Anniversaries

Katherine Lawrence, December 11 1954 – March 25 2004

This Isn’t a Story

I’m sorry, Katherine,
but dying isn’t a story.
I saw your careful outline,
your well-researched notes:
first the heroine died,
then her adventures began.
You knew every detail:
the ghost town by the river,
when the trains ran,
the reasons why bullets were
better than pills.
You wrote and rewrote
the opening scenes. Nothing more.
Because dying isn’t a story.

We argued about story. We argued
when you stopped writing.
No, edit that. I argued. You said
you’d keep your notes and walked away.
You understood pacing and tension.
You mailed your goodbyes as you drove out of town;
walked down to the river, leaned back, looked up at the sky—

But no. Dying isn’t a story.
The hikers who found you,
that was a story. The police officer
with the half-finished novel;
the county parks manager in cutoff jeans
who told us he was sorry,
who told us he’d done this before.
A story is a long drive home through the dark,
both my hands steady on the wheel.

Your empty apartment was a story,
at least once we opened the door:
The answering machine blinking its silence,
the solstice cards lining the hall.
The borrowed books set on the counter,
labeled with sticky notes, bearing our names.
Nothing left to the reader:
no loose ends, no unresolved threads.
But a story is messier than a body by a river,
a bullet to the head. A story is
your mother packing your dishes
and your silver and a fifth of Scotch,
filling out the paperwork
to transport your gun across state lines.

You had a promising start:
the opening lines, the rising tension,
the chilling sense of things
that couldn’t happen any other way.
But those things aren’t a story,
and dying doesn’t make them one.

You knew how to outline
and you knew how to plot.
So how could you not know
what all writers know,
I still don’t know.
I’m sorry, Katherine.
This poem isn’t a story,
but I’m not driving away.


I could rewrite this now, polish it a little–but I won’t. Sometimes, more polish doesn’t actually make a piece stronger, after all.

And another anniversary: Irvin Simner, August 11, 1936 – March 22, 2014.

Two years after losing my dad, I find I can see much more clearly both the gifts and the weaknesses he’s left to me.

Twelve years after losing Katherine, loss no longer seems a rare outrage. It seems a hard and terrible part of how the world works.

There’ve been other losses between these two, after these two. I’m coming up on the age Katherine had just turned the last time I saw her. That puts me a year out from the birthday she couldn’t bring herself to face.

It took less time to forgive my father than Katherine. I wouldn’t have expected that.

I don’t know how long it took to forgive Katherine, only that it was less than twelve years.

Light one candle …

… and then another, and another, and another after that.

On this final day (and after the final night) of Hanukkah:

Light one candle for the strength we all need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
The pain we learned so long ago

Here’s to lighting candles in the dark, and believing in miracles, and all the ways we all have in us to continue spreading light in this world now that the candles have burned down.

Perhaps we’ve heard this before

And so it happened that a darkness came over the land. Some were consumed by the dark, and some were destroyed by the dark, and some fled the dark at great cost, escaping to tell the tale.

Some too watched the darkness approach. “We must fight the dark,” these people said, but they did not know how. Darkness is not easily captured and destroyed. A sword will not slay it. An arrow will not pierce it. Iron bars cannot hold it, no more than they can hold light. And so they were greatly afraid.

Until one saw the people fleeing the dark. “Swords can slay them,” he thought. “Arrows can pierce them. Iron bars can hold them, though they cannot hold darkness or light.”

This one turned to those around him and said, “Look! Those people who are fleeing the dark, they have been touched by the dark. The darkness is within them now. We need only keep them away, and we will keep the darkness away, too. We need only keep them away, and we will be safe.”

The people looked to the ones fleeing the dark, and they saw at last something that swords could slay, and arrows pierce, and iron bars hold. “We can fight that,” they said, feeling their courage return. “We will fight that. Those who are touched by the dark, are the dark, and must be kept away.”

And so, at last, they felt safe.

But they were not safe.

And they are not the heroes of this story.

They are never the heroes of this story.

