Jostled by the Amtrak, I was heading home from the Adirondacks. It was the first time I offered one of these long writing weekends, I called my biz partner Kelly, “This is what I was put on this earth to do. I have found my purpose. It went so well.”
Yes, of course, I’ve felt this way, at other times, as a parent, writer, and teacher. But this calling — to be a writing workshop leader (facilitator? guru?) was different. I immediately felt gratification and somehow I knew by doing it, I’d changed the world for good. This was needed then.
It is needed now. Especially with the world of late. The news never seems good. For a few days next weekend, I’m looking forward to ditching my social media habit and my daily gnawing worry for the state of the union.
I need to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I need to figure out who I am and what I think and how I feel. I need to express and share this vision — small or large. About relationships or about the nation. About my peace with the past or my intentions for the future. About tuning in to the present moment — the sound of a loon calling or the lake splashing against the dock.
There are spots still available. You are most welcome to join. Especially if, like me, you need time away to get your head, your heart, or your life together.
I love to run to the Britney Spears song “Piece of Me.” But I haven’t been running lately.
Like Britney, everyone wants a piece of me — a piece of ass or a pound of flesh. No one seems to add to me. No one but chocolate and wine and cappuccino. They give without asking and I love them for it.
My kids want the $20s in my wallet. I’m the bank. My husband wants me to replace the ink cartridge in his printer — because now that H. has gone to college, I’m Tech Support. Yes and when H. comes home, he wants clean laundry; I’m the laundress. He also wants a dinner bigger than Trump’s ego. As for work — my writing job wants my stories written last week and at my teaching job, my students want to be entertained and given straight As.
Don’t they all know I could be fricken’ Hemingway if only I had the time?
Well, let them extract their pound of flesh, I could use to lose a few pounds. But take from my hips, not my brains or heart. Not my wallet. Go ahead, take. I still have a lot to give. I am not a placemat. Do I mean doormat? In any case, I am not a mat that you put dirty dishes or dirty boots on.
I am a doily — a small, pretty, lace thing. Delicate and grandmotherly. I survive this period of my life because someday, I’ll be a grandmother. By then, maybe my kids will no longer pick my wallet or expect a meal or clean laundry. They will see in me the things I am really good for. And do really well. Play. Tell stories. Make jokes. Sing silly songs. Write poetry. Walk (not run) in the park. Sit on a park bench.
I do look forward to growing old and returning to my childhood. A second childhood when no one extracts a pound of flesh.
Sit for a minute on life’s journey to assess where you are and how far you’ve come.
Maybe like me, your June is a shifting kaleidoscope.
My son graduated from high school, got a job, wants to buy a car — all in less than a week.
My mother came and went, visiting from Chicago. We walked and talked. She offered unasked-for advice. She also offered unasked-for love. We picnicked in Riverside Park, walked the High Line, wandered in Central Park, took in a Broadway Show (“An Act of God with Jim Parsons).
One of my 15-year old daughters set off for 12 days of kayaking in Alaska last night.
The other daughter came home at 1 am last night, causing me to worry with a heart attack. (She was repentant. Blamed the West Side Highway traffic!)
Chris gathered some of his friends from First Grade for a reunion dinner party at our house last night. It was lovely. When I first met Chris, I was deeply attracted to his friends and the way he loved them. Funny, isn’t it? This is such a lovable quality — having nice friends. But Chris is slowing down a lot. Because of his Parkinson’s, he seems older or frailer than his friends.
When? Why? How did we all grow older? Why did my kids grow up? I told them not to! I said Stay Little! They were the cutest little darlings. Does all this mean I am ageing too?
The life coaching call reminds me to embrace the memories; celebrate the moment; choose joy; stay true; stay present. We make mistakes; we make amends. We hang in there. We have a family motto, “Jones Kids never give up.”
In the midst of my busy family life, the life coaching call is a breath — a slowing down — to take it in. Celebrate this moment. We have so much. Gratitude wins. Love wins.
I jot down my thoughts and dreams and hopes for my family. I send them like messages in a bottle. Hope they reach the shore. Hope my daughters and son (husband, mother, extended family, friends) know I love them. Believe that love is enough.
At book club, one of my friends asked, “How are the kids managing with you working so much?”
“Kids?” I asked. “Kids? What kids?”
But I felt reassured last night. A fellow teacher told me, after I declined Happy Hour to come home to work, “It’s good you work a lot. Better to be a parent of benign neglect than a helicopter parent.”
This is a recurring theme with me, so skip the next coupla paragraphs if you’ve read this from me before. But I feel so badly that my kids’ father has Parkinson’s Disease that I do too much for them. I work too hard to provide every fabulous thing or vacation they need (or want). (Did I mention H. is going to Patagonia, Coco to Costa Rica, and Cate may go to Alaska?) I want them to have a happy childhood despite their father’s disease.
But then, I get the feeling, What about me? After organizing the whole family, I get resentful, “I’m working too hard! I need some ME TIME!”
