Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Memoir

It's no where near finished; it's rough around some edges; in other places, it's much too tight.

But it's time to get some feedback...

In the past two years, I've learned that writing a memoir is like trying to catch my own tail--and I don't have a tail. Just when I think I've nailed it down, when I sit back and smile, thinking: That's it! I've got all the themes in place, all that's left is one more pass to even out to rough spots, something happens. There's a shift in my life or my thinking and whoosh, I'm back, staring at the pages, shaking my head.

That said, here's a little piece. I'd LOVE to get some feedback on this--a comment, an email (oscaramyr@aol.com), a tweet... Writing can be, is, a solitary business--which is odd, as writers are, in a sense, in a constant conversation with the book, with the material. In fact, since posting this yesterday, I've changed it five or six times. Having the illusion that you're out there, reading it, compels me to make it better.

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“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery,” Annie Dillard

Light. We’re all chasing it. Capturing fireflies, splitting atoms, sitting in congregations aching toward God. My daughter snaps photographs, and flickering images on film. My son, a traveler, chases sunsets around the world.

My husband, Matthew, is an Architect. Sometimes it seems all he does is capture light. Borrowing it from one room for another, cutting windows into walls of wood, stone and steel.

Me, I write about angels: Stories about rescues, prophetic visions, life altering dreams. I could tell you about lost wedding rings, suddenly found; terminal illnesses healed; disembodied voices shouting life-saving commands, saving people in cars, trucks, airplanes and ships.

My favorites are the stories where mysterious strangers suddenly appear, do something impressive—stop bleeding, catch old ladies, offer reassuring comfort, return lost children to their frantic parents—and then, disappear without a trace.
I have always believed in angels, people often begin their letters or, I’ve never been sure about angels… but I am now!

With a job like this, immersed in the evidence that there are miracles happening everywhere, every day, you might think that my life would be perfect. And it was. It is. It’s just that perfection isn’t what I once thought it would be.

For the closer we creep to any light source—light bulb, star, God—the hotter it gets. I had no idea what I’d signed up for when, inspired by the stories I was reading, and the beauty and the humor of the angels’ responses, I began to pray myself: Please use my life. Help me to experience real joy. Teach me what love really means. And please, oh, please, make it about more than just me.

This book, guided by the angels every step of the way, is a study of the soul and its language; a study of the heart and its essential energy--a story of love refracted through the lenses of: Yoga; the House; the Heart; and the passages of human life.

This book is the chronicle of a journey of transformation, from loving in a way that left me drained, frustrated and sick—with adrenal failure and migraine headaches—to loving in a clear, rich way; a way that has filled and healed me on every level. It's been a a journey from self-sacrifice to true love, and that's meant loving myself enough to say no. As I journeyed, I changed: from victim to author; from overwhelmed SuperMom to Wise Woman, a daughter of the Divine Feminine source that nourishes us all.

This is the story of how I was born again—not in the Christian “Born Again”sense of the term, but rather, born for a second time; born in the way that a person is squashed and squeezed through a tight, twisting space, born in the way that a seed presses toward light, emerging from tightly packed soil into a forest of tall oaks, fragrant pines and dappled sunlight—again.

Late Summer 2007
“The world breaks people’s hearts,” my father says. He’s lying on his bed, addressing his comments to the ceiling because he’s unable to turn his head in my direction. As he rests between thoughts, his face twists, one cheek tightening, an eyebrow lifting; the upper lip rippling across his perfectly straight, white teeth like a wave.
This rhythm of tics and grimaces is caused by Cerebral Palsy, a misfire in the wiring of my father’s brain. It’s as familiar to me as the steady in and out of my breath; yet this is the first time I’ve been able to simply sit and observe it—to really see it—because he is not, as I watch him, watching me.
“Maybe our hearts break because we think things should be different--we think we should be special; we…”
“What do you mean special?” he frowns.
“You know. We think we won’t get old, won’t fall apart, won’t die.”
“I won’t,” Dad says, and I laugh.
Maybe Dad will outrun death; maybe he’ll find a way to stem the tide of decline that’s sweeping through his body. He’s certainly trying.

Unable to simply sit, stand and walk across the room—unwilling to accept or to ask for help; Dad’s developed, over the past few months, a complicated algorithm of movements just to be able to get out of bed, to move to the rolling chair where he takes his meals, or walk the fifteen-foot distance to his bathroom.
He rocks, back straight, arms at his sides until he’s built enough momentum to launch himself to a seated position. Then, jerking his torso to the right, he spins a quarter-turn and kicks his legs over the side of the bed.
With his left hand he grabs his right and heaves it—dead weight--up and over the right side of the walker. If I’m there, I offer to uncoil his fingers from their perpetual fist and place them in a grip around the metal frame. Sometimes, he lets me. Other times, he says, “No, that’s okay.”

