Looky What I Found!

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Have you ever found something, that wasn’t exactly lost, but you had forgotten you had in the first place?

That’s what happened to Mom this week. I have a snazzy “just for looks” chest in our entry hall that’s a great place to lose your keys, stack mail and pile up things wrestled away from the dog. The other day, I took a deep breath, squinted my eyes and started opening up the drawers–something that was long overdue–a leap of faith and a possible health risk!

To my surprise, I only found several year’s worth of planners, datebooks and assignment notebooks.¬†Oh, and the dog’s registration papers ūüôā I was fully braced to find the mystery hiding place of something horrid like the “I’m sure the Bunny left 36 eggs, not 35” Easter 2008 incident.

I sifted through all in the assorted sizes and conditions and bindings, carefully sorting them by year.¬†I was a bit excited and a lot relieved. These found volumes were cause for a good five hour walk down memory lane. That’s pretty much my idea of a Party!

The best discovery in the pile of datebooks was less obvious than the unearthing of fond memories. As I leafed through the pages, I found important evidence of achievement, progress and accomplishment! Sitting on the floor, leaning against the seldom used front door I found solid reasons to celebrate. ¬†Inadvertently, I had documented these by a series of weekly, sometimes daily, “to-do lists.” Fastidiously, all that I had set out to do, I had checked off as I finished. This was solid evidence of how far I had come in my project of chasing the dead and resurrecting their stories.

Wow! I said in a rare moment of patting myself on the back…How had I ¬†achieved all this stuff while simultaneously cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, working, volunteering, feeding every high school volleyball team and football player for 6 years, on top of raising my own kids, breaking up carpool fights and lending an ear to broken hearts over first loves, season ending injuries, and varsity cuts?

I relaxed next to the fancy-schmantzy chest and smiled. The piled up calendars scattered around me on the floor represented a lot of earned successes! ¬†Happily I knew that I’d chased all this for so long out of love and admiration for those before me–some who I never knew–and also for those who will be here long after I’m gone. In that moment I realized there would be some who will read the stories I write without having ever known me! Imagine that one…

What a trip!

So I aim to challenge you this week to look around and find the little traces of things you have started out and finished up! Look for your lists with their check marks of completion. We’re all so busy chasing the next item on our lists, we forget to celebrate all the steps we’ve worked toward, reached, and moved forward from.

Best of all? The legendary Easter Egg #36 of 2008, remains lost; a merciful controversy bordering on myth. 

I think¬†Maybe someone should write That One down ūüėČ

For the Love of What I’ll Never Have

The most beautiful face in the world is the one I can only recognize across time
The most beautiful face in the world is the one I can only recognize across time

Today’s work is about what we have lost.¬† It’s a wish list of sorts, or maybe put another way, its a love letter to the ones we probably can’t have.¬† I don’t use real names in my posts to protect family privacy etc. ¬†This photo is of my Grandmother a few generations back who immigrated from a small country in the Balkans. I refer to her in my blog posts as Grandma Urbanski. ¬†I gave her this name because she lived and worked in the city (thus the Urban part of the name) and the” ski “just makes sense with the other surnames in the area.

I count her as one of my Lost because unfortunately, there is almost nothing of her left behind. Oh, I will never give up searching for more scraps of Grandma U, but the chances of finding anything more than her grave marker or this photo from her Naturalization Papers are pretty dim.

I am not ungrateful, having this photo alone is so very meaningful to me.  But, I wish that I could also see the face of her husband, of their 8 kids when they were young, or even another one of her.  The saddest part of this is that the artifacts of her life were not blown away in a storm or great calamity.

Her own children destroyed the entire contents of the house after Grandma and Grandpa Urbanski died.  Not out of dislike for them, but even worse it seems, out of the shame of them.

I know that they came here on a steamer ship, likely in the underbelly as 2nd or 3rd class passengers. They were young and newly married. How brave, adventurous and hopeful they must have been! They spoke no English and upon arrival and through the ends of their days they persisted in their “Old Country” ways.

What I would have found marvelous and fascinating about them, their own “first generation born here” children found insufferably humiliating.

These foreign born, huddled-masses parents who worked ceaselessly until the day they dropped were a complete embarrassment to their own children~the very ones they were working so hard for. I guess I would be angry at that generation of ungrateful offspring if it weren’t such a commonality across the board with all the “new Americans” and their children around that time.

Take some time today and write about who and what you feel is lost to your family. ¬†Maybe it’s a story like mine. Maybe it is about the native tongue that you regret never learning. Perhaps you miss a certain food and don’t have any trace of the recipe. Or maybe you just miss your own Grandparents. Mine were all incredible and simply larger than life to me when I was a child. I was fortunate enough to know one of my Grandmothers, Gramcracker, well into my adulthood. ¬†What an experience! To know her as a Grandma, and then, as an adult to know her heart as a woman.

I wish to know my lost Grandma “Urbanski” as well. I think she’s the one I’ll never give up on ‚̧

 

 

 

Kill Your Darlings…figuratively of course

...kill your darlings, darling
…kill your darlings, darling

On the heels of last week’s Naked in School post, lots of comments and commiseration erupted over crazy writing styles and public humiliations.

¬†While reading through all the fun responses, I kept thinking of a particular fellow who did a recent writing workshop with me. We’ll call him Bill. Nice, anonymous Bill.

He had oodles of fabulous stories that he (near desperately) wanted to get out of his head and onto paper. He had been divorced for many years now, was nearing retirement and really felt it was time to consider leaving some sort of legacy to future generations.  I sensed both guilt and nostalgia welling up and about to leak from the corner of his eye each time we spoke.

