Resilience

I went to a wonderful workshop over the weekend. It had nothing to do with writing, besides the fact that we journaled twice. It was, cue the didgeridoo and the candles, a workshop about getting over birth trauma. At one point we were asked to think of a power that we have. Some women chose capability, or strength; I chose resilience.

Ducks on a frozen pond, Vigelands Park, Oslo, Norway

Ducks on a frozen pond, Vigelands Park, Oslo, Norway

I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I chose resilience because in the context of my son’s birth the prevailing feeling is one of having bounced back, robustly, from the most difficult experience of my life. For a minute, after I chose “resilience,” I second-guessed myself: am I resilient? Really? And decided that yes, I was, and am.

When I gave birth to L things got very dark and very scary very quickly, but by the time I was being sewn up I was joking with the doctor about “the husband stitch” (I know, it’s sick) and the next day, bruised and exhausted, I was nonetheless myself again.

I’ve been thinking about resilience in a writer’s context, too. Don’t kid yourselves, people: this work can be really thankless. You can work at something for years and never get it published. You can feel amazingly accomplished one day, and the next, you suck. But if, like me, you choose to have faith in the process, you get back on the horse and keep writing, even when you’re incredibly discouraged. You choose resilience.

Last week I emailed a writer friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Sadly, she told me that she’s not doing very well. “I’m enraged with myself that I have been writing for ten years with very little to show for it,” she said. I had one of those moments when I thought, okay, I can relate; but I can’t get too far into this discussion or I will start to take that on myself. I just can’t count the years. I mean, I do, all the time; but really, it’s counterproductive. Sometimes I wonder whether my family and friends think I’ll never amount to anything, because I haven’t yet, right? And I have to gently tell that voice to shut up.

Maybe, in another ten years, if I’m still chipping away at a memoir and playing with poetry and trying to publish a couple of short stories–and none of it is going well–I will throw in the towel and go get a degree in art therapy or social work. But for now, I’m choosing to bounce back.

Check out Karen McHeggs’s latest over on popcorn, Establishing a Writing Habit. It’s a good reminder that the most important thing–in life, really!–is just showing up.

Sharon Olds

Last week was a rollercoaster, for many of us, I’m sure. The bombings in Boston, where I grew up, were a scary and melancholy backdrop to a host of personal stresses: taxes, two last-minute freelance jobs, papers to grade, and our car starting to overheat on the Bay Bridge at midnight (not to mention the next day’s $500 repair). Needless to say, I just didn’t find the time or the energy to sit down and write.

And so it’s a little late that I address the recent Pulitzer Prize winners. The only one whose work I’m familiar with at all is poet Sharon Olds, who took away the poetry prize. I haven’t read fiction writer Adam Johnson or non-fiction writer Gilbert King, though both men’s books look really fascinating. (Is it just me–random question–or is a lot of the fiction that’s popular these days historical fiction?)

Anyway, Sharon Olds. Her work is what we poets call “confessional,” meaning no subject is off the table. Olds writes exuberantly about sex and her husband’s body and her children’s bodies and her own breasts and all kinds of other subjects many of us find taboo; she writes about her daughter losing her virginity and her abuse as a child and a miscarriage in the toilet. She can be, I think, for many people, a little cringe-worthy.

But she’s an incredibly accomplished poet (after all, she just won the Pulitzer), prolific and unflinching. I don’t yet have her prize winner, Stag’s Leap, but on my shelf, conveniently, sits her 1983 book The Dead and the Living. Here is a beautiful poem from that collection called “Grandmother Love Poem.” Just in time for the last week of National Poetry Month.

Grandmother Love Poem

Late in her life, when we fell in love,

I’d take her out from the nursing home

for a chaser and two bourbons. She’d crack

a joke sharp as a tin lid

hot from the teeth of the can-opener,

and cackle her crack-corn laugh. Next to her

wit, she prided herself on her hair,

snowy and abundant. She would lift it up

at the nape of the neck, there in the bar,

and under the white, under the salt-and-

pepper, she’d show me her true color,

the color it was when she was a bride:

like her sex in the smoky light she would show me

the pure black.

© Sharon Olds

I Knew You’d Be Lovely

Thank you, Google Images

Thank you, Google Images

I just finished Alethea Black’s sweet book of short stories I Knew You’d Be Lovely. Alethea Black was in my brother’s class in high school, and I knew her younger sister. Because I grew up in a small town, the Black family was sort of on my radar–and who can forget a name like Alethea?–so it was with great curiosity that I picked up the book at a yard sale wondering if it was the same woman I knew (of). I had no idea she was a writer; I always feel like writers from my hometown, from college, are on my radar somehow, but she was not.

In any event, the stories are colorful and fun to read. There are surprises and good characters. Like all collections, some stories are stronger than others, and I found as the book progressed that I began to care more about the characters and find more interest and likeability in their quirks. Many of the stories are set outside of Boston, where we grew up, and my tenth-grade Chemistry teacher even makes an appearance (which completely freaked me out). So for me there was this fun sense of connection with a place I know intimately–and thus, with the writer herself.

I’d happily read a novel, if Black publishes one.