Monday
Apr162018

Sharing Our Stories

They never want to write.

Oh no, they'll say, with a groan, sigh and shooing away. I'm not a writer

I cajole and convince until they relent. And then, suddenly, gathered around the table, they dive in, energized and present, uncovering memories and fears, trials and joys, writing their stories, their selves. 

We're the Columbia Basin Writers, a clutch of senior citizens connected loosely by a single thread: the nursing home where they live. We meet once a month to write and recall, to chat and share. I'm the annoyingly cheerful leader who, with help from a writer-friend-volunteer, takes us through poems, prompts and writing games.

Sometimes they forget we've met, that they've penned poems and stories and had fun doing it. 

Sometimes we take dictation as the prompt unwinds the mind and loosens the past. And then what, we ask, tell me more. We write fast every falling word.

Sometimes they write, though hands shake and arms ache. The pen moves slowly, with great effort, guided and braced.

And this, I think, is the real success: to crave expression so much that you'll work against tremors and fear, against rust and ache, fighting the body to write the words, to write your mind. This is everything. 

And then we share, and the room swells with comfort and pride. And I think this is real writing, in this small room-turned-safe place, these reluctant writers pushing against the challenges of pain, age, memory and loss. With every word they say I am here.  

Please join us — in person or in spirit — to celebrate the act of expression and the power of writing. 

 

 

 

Sunday
Apr082018

On Sunday, and a sense of her

You ask for happiness and the foghorn says No

And No again, stuck on it, 

The way the beach is stuck on gull 

And reduction 

 
— from Pacific by Paula McLain


1.
And how are you dying, I write.

I mean doing, but maybe not.  


2.
I’m writing to her. Some people reach for the phone, trying to call a mother long gone. Sometimes while writing my pen takes an unexpected turn toward her. 

We weren't penpals, or even pals in the way of today's mothers and daughters who are friends. For years we fought, too much alike and too different too. Later, we grew close, sharing quick banter, books, and friendly phone calls. 


3.
This is what you do after a death. You remember, and then you worry you have mis-remembered, that you rewrote the truth. To make it more. To make you hurt less. 


4.
I try to wear things from her closet, try to hold her close. But the things only make me feel far away. Her tan sweater is my color and style, but does not feel right. The skirt is too tight and long. The jacket with leopard trim is a perfect fit, but when I wore it last week I couldn’t wait to take it off. The jewelry too.

I am not her, and this may be proof. 

Or maybe she didn’t like these items either, and they hung in her closet, as they will in mine, as a good idea but not quite right. I don’t recall her wearing these pieces. Even my father, upon seeing me in her sweater, said, “Oh she would have worn that before she got so small.”  

The weight and the struggle, that’s the thing we share. And so, I inherit the neurosis — insecurity, insufficiency, body image, the triad of the Myron women. I knew this all along, and now standing here, awkwardly displaying her clothes, I know it even more. Was I trying for homage, or just some sort of connection?

The only thing that fits, the only thing that that feels right, are the makeup brushes. Nice ones, expensive ones, she bought when the two of us went to Bobbie Brown for makeovers. Make us pretty! Make us good! Make us us, but better.

We didn’t do these sorts of girly mother-daughter bonding things, but there we were — four or five years ago — at the makeup counter getting pretty. Frugal as always, I bought just a bit, a lipstick or blush. To my surprise, my mother who wore little to no makeup, bought the whole suite: concealer, foundation, eyeshadow, blush, bronzer, and the expensive brushes too!     

Cleaning out her closet last month, my sister and I extracted the few items that were our size or style, and piled up a dozen bags for donation. After the main closet, the second closet, the coat closet, and the dresser drawers, we thought we were finished. Then my father motioned to the bathroom drawers. He couldn’t take the reminders at every turn. And so we picked through her lotions and potions, her brushes and combs, and a handful of makeup, smudged and worn. To my surprise, from that day years before she had kept the makeup chart, a drawing of a face with application instructions — and she had kept the brushes. 

The next day I applied my own makeup, and finished up with the largest brush. Bronzer it said in small letters on the handle. I didn’t have any so I just swept the soft bristles across my face. And there she was, a golden highlight across my cheek. 


