Emotional Truth: Teaching Memoir in the Time of Trump

2020-02-29T10:33:18-08:00Categories: arts, brain, Creative, creative aging, featured posts, memoir, politics, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sixteen years ago, on Leap Year Day, my mathematically gifted brother left this world. Felled by glioblastoma, he did not have much choice in the timing of his death. But he did have a flair for drama, and it may have pleased him to give a parting nod to the beauty of numbers. The fact is that he died on February 29, 2004. The emotional truth is that he died not on any old dreary winter day, but on a numerically elegant date that only happens every four years. We memoir writers like to talk about seeking, and writing, the emotional truth. It’s an intuitive concept; more what you feel than what you think. Yes, you tell yourself, when you feel you’ve got it right: what I’ve written is what happened, and why it mattered. Or no, you sigh as you stare at the words on the screen: no, I’m not telling it right. I’m holding back. Or telling the wrong story. Or writing around the heart of the matter, instead of into it. Here’s a famous example of emotional truth, from Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast: “I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again,” Hemingway wrote, of a woman who walked in to the café where he was writing; a woman he still remembered three decades later. “You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” When I teach memoir [...]

Veracruz

2020-01-15T09:06:20-08:00Categories: featured posts, memoir, midlife, travel, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

We welcomed in the 2020s in the Mexican port city of Veracruz, where even the restroom signs can’t stop dancing. Rustin and I arrived on December 28th, thinking it might be quiet for a few days before New Year’s festivities kicked into full swing. Quiet would have been fine with us: we’d been traveling for two weeks and we had a few things to get over, including illness (Rus’s flu) and theft (my phone.) But quiet, in Veracruz? De lo contrario.  On our first short walk—from our hotel overlooking the historic heart of the city, the Zocalo, over to the lively waterfront—we passed two small troupes of folk dancers in flowing white who had set up their wooden platforms on two different street corners, turned on their boom boxes, and commenced to dance. I can’t think of them now without smiling, because they radiated such joy. Crowds were also forming around a capoeira-style breakdancing group. By the time we circled back to the Zocalo, roving bands—mariachi, marimba, ranchero—were working the outdoor bars. Meanwhile, people were thronging in the direction of the main street. A parade was coming, someone told us. We darted across the cordoned avenue to the Bar El Estribo, on the block-long veranda of the stately Gran Hotel Diligencias. Our waiter said the coming parade was called Papaqui and that it would be a sort of mini-Mardi Gras parade, a preview of Carnaval, which is huge in Veracruz. He explained that it was always held on this day, the Dia de los Inocentes, so [...]

Wild Isle

2019-12-09T14:04:05-08:00Categories: featured posts, hiking, memoir, midlife, nature, parenting, quiet, Seattle, Uncategorized, urban life, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Wild Isle: what a beautiful pair of words. But where, on earth, might there be a wild isle in a city? Right in my back yard, as it turns out. One hundred and just about nine years ago, the voters of Seattle gave themselves a gift they decided to call Seward Park: an island of wild old-growth forest that juts into Lake Washington from its southwest shore, barely connected to the mainland via a then-slim isthmus. It seemed only right to name this green jewel box after William Seward, best known for negotiating the 1867 purchase of Alaska, a territory that Seattleites were very fond of, back in 1911, because of the money that had poured into the city as gold prospectors from all over the world stopped to gear up before sailing from Seattle to the Klondike by way of Alaska. On their way home, the miners stopped through again, and spent more money. At last, Seattle could afford the wild isle at the southern end of the stunning chain of parks and boulevards laid out by the famed Olmsted brothers of New York. And now our Wild Isle has its own beautiful book.  Published by the Friends of Seward Park under the painstaking direction of writer/editor Paul Talbert and photo editor/designer Karen O’Brien, Wild Isle in the City is full of “tales from Seward Park’s First 100 years,” as the subtitle promises. But it goes back much, much further, all the way back to the Ice Age geology that shaped our city; the abundance [...]