He wiggles his feet into his shoes, which he’s carefully left at the side of the bed. One foot is swollen to almost twice the width of the other. But when I point this out, he snaps, “ I know! What do you want me to do about it?”
Holding fast to the aluminum walker, he drags one foot along the floor at a time, inching toward the bathroom, ten feet away. This takes five minutes.
Waiting for his return, I think of Superman and how, though he’s “more powerful than a locomotive,” there is always Kryptonite. I think of Wolverine, the X-Man who can shoot knives out of his fingers—but not without slicing the flesh of his hands to ribbons.
All of this suffering, all of this soldiering on in spite of our pain and limitations: There is wisdom here, in this little room, something about not giving up, about fate, and acceptance and doing what we can. There’s something, too, about love and memory, about family and commitment and taking care of each other. Here in my father’s room at the top of the stairs, I’m listening to a new voice, from the deepest part of my self, whisper: I don’t throw people away.

2
On the little card table where he takes his meals, there’s a heavy glass beer stein with a straw, through which my father, who has trouble using his hands, can sip his coffee, light and sweet the way he likes it. My teacup sits, on the opposite side of the table, releasing steam.
Dad talks, rests, drifts and, as often happens when I visit, I find myself drifting, too—into rooms where we’ve lived, up and down paths we’ve walked, together and alone. I release my hurry up world of magazine deadlines, of teenagers who have to be somewhere on time and my heart begins to pace his, just as I used to pace my strides to his longer, faster ones.
In this memory, I’m sitting on Dad’s shoulders, arms wrapped around his warm neck, my cheek pressed into the wool of his tweed cap. The neighborhood is blanketed with snow. Dad holds my ankles.
In this one, I’m younger, not yet walking. I’m sliding a braided scatter rug across the polished wood floor into and then out of a slash of sunlight. I am fascinated by the dust motes, swirling like stars. I can smell the smoke from my mother's cigarette and the turpentine-soaked rag she uses to clean the oil paint from her brushes.
Suddenly, my father’s face looms before me, a bright balloon that I swat at, delighted. I fall back, laughing, and he catches my head in his hand.


3
The father-daughter bond, it’s complicated. A few years earlier, I consulted a therapist—the fourth in a string of mental health counselors Id visited as I searched for the right person to help me... what? Fix something? Understand something? Leave my marriage? Stay? Though uncertain what I was looking for, I knew what I didn’t want. And so far, each therapist had ended up telling me, in one way or another, “You’ll never be happy until you leave this marriage.” One therapist, a thin woman with severe features and a tight bun (at least that's how I remember her now) had challenged, "What do you see in him?"

I’d heard that this man, Randy Sherman, was different. “He sees beneath the surface,” my friend, Jeanne, had told me. “He sees the things other people miss.”
In our first session, I laid out the ground rules. “Don’t take my side. Don’t buy into my bullshit. I’m going to try and blame everything on my husband, my parents. Make me be responsible for my own life.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “I promise.”
Ten minutes into the session, he interrupted me. “Did you have a brain injury?”
“What?"
"A car accident? A fall?"
"No. Why?"
"it's your speech," he said. tapping his fingers against his chin. "There’s something…”
“Oh, that,” I laughed. “People are always asking me where I’m from. They say I sound European.”

“No,” he said. “You sound like you have some sort of brain damage.”
“I do?”
“You do. It sounds as if there’s some tongue numbness, some loss of acuity in your speech. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head? Did you have a fall—in childhood, perhaps?”
“No…”
“Well, then it’s one of your parents. Which one of them had a brain injury?”
People have always said I look like my father. “No mistaking that smile,” they’d say, or, “Well, now this apple didn’t fall far from the tree!”
“My father has Cerebral Palsy,” I told Randy. “That’s brain damage.”
“That’s it,” he nods. “You sound, just a little, like you’ve got it too. There’s a thickness in the tongue. It’s subtle—a slurring at the edges of words. Can you feel that?”
An hour later, driving home, my tongue feels swollen, too big for its cradle at the bottom of my mouth, too long for my throat.

I’ve spent years distancing myself from my parents. But now, in this year of sitting and listening, of setting aside the urgent rush of my life to attend to the slower rhythm of Dad’s, I sense that I may have turned a corner. After a lifetime of running, as fast as I can, in the opposite direction, I may just be headed back home.

4
When my parents still shared a home, and Dad’s health began to slide he went to the dentist and had all of his bottom teeth pulled.
Why?” I asked. "There was no decay? No problems?”
“It’s easier this way.”
“What’s easier?”
“At the dentist, it’s hard for me to keep my mouth from moving. Hard for him to work with my face moving all the time. This is easier.”
“Easier for who?” Mom laughed. At first, she didn’t mind pureeing his meals—reducing her carefully layered lasagna, her lemon parsley chicken, her sirloin tips in Bordeaux to an unrecognizable pulp. When he asked her to feed him with a spoon, she did, for a while. But when he started snapping: “What’s wrong with you? Hold the spoon steady;” she bristled.
“I don’t have time for this. It may take him a little longer to eat but I have other things to do.”

5
We’re flying down the highway at 70 mph when my husband, who’s driving, decides to clean his eyeglasses. He takes them off, polishes the lenses with the tail of his shirt and puts them back on.
“I still can’t see.” He removes them again. Then, rolling down his window, he commands, “Hold the steering wheel,” and lets it go.