5. 
My mother appears in a dream. She isn't center-stage, which is unlike her, but a hovering, a shadow. Still, I had a sense of her, and now awake, I see this is the truth of motherhood, of mothers and daughters, or maybe just us.  

 

 

Thursday
Mar152018

Thankful Thursday: Ordinary Life

Because awareness begets gratitude and gratitude grows joy, it's Thankful Thursday. Please join me in a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. 

 

drew myron photo

1.
Daffodils with Lunchbox

This is my Grandma's lunchbox, recently unearthed from deep in a crawl space. Grandma Lucy — we called her Lu — lived to the age of 97 and passed in 2006. Last week we found this metal box in which she had scratched her name and the year, 1930. In that same box, my father tucked his own object of time, this glass bottle from Arvada Gibson. Because I like connections, I see a theme: name your place, mark your days, save a token of ordinary life.   

 

mather schneider photo

2.
A Bag of Hands
 
A chapbook of poems on love and immigration by Mather Schneider. Tough, tender and telling. This slim volume is included with a subscription to Rattle, my favorite literary journal (another gratitude) and available here

 

andrew wyeth by usps
3.
Andrew Wyeth stamps
I'm writing letters and sending notes just so I can use these stamps

 

jenny loughmiller photo
4. 
Hundred Hearts Project
Jenny Loughmiller is making gratitude tangible, creating 100 paintings for all the women who have impacted her life. 

 

drew myron photo
5.
Words of place
sage, scrabble, scrub, lonesome, vast

 

 

What's on your list? What are you thankful for today? 

 

 

Saturday
Mar102018

Love this line! 


We write about the dead to make sense

of our losses, to become less haunted,

to turn ghosts into words, to transform

an absence into language.

— Edwidge Danticat
The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story 

 


Writing about death, it turns out, is difficult. Emotionally, it is easy because grief is both wrenching and cleansing, and feels urgent and necessary. But such writing tends toward maudlin. How to write heartfully but without cliche? How to feel, but with measure? And why write about death, the most personal and moving of all actions, anyway? 

I've been writing about death a lot. No surprise, really, it's been a season of loss and I write with a pall that comes naturally. Sunny is not my default. And yet, writing about sadness helps me to carry the weight, helps me get to sunny. Or something. This is why I write. To make sense, to get through.

Edwidge gets it, do you? 

 

 

Tuesday
Feb272018

Get a Gimmick

A friend introduced me to these little gems, Haikubes, and I was giddy and willing. "I thought you might think them too gimmicky," she muttered. 

Are you kidding? Gimmicks get me to the page and keep me going. I've long advocated for writing exercises. In my early days I pledged allegiance to Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, then Julia Cameron's Morning Pages. Years later, I still rely on writing prompts to keep my mind open and my hand moving. 

From magnetic poetry to cross-out creations, every good gimmick tricks the mind. The best writing exercises stir the brain, but not too much. They provide structure, but loosely. Once the foundation is set, you let it flow. You don't try too hard. You don't worry about grammar or spelling. You don't edit. You keep the hand moving. It's all warm-up, this writing, this life. 

"If you find yourself caught in a bigger rut, what you really need is a new idea," writes Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit, "and the way to get it is by giving yourself an aggressive quota for ideas." 

This, I think, speaks directly to writing exercises. They are timed, structured, and demand delivery of goods. 

"A lot of interesting things happen when you set an aggressive quota, even with ideas," she continues. "People's competitive juices are stirred. Instead of panicking they focus, and with that comes an increased fluency and agility of mind." 

BINGO! 

My recent go-to gimmick is from The Writer's Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long: 

Go to a cafe. Or go to a park. Or go to a library. Or go down to the river. Write for fifteen minutes at a steady pace without stopping. Describe what's in front of you. You can describe the whole scene, or just one object.

Don't write about anything except what you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Don't write your feelings, opinions, or reflections. Wite color and shape. Write sound. No feelings. No opinions. No thoughts.

These writings connect you to the world, to where you are. The more you do them, the more aware you become. They are pure training in sensory observation.

Will these exercises produce strong stories or keeper poems? Maybe, but not likely. But they will provide a warming and a stretch. For every dance, there are the first tentative steps. For every song, the initial wobbled notes. Writing exercises and "gimmicks" are the first clearing in a brambled hike. They help start the walk that will expand your view. 

What gets you writing? What's your gimmick?