¬†Bill had a great career, was well liked and respected in his field. In his job, he was required to do a lot of writing. Granted, he had to perform his profession’s writing with great precision and succinct wording. Still, he knew his way around a paragraph and the basic mechanics of sentence structure. Writing family stories should have been a breeze for the guy.

Everything that he wanted to “write up” for his kids, the grandchildren, and those to come was just like everyone else’s stuff in the group. He wanted a good, enjoyable account of family and the events and remembrances of his early life. He yearned to convey the sort of stuff a parent would probably share with their offspring in the natural course of child rearing.

Some of it was of the cautionary tale genre that we are apt to share--do as I say, not as I did–but mostly it was about his life, growing up on a certain street with 8 brothers and sisters in a much gentler world than we live in today.

He wanted to tell them in a keepsake form, perhaps printed and beautifully bound, about their big German family, his loving mother, the funny but philandering dad who died when Bill was so young, the hi-jinx and capers of his teen years and the thrill he felt the first time he slow danced with a girl to an Elvis song.

But with each in-class writing prompt, something darker came forth and over shadowed the lighthearted tales. He told everyone he felt no simmering vendetta against his ex wife whom he had left to raise their children. All those years and that part of their lives was water under the bridge he insisted. They had parted and lived their lives. He freely admitted that she had done well by the children. He was generous in praising and crediting his ex for that. Just as quickly, Bill added that he had dutifully paid support for years without complaint and without ever being one minute late.

Bill chuckled when he went on to say that after many years apart he had made peace with the different parenting styles that he and his ex had embraced. He was pretty sure that was the deal breaker in their marriage. For his part, Bill felt fully comfortable stopping for a drink or two at the Club after a long day of work. ¬†“Mrs Bill” on the other hand was not amused when family dinners consistently culminated with dad face down on his plate and reeking of bourbon. ¬†One day, she loudly announced that she had a different vision for marriage, child rearing and table etiquette in general.

She threw his stuff out onto the porch and had him served with divorce papers the next week at his office

In finding the words his pencil was lost at every turn. There was so much to be said, so many years to make up for, and an awful lot he was driven to explain away. That’s what stopped him. The explanations. Each piece he started to write suddenly became a diatribe explaining his actions (or absences) in his children’s lives for so long. ¬†In each piece he wrote he allowed in a seeping stain of his darlings, the topics that he came circling around to time and again. No matter where he started, the excuses soon jumped into the picture, jarring the story and destroying the mood of his good writing.

¬†No matter how hard he tried, his reasoning and excuses for why he wasn’t there to tell these tales when they would have mattered¬†was the story he kept telling and couldn’t stand clear of

Before a son’s first crush, before a daughter’s first kiss, before selecting a college, before enlisting with a recruiter because of a broken heart; these things he began writing down would have, could have made a difference. Poor Bill was busily getting nowhere while working himself to death trying to write two books at the same time without realizing it. The painful guilt ached through him. When he wrote he felt a long buried sadness from all the missed moments with his own children. What tore at his heart couldn’t be smoothed away by telling simple boyhood stories. The result was always a mishmash of thoughts that started on a fresh road and ended by crashing into the same-head-on-a-dinner-plate.

 Finally I jumped the Mom-curb offering a suggestion

“Hey, if you want to write family history and boyhood stories, do it. It’s a great idea and I’m sure someone will appreciate it. But maybe you have start by chopping out all the other¬†stuff and writing¬†it separately. Even if it’s as a memoir to not be looked at by anyone else ever, this¬†stuff has to get out of your way. As it stands now, your plate is too crowded. It’s a mess. You’re serving up Spaghetti with Sushi. Either start with a story about the favorite fishing holes the guys in your neighborhood went to and finish it, or, talk exclusively about how you started drinking and what it did to your life, but don’t try to tell an adult story in the middle of a book about Sally, Dick and Jane. You have to kill your darlings, not everyone fits into the same boat. You’ll sink it.”

¬†Bill looked at me as if I’d just suggested that he skip the whole writing idea and axe murder his children instead. I went on to explain that it’s actually an old writer’s axiom attributable to William Faulkner when he famously said “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

That’s called editing. Weeding out what doesn’t belong. Some “stuff” just doesn’t fit no matter how much it moves you, thrills you, obsesses you. Just like a garden, there’s room for weeds, but it doesn’t mean they’re desirable. Given space where they don’t belong, weeds will quickly get crowded and messy. Once the weeds infiltrate, you’ll never get what you want out of the “good” plants. What doesn’t belong will suck up all the sunshine and rainwater.

I’ve been guilty of this a ba-jillion times in my own writing. I’ll fall in love with a certain word, phrase or side note and just go crazy with it. I can even read a disjointed and confused chapter aloud and still love it because I’m in “darling” mode with the part that doesn’t belong.

But unlike Faulkner¬†I’m a Mom and so I am sympathetic to the darlings who get “cut from the team.” ¬†I save mine, in a folder, scribbled on the back of my checkbook, or on a special page I keep in my Google docs I call my “drops.” Occasionally I’ll visit them, the dropped darlings, and I’ll work them into their own essay, short story, chapter or blog post. After all, there has to be some reason I was so in love with, badgered by, drawn to, fascinated or haunted by these bits and pieces.

They probably aren’t as deep and substantial as Bill’s, but they are always worth a second look.

What do you think? Are there any darlings that are keeping you from working through your great stories, muddying the waters, or just plain stabbing you between the eyes? Which darling do you need to kill (or file away for later)?