MaMoMeMo
May is motherhood memoir month

writing

A Year of Going Nowhere

Were you planning on traveling this year? We were going to Chicago in June, meet up with our oldest son’s family, head down to the Henry County fair and watch the harness races for posterity and writing research; my grandfather owned the world champion harness racing horse in 1926 and I’d like to write him into a story. Last year I visited cousins in Geneseo, where my grandmother is from, a re-connection brought about by my mother’s death. In July, we planned to head to Germany through Amsterdam with a stop to see the van Gogh exhibit. Now travel plans appear precarious, if not impossible. I love to travel, but it’s difficult to imagine a relaxing experience, even if and when places open again, at least this year. And that’s okay. Lately, through reading and research I’ve been revisiting Arles, Paris, and Auvers with van Gogh through his letters and…

Collage Words into Your Writing

What are your reading? Let it bleed a bit into your writing.When you run across a phrase or word you love, write it down. Then when you get stuck in your own writing, try collaging in a random phrase or word. I keep some of the beat poets handy for this. But I also find echoes to play with in books on writing or painting. Novels too. And non-fiction. Everything.You’ll be surprised how much fun this is. It can take your story, essay, or memoir in whole new directions.That’s the fun of it. Experimenting and exploring.Try it. I dare you.

Paper doll Mom

Have you ever imagined a character you’re writing, or your mother, as something you might play with, some relic from your past? I’m going through my dead mother’s artifacts when I find a youthful head shot of her, colored and cutout, like the bust of a paper doll. Back before color photography, my mother painted her sepia photos with a set of Marshall’s photo-oils, bringing a rosy glow to her cheeks, shading her lips to set off her straight white teeth, dotting her eyes deep blue, and adding a touch of auburn to her hair. In the 50s, my mother was starlet pretty, a once-upon-a-time model, so the tinted head shot of her, taken before she stood next to the wrong man, is easy to imagine as an iconic paper doll I’d dress with my youngest daughter, the last one left at home. She’s 11, on the cusp of adolescence,…

Writing as a Team

The Power of Writing with Others collage by L.Lyn Greenstone Not so long ago, we used to meet at the local library, six writers and myself. I introduced a prompt and we got right to work, a short session of only five minutes, plus a minute to wrap it up. Each writer had the option to read or pass. The first reading was read aloud- optional- but no feedback given. The reading acts as an introduction; this is who we are as writers- this is what we write. Beyond this, it was an opportunity for the writer to hear how the words she’s put together fell upon the ear and heart. Years ago when I was at UCSD, Eudora Welty came into our Honors Writing class to chat with 10 of us for an hour. “My own words, when I’m at work on a story reach me through the reader-voice,…

Comfort and Challenge

In making my list of 10 elements for a great day (yesterday’s post) I found myself contemplating the balance between comfort and challenge. A good day possesses them both, in unequal measure, as one bleeds into the other. Writing, for example, is both challenging and comforting. I begin with the easy flow of words in a journal, just writing whatever comes to mind, which I find comforting, seeing my thoughts materialize on the page, the abstract inner workings of a mind translated into black and white, or in my case, purple, my ink gel color of choice. Purple both soothes and excites my soul. From the space of colorful freewriting, I find it easier to move into the work of writing, developing stories and putting words together that others might make sense out of, or be moved by- more challenging, and sometimes unexplainably exhausting. And yet, at the end of…

Dented Love’s Saluted Image

“In my unresisting picture, all love seen All said is dented love’s saluted image” This line from beat poet, Bernadette Mayer, calls out to me from her book, Midwinter Day, written on the shortest day of the year; a mother with two small children wrote an entire book in one day. Cataloging every thought, every image and scene, beginning with waking from a dream, flitting from one moment to the next, as a mother’s life does, yet still missing many it is an epic memoir/poem streamed from what might be her subconscious. But what is dented love’s saluted image? What can it be, but motherhood? My mother, my daughters, my self This image, my mother, my three daughters, each born in different decades, and myself, calls me out too. So today, I’m putting them together. A line-up. Almost 10 years ago, before I left California, I asked my mother and…

Why We Write

Why do you write? Every now and then I return to this existential question. Like Flannery O’Connor, I don’t know what I think until I write. I need to see my thoughts spelled out in words, and then I can edit them, put them in order. When I see them in black and white, or purple- I love purple gel ink pens– I can shape them. But until then they are floating and abstract. Have you thought about this? I’m almost certain you have, but it’s worth revisiting now and then. Like Henri Nouwen, I’m seeking to articulate the movement of my inner life. As writers, maybe we are also trying to rephrase the world, take it in and give it back better, “so that everything is used and nothing is lost” as Nicole Krauss writes.Or, like Anaïs Nin maybe we want to create a world in which we can…

Devious Dolls

What do you do with your mother’s doll collection after she dies? No one wanted them, except my youngest daughter, but we had to fly home from Las Vegas, and she already had too many dolls for the size of our house. “You can have one box of dolls. One small box,” I said, giving in, trying to think where we would put them when we got back to our down-sized house in the Pacific Northwest. We’d gone from 6 kids to 4, to 2, and now finally, to one; one child who still wants to play with dolls at 11. In today’s grow-up fast culture that’s got to be a good thing, right? A year and a half later, as our daughter turned 13, she asked for only one birthday gift: a dollhouse for her American Girl dolls, which are quite large. But when your quarantined daughter becomes a…

The Job You Can Never Quit

Fanny Howe never let children get in the way of writing. When I was at UCSD in the late 90s getting a Literature/Writing degree I had the honor of being mentored by the poet and novelist. I interviewed her once for a magazine and she described her writing process as a single mother, children climbing across her feet under the kitchen table as she wrote. The image has always haunted me; children are not an excuse not to write. The condition of motherhood demands that you learn to give birth to someone who won’t last, to love someone who will leave, to teach a person who will suffer anyway, to put a life before your own… To have a job that you can never quit. Fanny Howe, The Pinocchian Ideal. Have you ever felt like quitting? Write about that.

Set an Extravagant Goal

Sunday is a day I rest, relax, rejoice. Then plan my week. What do you want to do in May? In WA our stay at home order has been extended. Perfect. For writers. I’m thinking of all the writing I can continue, all the things I appreciate about home. And I’m rethinking some of my goals. They seem extravagant. But I feel made for that. Set an extravagant goal, one you’d be stoked to reach. Then reach for it. It could be writing in a journal each day, or writing a letter you’ve been meaning to write, or a number of words each day, or just writing something each day. You know what would make you feel stoked. Decide and Do it. Unlike NanoWriMo who sets the goal for you, you get to decide what works best for you. Maybe it is 15 minutes a day. Or 10. Or 30.…

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