Use Your Fear

2020-03-31T09:28:21-07:00Categories: faith and doubt, family, featured posts, health & medicine, nature, Seattle, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , , |

“Want to hear what our resident coyotes sound like?” read the headline in our south Seattle neighborhood’s Nextdoor Digest email. You bet I do, I thought. Anything to distract me from the latest coronavirus news. I clicked play. Do you know the sound? It’s not haunting in an old Western movie way; it’s more like something out of a horror film; like the screeches that slice along with the killer’s kitchen knife in Psycho. I want to play it again right now, so I can do a better job of describing it, but actually I… don’t want to. What I’ve heard from neighbors is that we have exactly two resident coyotes in our local greenbelt. But the noise they make sounds like a screaming chorus of two dozen starving dogs, ready to hunt now. And here’s what I didn’t think about when I pressed play and the coyotes started howling from my computer speakers: our cat was in the room. The second he heard that noise, he leaped straight up from a sound sleep into his maximum-alert posture, which he maintained for several minutes as he scanned the neighborhood from our upstairs window, his eyes darting like an air traffic controller’s. I tried to soothe him, but he would have none of it. Did I not understand that his life was at stake?! Finally, satisfied that the danger was past, he curled up and went right back to sleep. He knows how to use his fear, I thought. Danger at hand? Be maximum-alert. Get an immediate [...]

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 [...]