The Trouble With Families and A Book Review

Children are quick to pick up on what their parents value or rather, what possessions are most valued by their parents.  My mother’s most prized possessions were her records and the record player.   My sister and I knew that because she had a routine. Mom would get home from work, throw off her shoes (yes, literally) put on a record and collapse onto the brown faux leather sofa with a very long sigh.  We were therefore very careful not to scratch any of her records but not so careful with the kitchenware.

Throughout all those nights of listening to records with mom we never heard her sing.  Not once.  So while my sister and I would flounce about screaming into our hairbrushes my mother would lie back and listen.   Fast forward twenty years, to one sultry summer evening on a beach, when my mother quite unexpectedly tells me that she had once been approached by a respected agent who had heard her sing at a party.  Turns out my mother had quite the singing voice.   My mother never took up the agent’s offer of representation.  She never pursued her dream of singing to audiences around the world.

This nugget of information unsettled me on so many levels.  It bothered me that my mother had turned her back on a wonderful opportunity,  a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.  It bothered me that she had never encouraged our own creativity (she barely encouraged me to keep up with my writing) and stifled her own gifts.  I felt my mother had purposefully distanced herself from my sister and I by keeping this and other stories about her youth to herself.   Imagine how I would have reacted if she had come out with a dark and ugly secret!

The point is, now that I am a parent I realize just how hard it is to tell which stories we can share with our children and which are best kept private.

Do you wrestle with this dilemma or are you an ‘open book’?

My favourite novels are almost all about the corrosive effects of secrets, especially family secrets.  I am sure every family has them just as I am sure that we all wrestle with various temptations and fantasies.   So when a dear friend of mine gave me a copy of Sue Miller’s While I Was Gone  I had to read it.

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Jo Becker has a loving husband, a beautiful home, three daughters and a rewarding career yet she is plagued by a persistent restlessness.  A sense that an elusive something is missing from her life and she is ‘suspended, waiting.  Between all these worlds and part of none ‘.  She has a sense of being “utterly present and also simultaneously, far far away.”  So when an old roommate reappears and so do her memories of her life in her early 20s Jo’s impulses threaten to fracture her family.

I really connected with Jo.  She is a contemporary heroine: busy, distracted (perhaps unconscious) and flawed.    Aren’t we all?

What makes this a great read besides the fact that the characters are expertly captured and the story well paced is that the author’s wisdom and understanding of human nature shines through.    Wonderful read!   :star: :star: :star: :star:

 

 

 

 

Monday Inspiration – A Most Necessary Piece Of Equipment For A Writer

If you had to endow a writer with the most necessary pieces of equipment what would they be?

A yellow legal pad?

A thick skin?

A laptop?

A bottle of Jack Daniels?

When asked this same question the indomitable Maya Angelou replied:

Ears. Ears. To hear the language. But there’s no one piece of equipment that is most necessary. Courage, first.

Read The Paris Review interview here

My answer to this question would be that writers must read poetry.  We must read it to ‘tune’ our ears to the sounds of words because sounds matter.  Poetry reminds us through the use of effective devices that language is alive.  Stylistic devices such as alliteration, assonance and onomatopeia brighten language.

Here’s a famous example of onomatopeia – Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Bells?

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells,bells, bells, bells,..

I believe poetry infuses our life with beauty and meaning.  I believe poets are magicians.  They can take the most complex of issues or situations and simplify it into a concise message.

In her Nobel lecture “The Poet and The World” Wislawa Szymborska writes:

The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence … is astonishing …

Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like “the ordinary world,” “ordinary life,” “the ordinary course of events” … But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.

Do you read poetry?  What do you believe are the benefits to reading poetry?

On Poetry: The Dreadful Beauty Of The Narrow Path

 

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April is National Poetry Writing Month are you in?

I’m saying it:  I’m in.  I’m committed to writing one poem every day this month (yes, I started a poem yesterday).  I am going to find the courage (it may be hiding under my bed or in the broom closet) to share one or three of these poems with you so you have been warned.

It would really make me feel braver if you would share your poems too.  I hope you won’t laugh too loudly or too long at my scribblings.

But today is not a day for uproar and laughter.  No, today belongs to Peter Davison(1928-2004).

Peter Davison was a man of many talents: poet, singer, amateur actor and editor to authors like Carl Jung, Stanley Kunitz and Agnes de Mille.  He believed that public writing had become too much the stuff of nouns, commodified and inert, and not enough the stufff of verbs.

Don’t you agree with that? He once said that the verb “to die” has a lot more life packed into it than the verb “to be” ever will.

When I first read Mr Davison’s “The Level Path”  I couldn’t just photocopy it, no, I had to write it out in my journal (2010). That’s how much I loved it.  I also think I wept.

Read it out loud, you’ll see.

 

Descend here along a shower of

shallow steps past the potting shed with

its half-rotted ironbound door

 

to reach the level path.  It winds

northward, high hat, girdling

the waist of a limestone cliff

 

beyond earshot of the clamorous village below.  The

squeezed access bears us vaguely along

shifting digressions of the compass, past

 

eye-level seductions of violet, periwinkle, primrose, and petals

like lisping yellow butterflies.  Naked limbs

of beech, haggard liftings of pine,

 

a hairy upthrust of cedar beside a

curving stone bench, all hint at eruptions

into Eros.  Yet another seat displays

 

a cushion of undisturbed luxuriant moss around its clefts and

edges.  Thick harsh leaves

of holly, ivy, even of palmetto

 

thrust up, pathside, between tender new petals,

while other friendly shrubs reach down

from overhead to fondle our faces.

 

There is no escape from the dreadful beauty of

this narrow path.  It leads nowhere

except to itself and

the black water below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Inspiration: Semantic Intuition

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Have you ever had the title of one of your stories pop into your head before you even knew what the story would be about?

This has happened to me a few times.  A perfectly random sentence pops into my head and I think “Whoah! that is the title of my next novel or poem”.  This does not always guarantee that I complete said story or poem but it does get the creative juices going.

Of course sometimes you unintentionally come up with an inspired title just by playing with a few select words.

Sting revealed to Larry King during an interview years ago, that he often writes a song after coming up with a title and Neil Simon came up with the name for his play The Odd Couple before he wrote the play.  Semantic intuition is a technique used not only by creative thinkers and artists like Sting but also by product innovators.

The oddly named, but extraordinarily powerful technique was invented by Helmut Schlicksupp, an employee of the Battelle Corporation’s office in Germany. Semantic intuition is a word-combination technique where brainstormers name an idea first, and then try to figure out what the new idea might be, given its name. As counterintuitive or even as impossible as this group idea-generating strategy might sound, there’s actually a precedent for it in the creative arts.”  - Read article here

 

What counter-intuitive technique have you used to kickstart your creative project?

 

The Gift of Your Story

Originally posted on Live to Write - Write to Live:

I wanted to share the most moving essay I’ve read in a long, long time. It is actor James Rebhorn’s obituary, which he penned himself. Who, you may ask, is James Rebhorn?
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James Rebhorn

I’m not sure I knew his name, but I certainly knew his face. A character actor who has played the “bad” guy so many times I don’t think I can count. He died last week at the (too young) age of  65. He left a huge body of work on film, and on stage. He listed no roles, no awards, no public kudos in his obit. Instead, he talked about his family, and what they meant to him. You can read it here.

I am moved by Mr. Rebhorn’s words. Words he chose to tell his life story, the way he wanted to tell it. His wonderful career barely got a mention at the bottom. He let…

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