I don’t write to be famous, I don’t write to be known, I write because I am and I want to be read. How sad to fill a room with paintings no one sees or play music no one hears. Writing is talking without sound, singing without score and dancing without movement and yet, it is all of them. It is a solitary art conjured from thought and expressed by the need to communicate.
HEAD-SLAPS, SPEED-BUMPS and LIGHT-BULBS, one woman's WTF, oops and ah-ha moments of life.
They were published once, and as every writer knows, once is not enough.
Monday, January 4, 2016
PART TWO, Sleeping with Samuel Clemens
My mother and father were both writers, honoring their thoughts in journals, poetry and long loving letters. Each wrote a novel. His was science fiction, hers was about finding a suitcase full of cash. The books weren’t very good but the ideas and effort were astounding.
Writing was important to them, and that I pursued my love of the written word was important to them as well. Extremely supportive, and immensely proud of seeing my bylines in the newspaper, my mother kept every one of my tear-sheets in a colorful folder that began to bulge as the years went by. Sure they would contact me via words after they were dead, (see part one), why not, it makes sense right? To a looney maybe.
It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, house clean, laundry done, husband playing golf, time for a nap on the couch in my bedroom. I turned on the TV, nothing like a little afternoon Public Television programming to lull me to sleep. Perfect, a special about the life and career of Mark Twain. I figured I’d be nodding off in minutes. Problem was, the program was interesting and caught my attention immediately.
Seems that after Samuel Clemmons (Mark Twain) wrote Huckleberry Finn he set the story aside. Five years later, after a few trips up and down the Mississippi, he decided to revisit Huck. The rest is publishing history; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn became an iconic American classic.
When the TV program came to an end, (it was part one of a two-parter), I was disappointed because I really wanted to see part two. Scrolling the program line-up, part two was not there. I checked on-line to see when it would air, no luck. I couldn’t find it, it wasn’t listed anywhere. Since I had spent an hour watching TV, during my fifteen minute power-nap, and no longer in the mood to nod off, I was at a loss as to what to do with the rest of my afternoon?
I distinctly remember thinking, if Mark Twain could breathe life into a five year old manuscript he had set aside, maybe I could do the same with mine, not that my novel would be anywhere close to an iconic American anything.
I missed writing. But life and all its responsibilities had convinced me that spending hours at the keyboard was a colossal waste of time and a selfish endeavor. The actual process, separating me from family and friends, fed some sort of needy-dream and seemed ludicrous.
In the beginning when writing became my passion and after I had achieved a small modicum of success, I decided to set it aside because it was time to make memories for our children. I wanted them to remember my presence with them, not apart, writing essays about them. But my novel, a story about a young woman embracing change was a good story. I had fallen in love with my characters and had drawn on many of my own memories, (a pitfall for first novels), to make it read real. Mark Twain’s story made me want to write again.
In my office, at the back of a bottom file drawer was my 80,000 word first attempt at women’s fiction. In the mood to write, and inspired by Twain, and having the rest of the afternoon to myself, I opened the file drawer. That’s when things got a little weird.
Lying flat across the tops of the files was a colorful folder. I knew what was in it, a collection of my published articles which my mother had cut out of newspapers and magazines to save. I remembered finding the folder among her things when I cleaned out her house after she died. Maybe I should read a few of my successes, I thought, to inspire me to work on my book. Sitting on the floor I opened the file.
The first piece in the folder was an eight year old entire front page of the commentary section of the Hartford Courant, a local daily newspaper. Usually my mother cut the articles out and dated them but not this time, the only time, she had saved the entire first page. Down the right side of the page was an article I had written shortly after 9/11, regarding the suffering American economy. In the center of the page, above the fold, was a picture of Mark Twain. I gasped, yes, I actually gasped. Down the left side of the page was an article outlining and reviewing the two part CPTV program about Mark Twain which I had just watched less than five minutes before.
There I was, sitting on the floor, forgetting to breathe and stunned by coincidence. It was as if my mother had reached across time and dimension. The presence of her in the room was as real to me as the air I was forgetting to breath. Gasping again I touched the picture which to me was a sign. What was I being told?
I don’t believe in coincidences, I believe in messages and at that moment my mother was standing over me and telling me to get back to writing.
“I hear you mom,” I said out loud, “I get your message.” I said as tears streamed down my cheeks.
At the time I interpreted the thump on my reality as being a command to get back to my novel. I was wrong. It was a heads up, stay on track message, to what was coming, it was an attention getter.
My mother was a strong woman, ahead of her time, governed by sharp wit and instinct. Fiercely protective of her children she was steadfastly supportive of every endeavor of choice. No matter how outside the box our ideas or broad our dreams, she’d state her opinion, my mother always had an opinion, and then she always said to give it a try. Whether it was a lemonade stand or a quest to excel in something seemingly unreachable, she was there with a pitcher of ice, crushed lemons and encouragement.
My mother was an unpublished writer, an unsold painter, and a musician without an audience. She was an imperfect mother and at times an inadequate wife; to say she was human is to say she was real. As impossible as my mother could be, she loved with her whole heart and was extremely loyal and strong. If there was anyone, other than my father, who could break through the boundaries created after passing on, my mother would figure out a way.
As I sat on the floor of my office that day, trying to take in the circumstance of the moment, that chance played a part in the find seemed impossible. I could not dismiss the feeling that I was supposed to find some meaning in the discovery of the front-page, that I was to garner some sort of deeper importance from the moment. It was just too extraordinary to set aside as just a quirky incident.
When I was growing up it was not unusual for our family to discuss the possibility of the impossible. Stories and incidents which reached beyond the unknown were fascinating to us. Always grounded in reality we believed that just because we didn’t understand something didn’t mean it did not exist. Having an open mind was as important as taking our vitamins. It’s not like we sat around immersed in a self-made Twilight Zone, we just knew that because we didn’t know everything, we were open to just about anything.
That afternoon my mind raced with what I was being told or shown or thumped on the head with. Now, so many years later, though I believe more than ever that there was a message, I believe back then I got the message wrong. It took me many years to realize fiction was not the message, non-fiction from the heart was.