A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire...
On Embracing the Unexpected
August rebukes me. July’s end is eclipsed by a trip to the Cape, a trip to Michigan to write fiction, an overnight in NYC to see Indecent. When I return to our summerhouse, I notice the bittersweet outside the kitchen window has oranged; evenings are cooler. August feels melancholy, as if summer is fading away, and with it, my intention to write a lot.
I spent much of the summer waiting: first, for my husband to return from saying goodbye to his father; then for the moment when I could escape to Pennsylvania after a challenging school year. Next, we waited for our second daughter to secure an apartment in NYC. Then, I waited to see if my son could endure summer camp, which he did, in part because of my husband’s commitment, which caused me to wait, alone in the house again, except for our million pets.
I expected to write and write. With few obligations beyond caring for animals and feeding myself, what could prevent me? Everything. My busy brain could not settle. Eventually, I immersed myself in a diary my mother kept in 1944, the year her brother died at Anzio. It was a litany of school obligations, social activities, letters written to and received from her brothers, overseas -- dutiful record-keeping in careful print. I know few sixteen year olds so disciplined. Did someone require this practice? She was not a writer, but she recorded all she did in tidy rectangles. There is little reflection—I craved more feelings. Glimpses of grief were subtle. I wanted to know how she felt about H.G.H. asking her to wear his school pin, an invitation she declined. Who was he? I felt like a voyeur. My mother has been dead for seven years; she cannot answer my questions. Still, my sister and I speculated over coffee. It was like having one of the jigsaw puzzles Mom adored—real wooden ones with pieces in shapes—assembled, with several crucial pieces missing. They are not in the box or beneath the card table; they have vanished.
When I, a memoirist, enrolled in a fiction writing workshop, I gave Mom a new name and wrote about 1944; I invented details and made up situations out of whole cloth. Writing fiction reminded me of playing in a dollhouse. I moved characters around as I pleased.
So, perhaps August wasn’t lost. Waiting offered me an aperture into my mother’s girlhood. I witnessed as much of her grief as she permitted and considered her busy days, here in this house where I sit, writing. I returned home with nine pages of a chapter and inspiration for my memoir.
August is a fulcrum between summer and the start of school, between a few more afternoons at the lake and being certain my son finishes his summer reading. Fiction is a seesaw, too, an up and down balance. I hold my breath, waiting, trying not to bump down too hard in make-believe.
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