Today’s dose of good feeling and general inspiration

I came upon this embedded into a five-year-old blog post of mine. Some things one doesn’t stop needing to hear:

If you want to cry as well as smile, this longer version ends with a Jim Henson tribute. How many years has it been? (25, says Wikipedia.) I still miss his work and his presence in this world:

And another bit of unrelated-yet-related inspiration, for those of us coming at all this from a when-creativity-meets-professional-life perspective:

“And here we are waving Brenda and Eddie goodbye …”

Department of revising my Long Island childhood: ranking all 121 Billy Joel songs. (Via lnhammer.)

“The Falling of the Rain” gets a bad rap (for all that it’s not like anything else of his and very not Long Island), and “Only the Good Die Young” an over-generous one (good-kid me used to hate that song, and adult me still thinks Andrew Marvell did it better hundreds of years earlier), but he’s dead right putting “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” at number one, as well as ranking the post-apocalyptic “Miami 2017” in the top ten.

Onward, into the mist, the future, the new year

Toddler was up before well before dawn this new year’s morning. We encouraged going back to sleep (and succeeded), but if we hadn’t, we realized later, we just might have seen snow falling to the desert floor.

As it was, what we saw was still more than worth getting up a little past dawn for.

[Sun on desert snow]

Any year that begins with desert snow has to be all right. Here’s to a good one for us all.

On motherhood and voice and being heard

So there’s a strange thing that’s been happening since I became a mother. Specifically, many people seem to have more trouble hearing me than before parenthood.

I understood my time would be tight for a long while, of course, and that I wouldn’t have as much time to speak up, online or in person–most of my writing time is saved for fiction these days. What I didn’t understand is that when I did speak, many people would hear my words–even my words that had nothing to do with parenting–only through the lens of motherhood, and not through the lens of, well, me.

It works like this. I’ll either talk or post about A Thing. It doesn’t really matter what I say specifically–it could be a critique, a complaint, or simply an observation. What matters is that if there’s even the slightest hint of discontent in my comment (and sometimes even if there’s no discontent at all), someone or other will too often proceed to utterly fail to hear me.

Not only fail to hear me, but proceed to tell me how happy they are for me. Even if I was speaking about something I was either unhappy or neutral about.

So maybe I’ll mention my writing time being tight now. Along with sympathetic comments, someone will say something like, “Isn’t parenting wonderful? Enjoy!”

If I mention some parenting challenge (usually in person, because I tend to keep most the actual details of my family life offline), someone will say, “Oh, I’m so happy for you!”

“How wonderful!” “Isn’t it great?” “What really matters is that you’re a parent now!” It seems that if post-motherhood I also express any unhappiness, even passing, trivial, daily-life ordinary-griping unhappiness, even if that unhappiness has nothing to do with my child, someone will often assume what I really need is for them to tell me how happy they are about, well, my unhappiness.

Before I was a mom, those were moments that called for sympathy or empathy, as I recall.

I do get it. This is lovingly done, for the most part, these cheerful responses to less-than-cheerful statements, an attempt to express love and support. I appreciate love and support. But when the words I have actually spoken get ignored in an attempt to remind me to be happy, what that says is not I love and support you but I don’t hear you.

Having my voice heard truly is tremendously important to me. It’s why I write.

I’m guessing I’m not alone. I’m guessing there are at least some other moms–writers or not–who feel the same way, which is part of why I’m posting now.

Parenting is awesome. I love my child, I love watching the day to day changes, I love seeing our family and household grow and change too. There’s a lot that’s amazing in my life right now, and I am genuinely and deeply and beyond-words grateful. Maybe I don’t say it enough, especially online where my focus is more on the professional than the personal, especially when I assume that everyone of course knows I feel that way. So I’m saying it again now.

But the rest of my life didn’t cease to exist the moment I met my child, and the rest of my emotions and observations and the whole of my me-ness didn’t cease to exist the moment I became a parent. Being a mom is an addition to and expansion of who I am, not a replacement for who I am. I am not some generic what-a-mom-is. I am me and I am a mom. There’s a difference.

As mothers, part of our job is to learn to listen to our children. It’s a wonderful part of our job.

But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that those who care about us don’t forget how to listen at the very same time that we’re learning it.

For many new parents, now, more than ever, is the time that we want and need to be heard and seen truly.

Star Wars, episode … yeah

So. There’s a trailer online for The Force Awakens, aka Star Wars episode VII. And I have thoughts.

