go on with a piece I had just, blythely, scratched out--in response to one of my own prompts.

Flannery O'Conner said that when you share your writing you might save somebody else's life. Even if you don't, the life you save might be your own.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

What's Living in Your House?

Song for Sampson, a poem about a cat, makes a fun prompt. I sent it out to one of my workshops, knowing that there are folks in the group who don't like animals. So, I ask: what else is living in your house. Ants on the kitchen counter, mold on the shower curtain, a plant here and there?
I have a 13-year-old dog and two cats living in my house as well as a husband and (at the moment) a 20-year old daughter. Our screen porch is home to dozens of spider sacs and our bird feeder hosts squirrels, chipmunks, moles, voles, and--when they can find a free spot at the trough--birds.