“What? No! Wait!” From the passenger seat, I grab the wheel as my husband, with his foot still on the accelerator, lifts his torso, leans out the window and extends his glasses in front of the windshield, trying to catch them in the spray of the washer fluid which he keeps activating in little spurts, along with the wipers.

“Matt!” I screech, trying to keep the car on the road.
“It’s just for a second,” he calls, the wind carrying his voice away.
“Get…the… fuck… back… in… here!”
“Okay, okay,” he laughs, dropping back into his seat and reclaiming the steering wheel.
Breathless, I stare at him. And then, infuriating myself, I start to laugh.
"Oh, now don’t laugh,” he grins. “It only encourages me.”
“I know,” I punch him in the arm."I know..."

From the back seat, our daughter, Katie, 16, pulls out her cell phone. “This is definitely going in the movie,” she says, texting a message to her brother.

Katie and Max are making a movie. Instead of turning to drugs or cutting themselves (which, under the circumstances, I would certainly understand), they are compensating for their parents’ shortcomings with humor and art.
They write everything down, chronicling our patchwork days and hurried dinners, the strange, cobbled together vacations that we always leave until the last minute to plan, The forgotten birthdays, the day-late visits from the tooth fairy. (She was just so busy and a little bit hung-over from that wedding the night before. And she left a really nice note with a glittery fairy footprint on it, explaining that she just “had so many teeth to pick up”…)
And the way their parents argue, circling the kitchen table:

“What you don’t understand, Amy…”
“Understanding is not the same thing as agreeing, Matthew,”
“If you’d only support me, Amy”
“If you’d only talk to me, Matthew”.

They’ve given up trying to help, given up getting upset. They’ve even given up—for the most part—sighing and leaving the room. Now it’s an art project, an effort to collect the bits and pieces that don’t seem to match, into one taped-together whole that they can consider the way a sculptor might, stepping back from the work, walking around it, studying the way it undulates and catches the light.

9 comments:

MoonLilith said...

Your story has touched my heart. It reminded me of my sick father, who is just too strong-willed to fight his sickness and too stubborn to admit that he needs our help.. the way he pushed me away, preferring other people's help. But just like you, I never gave up on him.. you see, sometimes, people have a hard time accepting unconditional love because of their own fears... and it is up to us to show them the way that it is within them all the time.

Sending you and yours much blessings of positive love & light..

Goddess bless. :o)

barbara said...

I am so moved by your honesty and your words-- and the all too familiar scenes that are the threads that bind us to those we care about. Like you, I once asked a therapist to hold up a mirror. I swore I would look in, and see the truth that was reflected back. A hard and brave thing to do.. and i must admit... the haze is still there, the clarity not yet found. We move forward.

I was laughing out very loud during your description of the 70mph car ride with Matt. Oh how many times I have lived that story. It is lucky that I have lived!

So much love to you my bold friend. You are a treasure!

Bahamabob said...

Your writing seems stream of consciousness at first but eases the reader into insight. The stories are vivid and interesting, even moving. I can feel your discomfort.

I also was laughing before you said you were, at the story about your husband cleaning his glasses (and even more when your daughter texted "this is going in the movie.")

I have lived with chronically ill people. It is as you describe here for us all. I think personally before we all go try to find "better marriages" we need to find better relationships with ourselves, and with God. Then we have the insight to know, and also we might not care so much. A broken heart, which seems to me universal, is something we carry, not catch from family or spouse only. Changing the scene we infect the new scene.

I think the writing and reading of it helps us heal those cracks in our own heart, residual pain like grief, anger, shame or fear, and even the deeper "avoids" of helplessness and hopelessness. The situations you were in bring those to the surface, so I hope all the readers can get it skimmed off while on the surface from your writing! I think only God can heal a broken heart and no one has disproven that to me yet. We only need to ask.

Thanks for the musings, as this expresses the feelings and hopes of millions.~ Bob

Vizionheiry said...

Here I was waiting for an Angel to appear. :) The opening is very engaging.

The move from daughter-father to wife-husband then to mother-children relationship is fast but I can keep up (I think).

I'm hoping it slows back down to distill the moments between them all.

It's excellent writing. Be proud.

Amy Oscar said...

Thank you all for your beautiful feedback. I find that having an audience helps me continue. I imagine most writers would say that.

To each of you, thank you for laughing (at the parts I thought were funny) and for being touched by our tale. I'll keep working now.

YOu've inspired me.

S Modeel said...

It was very beautiful, and graceful, i really enjoyed reading it...

thanks!

Katie O said...

...fucking persuasive prose."

Scott Sheperd said...

I loved it. There is something very sad under the surface. Not depressing but sad. Almost existentially sad. There are a couple of technical things that are not big deals but I can mention later. But the flow is wonderful. But I think you're just touching the surface and it could get scary. Good luck.

mydivabydesign said...

Thank you for sharing. it is beautiful. Yes, a little sad but also comfortable. It reminds me of m Grandmother and the way my mom cared for her for 9 years after her stroke. It was hard, but I know my mom misses her.