A Kind of September

2020-10-01T15:35:06-07:00Categories: featured posts, hiking, politics, quiet, urban life|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

On the first day of September, 2020, I turned my head at just the right moment and saw an owl, still as a portrait, on a branch over a teardrop of a pond in the Arboretum. It was noon. The owl was enjoying the shade, and did not care to move, even after a whispering clutch of onlookers gathered to snap photos on their phones. We were mesmerized by the owl’s patient gaze; by its obliviousness to our restless human need to marvel at its composure. It seemed a good omen of a kind of September: when we could try to remember, as in the old song, when life was slow and oh, so mellow. But no: if the owl was an omen, that was not its message. Seems to me a screaming blue-jay would have been a better harbinger of the fires, floods, pestilence, grief, corruption and mud-slinging that lay in store for us, way back on September 1. On the other hand: maybe the owl in the Arboretum was the right omen for the job. Maybe the owl’s message was: Don’t flail. Find your branch, and stay still like me. We’ll ride this month out, together. Easy for me to say. I did not have to evacuate a home that was about to burn or flood. I did not have to rush to the ER, short of breath. I do not anticipate having my vote rejected. In September 2020, my job turned out to be an owl’s job after all: stay still. Shut out the [...]

Pandemic Mirror

2020-06-30T16:28:53-07:00Categories: brain, creative aging, family, featured posts, health & medicine, memoir, midlife, quiet, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |

“When did my hair get so long?” I ask myself, as I look in the mirror. “And I look so  OLD!” I am 63. We are winding up Month Four of the pandemic. No. I’m not 63. I am seven, and I am winding up two weeks of being home sick with the mumps. I’m standing in front of the full-length mirror that hangs inside my parents’ bedroom closet door. When the door is open, there is plenty of light on the mirror, so it’s ideal for getting a good look at yourself, which I haven’t done in many days. One of my cheeks is puffed out like a popover. But almost more fascinating to seven-year-old me is how long my hair looks. Can it have grown so much since I last took a look at myself? I am also admiring my new pale blue, pearl-buttoned bathrobe, with its fake-fur collar. How did I, the third of six children (five at the time), acquire such a fancy robe? Was it a gift from my elegant grandmother, given to me because I had the mumps? Was I the only one of us who had the mumps? I don’t remember. What I do remember is what a novelty it was to look in the mirror and see only me: my brother and sisters were at school; my baby brother was taking a nap, or maybe he was with Grandma. And I didn’t look like me, pre-mumps. Never mind the puffy cheek: this was the second one to pop [...]

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 [...]

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