The Actual Writing
I am keeping this telling of the story in small pieces. First, because it’s simply easier to do it that way, but more importantly, because I want to concentrate on the steps involved in the process before, during, and after the entire experience. In her book, Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarrissa Pinkola Estes tells us that story is medicine: meant to heal. In my own experience that healing is not just meant for the audience who hears the story, but for the teller of the story, as well.
Telling the story, brings it back, often with a different focus than when it was actually going on. When it was happening, we are lucky if we were fully aware of its design and meaning. Telling the story allows us to really see it and learn from its process. I have never told this story fully before. And even after only these past few days, I am startled by some of the details and what they taught me, if only on a subconscious level. Telling the story may allow others to see their own in a different light, but it is also helping me clarify my own process at that time and what it might signify in the present moment. The Journey always continues.
So, I had that first stanza and I liked it. I had put those two people together, sitting together, yet kept them as separate individuals. What to do, and where to go from there was the next question. I went back into those very brief notes I had jotted down in my journal. Images I had seen, memories of other times, words that had been spoken, and stories told by other individuals as I grew up.
Wanting to keep that individual awareness intact, I thought about the separate actions of each of my parents, and those of my many aunts and uncles. There were so many different points of view and it could have gotten confusing. These were people from another generation than my own. People of traditions and thought processes different from my own.
In college, I had come in contact with the Women’s Movement and been deeply changed by that experience. I didn’t want my own view to interfere with the image I was building. I added a few more notes to my list, and found a way to portray what I had seen and experienced, and worked hard to keep my own personal bias out of it. I think I succeeded on some levels, but personal bias can’t be escaped altogether.
Working very quickly, I framed out the next few stanzas:
She hums a song someone
played at their wedding,
while he daydreams of dancing
with their prettiest guest.
Although these two people have been together for years, they remain distinct individuals with thoughts and feelings of their own. I could see her humming that song with a dreamy expression on her face, thinking back to one of the most important days of her existence. But, I also could see him listening and recognizing the music and letting it drift him in a totally different direction. I rather liked the humor and bit of irony within that image.
It was easy to see these two individuals because I had watched my parents sit together many times, sometimes being aware that their thoughts took them in different directions. It was like a dance where they came together, then separated only to come back together again. I understood that, had learned through the years, to dance on paper with my pen as my only partner. Dancing and taking chances, learning new steps right there on the dance floor, improvising and just letting it happen. That little twist delighted me, and made me grin. I was really getting into this one.
So, I separated them again:
He reviews images of work,
playing cards, hunting, fishing;
hears creak of wooden oars
cutting through cold morning mist.
She sees an old treadle sewing
machine, the vegetable garden
bordered on all sides by favorite
bright colored flowers,
And brought them back together again in their separate roles but with a common focus:
and remembers platters of fresh
fish dragged through flour,
then fried to golden crispness
in the hot oil of a black iron skillet.
It was here in these verses that I stepped in and used my own memories. I was my father’s fishing buddy, had learned to play cards from him, poker and cribbage. Had watched my mother cook our cleaned catch in that heavy black iron skillet, because they always tasted better when fried in that particular pan. By the way, although I loved to go fishing, I didn’t particularly like the taste of fish. But, I would sit through the cooking and the eating, and listen to my Dad tell the story of what we’d done, often turning it into an adventure, making all of us laugh and pleased with the outcome.
When we were in grade school, my mother often grew flowers along side the house. She was allergic to the pollen, but needed to be able to look out the window and see them flourishing there. When I was married, my husband created a huge vegetable garden and would often plant flowers around the borders of that huge space.
It all seemed to be working, coming together quite rapidly. But now, I had to bring them together in a way that would speak of the essence of that long established and loving relationship. For that, I would have to draw on those final days of my father’s life, what I had been a silent participant in, watching, learning, and feeling my own loss at the same time.
(to be continued…)