I just saw this news on Facebook of a women’s writing conference. This warmed me — the thought of women writers sitting barefoot on the grass, talking about nothing or everything, at Skidmore College. Chatting about childhood, mothering, girlhood, international sisterhood! How nice is that! Maybe I’ll sign up. It’ll help me get me through the winter.
An Arctic wind is rattling the scaffolding outside my apartment window. I have so much housework to do. Loneliness settles in. I need parties and gatherings, but also need to burrow down, sort through papers and plans and permission slips. I need to dust and vacuum.
I need to do all that, I also need to work. So let me get back to my freelance writing, lesson planning, and sound design. And then get to the housework.
PS If you’re looking for writing support, the WordPress courses are superfun. They start in February (which is tomorrow!)
Maybe if I had a second extra hour, I’d spend that time querying other magazines and newspapers with my funny, short essays.
I sent that essay to the newspaper as part of my challenge to query 7 places in 7 days. I may challenge myself with that again. But maybe in November, because in October my challenge is to post every single day. And besides that, I’m a little lazy.
Ah, Maya, I never knew you. But you knew me. You spoke to me and valued me. You valued us all, enough to invoke us to tell our stories. You held yourself so regally. You made it okay to be a performer, an artist, a writer, a teacher, a mother, a friend. To be creative and public in so many outlets.
At times, I have felt, I am too many things. I should be only one. But you showed me that we contain multitudes. Besides that, we shared the same birthday – April 4.
I felt in you, a kinship. Your words inspired me. Your poetry, essays and advice.
“I don’t think there’s such a thing as autobiographical fiction. If I say it happened, it happened, even if only in my mind. I promised myself that I would write as well as I can, tell the truth, not to tell everything I know, but to make sure that everything I tell is true, as I understand it.”
“The best candy shop a child can be left alone in is the library.”
“We write for the same reason that we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans — because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings.”
It is in this candy shop, in this exploration, that I have ventured forth, offering my writing, encouraging others to write. I only want to hear stories. And to tell stories. And to get at some truth.
I believe stories live on. That the story teller disappears but that the truths remain.
And when you die, somehow you are home. “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” (This was one of Angelou’s tweets — so awesome that she embraced twitter – a forum for poets or pundits, snarky or sincere.)
First of all, it is always amazing to see respect lauded on a writer.
Respect is not why I write. But I have to admit that reverence for a writer – in this case, P.L Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, a children’s book, is a rare and beautiful thing.
Women as Creative Team Leaders
From a feminist perspective, I loved that the men, even the studio head, the great Walt Disney himself, deferred to Travers. Of course we all know men who defer to their female bosses or wives or business partners. It should not be an oddity. But somehow, the world has turned and I rarely see men respecting women in mainstream movies.
Maybe because I have teenagers I am overexposed to hyper-sexualized women in the media on awards shows – too many women rock stars wearing lingerie while the men wear black tee shirts and jeans.
But seeing Travers run the show? Well, that was just amazing. She is occasionally arbitrary – but what genius is not? Emma Thompson is brilliant at creating this very real, flawed, lovable, cold writer.
Explaining Mary Poppins
I loved, too, that Saving Mr. Banks explained why Mary Poppins does not change as a character. Like everyone, I love the Julie Andrews movie. But it’s always bothered me that Mary Poppins does not change – she does not become more loving or more interesting as the film progresses.
Her character does not go through the fires of some great conflict and come out the better for it. This movie explains why. She is the agent for other’s transformation, not her own. Change is reserved for Mr. Banks, the father, an idealized version of Travers’ father.
Becoming More Loving
Our Travers gently returns to being an imaginative and playful person. This transformation into a loving human being happens in small ways. Our hero here does not suddenly turn around and become a fabulous new person.
This is a subgenre of movie I happen to love — watching characters return to love — like the movie based on C.S. Lewis’ Shadowlands.
What About Mrs. Banks?
Now, you know, I have to find something not to love. I did not love that Travers seemed to be seeking to come to terms with only her father. What about her mother? She certainly was equally complex. Is the mother not as curious and exciting and crazy a character to explore? Or are men more enigmatic? Why must it be the father we need to heal?
The Treasure Trove of Childhood
I, like Travers, have a treasure trove in my past – a childhood of great love, adventure, and benign neglect. But it is in from this personal history that so much creativity can spring from.
This book reminded me of Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child, a psychological text that explains why overly sensitive children do not have a full childhood as they are always in tune to their parents’ struggles. Then, as adults, they are adrift. They are less inclined or able to explore their own lives. I think about this from my own story and from my children’s reality.
There are times that I, perhaps due to Chris’s Parkinson’s, as a parent, turn to the children for more support than maybe they need or want to give. And then there are times, too, I just let them off the hook — but that’s another story. Or maybe it’s the same story. It’s the story of excessive attachment and then, benign neglect. I console myself with the certainty that great creativity can come from a troubled childhood.
You should see — or read — this story. Think about it, talk about it — about respect for writers, women as creative leaders, the importance of childhood, and what makes for creative genius.