Being Mortal in the Time of Trump

2019-11-07T12:07:12-08:00Categories: creative aging, faith and doubt, featured posts, gun control, hiking, human rights, immigration, politics, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

What matters most? That question has been like a three-word anthem for me this month, as I re-read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The small Seattle church I attend is having a summer book club, of sorts, which consists of reading Being Mortal and getting together in small groups to talk about it over dinner. The group I was in kept coming back to that question: what matters most? In Being Mortal, Gawande talks about a patient who decided that for him, life would continue to be worth living as long as he could enjoy chocolate ice cream and watching football on TV. Another patient, who knew her time was limited, wanted to be able to continue to give piano lessons as long as she could. But what really matters most—behind the scenes of those two and pretty much all of Gawande’s examples—is being with the people you love. Being able to love and be loved. That’s what matters most. The other day, I was feeling a sort of low-grade emotional fever, triggered by Not Accomplishing Enough Work-Wise while wishing I could Just Go Swimming. My malaise was compounded by that other virus I can’t seem to kick: Creeping Despair.           I decided to wallow. Just for a few minutes. So I opened Facebook. And there was the most delightful post from an old friend, describing how much fun she’d had hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park with her adult son. There were photos and captions loaded with mutual affection. [...]

Vietnam

2019-11-07T12:08:22-08:00Categories: featured posts, memoir, midlife, travel, Uncategorized, war|Tags: , , , |

The day I left Vietnam, I laughed and laughed. I had not expected to. I woke up feeling sad about having to leave after only two weeks: far too short a time for my first visit to this captivating country. But my travel-mates—Anne and Lindsay, close friends I have known since freshman year of college—and I had hatched a plan for our final morning: we would get up at 5:30, throw on clothes, and walk over to Hoan Kiem Lake, a short stroll from our hotel in Hanoi. Anne had done this the day before. “Trust me,” she said. “You won’t believe it.” As we neared the lakeshore, the streets filled with people, many in athletic outfits, walking, jogging, bicycling. They, and we, were reveling in the relative cool of the dawn  air: by 9 am, we all knew the temperature would be in the 90s and indescribably humid. When we got to the lake, we saw exercise groups of every possible type, all of them already in full swing: Tai Chi, yoga, Zumba, old-school aerobics, hip-hop dancing, ballroom dancing. Across the street, a few dozen people had gathered with the apparent purpose of laughing their heads off. The laughing people motioned to us to join them. Why not? “Ha, ha, HEE,” we all shouted in unison, as we stretched and moved in gentle yoga-like ways, following the leader as best we could; breaking into more free-form laughter as we formed into a shoulder-massaging congo line; and then making different laughing noises as we clustered in [...]

Fear of Not Flying

2019-11-07T12:08:56-08:00Categories: arts, faith and doubt, featured posts, memoir, reading, travel, writing|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

One week out from a big trip, I usually start feeling what I can only call an irrational, nagging dread. I can feel it right now: pulsing away, right alongside its sprightly, opposite twin: happy anticipation. Why does the anticipation never quite drown out the dread? Next week, I am going to Vietnam with two friends. I’ve never been there. But I have a long history of loving the experience of being somewhere I have never been. I like to think of myself as someone who does not fear the unknown. And yet of course I do. Hence the dread. It’s not the unknown of Vietnam, or of any other place that is new to me, which I fear. And it is not a textbook fear of flying. It’s more like a fear of not flying: a fear that one day, I will become that person who can’t or won’t, because I’ve just gotten too damn good at imagining every single worst-case scenario. Is that it? Not quite. No, that more accurately describes another fear I’m currently trying to throttle, which is the fear of sending my almost-ready second memoir, The Observant Doubter, off to agents and editors, with the full knowledge that there will likely be many, many rejections to weather before my manuscript lands in its publishing home. There will be turbulence. I may be deploying that little white paper bag. I picture my manuscript as a tiny prop plane, no bigger than an old-school cropduster, buffeted by currents and squalls far beyond my [...]