(ETA: Here’s the first full trailer. The thoughts below are–more or less–nchanged by its release.)

Those thoughts begin in the summer of 1999, on the release date for The Phantom Menance, I was hiking through Capitol Reef National Park, miles from any movie theater. And at some point, staring out at a 360 degree panorama of some of the most stunning geology out there, I found myself thinking that I was missing something amazing, for all that I knew I was surrounded by things even more amazing that I’d consciously chosen over opening night of Star Wars Episode I. Still, I wondered if I’d made a mistake, choosing to go camping instead of waiting in line that week.

I hadn’t made a mistake. When I finally saw the movie a few days later, I knew that.

Still, I was an optimist. I saw both of the remaining prequels. The second time, I genuinely hoped I’d see something better. The third time … well, the third time, I saw the movie at a local drive in theater some days after release, mostly for the sake of completeness, but also “just in case” that something amazing might turn up after all.

Because the first three Star Wars movies, episodes IV through VI? Pretty much changed my life.

Teen me imprinted on The Empire Strikes Back hard, and from there there was no turning back. I practically memorized that movie. I practically memorized the novelization of that movie. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of self-insertion Star Wars fanfiction. Han Solo became at once my hero and my crush object. I did wait in line for Return of the Jedi, and while by the end of the movie my teen self was just beginning to understand how that movie–and the trilogy–weren’t perfect, I did not regret it. At all.

For me, the first trilogy was always about characters, not special effects. In many ways, although I was a voracious reader, it was the screen-based Han, Leia, and Luke who occupied the space for me that for later readers would be occupied by Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I loved their interactions and interplay, I loved the whole good-boy/bad-boy vibe of Luke and Han, I loved Han and Leia’s romance, did I mention I especially loved Han? (Later, I would think about the problems of Leia’s becoming an increasingly non-character over the course of the trilogy, and my decreasing engagement with her. But I was young, and my understandings were still growing, and I was unsubtle in my expectations. Characters who were larger than life and cast in broad–if problematic–strokes were still what I was looking for.) I loved, too, the sense of epic struggle, and being able to straightforwardly hate Darth Vader with all his straightforward villainy. (The flip side of this being that I was never sold on his redemption … but that’s a subject for another post.)

When Leia told Han she loved him, I cheered.

Years later, when Amidala told Anakin she loved him, I looked at the friends I was with, and we all mouthed the same word: WHY? (Jedi mind tricks, we later decided. Only Jedi mind tricks could explain that romance.)

It wasn’t just that I was no longer my younger, less subtle self by the time the prequels came along, though a couple decades of idolizing and being shaped by the original trilogy did mean that any new movie would have struggled to live up to the originals.

But the prequel trilogy, it didn’t even come close. For me, the heart wasn’t there, the soul and the characters weren’t there, and if the effects were pretty, well, unlike many the effects had never been what drew me to the Star Wars universe. Like I said, I enjoyed the novelizations as much as the movies. I was looking for character, and I was looking for story, and I’d probably have found those somewhere else if I hadn’t found Star Wars when I did–would probably have happily obsessed over something else instead–but Star Wars came along first and filled that space for me.

Star Wars shaped me as a fantasy reader (you didn’t think those movies were really science fiction, did you?), and it shaped me as a fantasy writer.

So. There’s a trailer for a new trilogy online. And it sure looks pretty.

I don’t care about pretty. It looks like it has characters too, but I can’t tell much about them from the trailer. And it looks like it has the Millennium Falcon too, which of course makes me smile, but the Millennium Falcon is not, by itself, enough, not unless I knew I’ll care about whoever’s piloting it now.

And maybe I will. The trailer, it doesn’t give me enough to know either way. And while I know there are in-depth analyses of every last detail of that footage out there, I haven’t read them.

Because I’m not getting my heart broken again. I’m not waiting in line opening day or opening week or … probably ever … for this one. I’m not thinking of it as the start of–or a return to–something amazing this time.

Unless. If enough people who I respect and whose story buttons are similar to mine tell me it actually is amazing–and not just visually amazing or tech and battle scene amazing–I’ll … think about it. But this time around, you all can take the opening day/week/month/maybe-forever hit for me.

I’ll be here at home with a novelization of The Empire Strikes Back, and several hundred thousand words of fondly remembered fanfic.