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My first memory
I just revisited a book of essays on writing that I first read in 1988.  A Concert of Tenses by Tess Gallagher, my first poetry teacher. I devoured, for the second time, her essay entitled, My Father's Love Letters, because it contained so much of my own childhood escape into words. I, too, learned to balance on that picket fence between domestic peace and violence. I needed to find a safe place for the child and a way to grow into a functioning adult when emotional and physical vulnerability were always present.

Just like Gallagher, the uncertainty of that early life lead to exploration. I spent much of my childhood searching for meaning. And I discovered, like many others, that writing can change circumstances and give new meaning to experiences. Writing extends lives--both your own and the ones only present in your memory. Through the process of writing, you can make a new home for yourself. The territory where a writer feels the most contradictory emotions are the ripest for exploration. Writing is proof of an examined existence. 

In the above photo, my brother and I are standing on the rocky banks of Brandywine Creek, near New Castle, Delaware. It is my first memory. My father was on a week-end pass from the Veteran's hospital where he'd spent most of my early years recovering from a grenade that exploded in his hand during WWII. I remember noticing his missing fingers for the first time that day and making a decision not to ask about them. 

Years later, in sixth grade when I was assigned a paragraph about an important decision I'd made, I chose that day. The details were still inside me. The rocks. The sound of the water cascading over them. My brother's protective hand on my back. The picnic lunch my mother had prepared. And the look in my father's eyes when he saw me staring at his crippled hand. The look on his face was what we writers call subtext and I understood it, even as a very young child. I was curious, but also cautious--sensitive, even then, to his moods and feelings. 


So there you have it, that vulnerable territory where emotions are contradictory. As writers, we need to free our spirits, dig those contradictions out and hold them accountable to the naked light.  




 

 


Comments

07/17/2013 2:02pm

Another great post, Susan! It's helpful to know others had a few rocks along the way growing up.

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Martha Ragland
08/02/2013 6:33pm

This is so astute, Susan. Writing is indeed proof of the value of examined existence. Thank you.

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10/18/2015 2:44am

A person who wants to make their home and he is not able to work properly. It means he wants to make his home with the help of the words.

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Barry
03/01/2016 1:39pm

Like Tess Gallagher you are demonstrating that the process of freeing spirits does indeed embrace the conceptual axiom that ‘writing is proof of an examined existence.” Clearly that effort entails love as, in Tess's words: “It's a dangerous mission. You could die out there. You could go on forever.”

Thanks for the use of commonplace items and images in your work as that matches with Raymond Carver’s proclamation that: “It's possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman's earring—with immense, even startling power.”

Your power to capture and share your experiences with rebirthed meaning(s) infers to us that new hope and new perspectives are possible if we but slow down, reach out, and review the details of what may or may not have touched our hearts at some point in time along life’s journey. “To visit the sunless core of the forest is to say to the heart, which is always a remnant, ‘Love as if you will be answered,’ and in that fiction to force love wide as the invisible net of bird flight between the boughs” as shared by Tess Gallagher in Moon Crossing Bridge (Poetry).

Since historically speaking, Tess Gallagher and Raymond Carver were once married to each other, it’s possible Raymond could have written this (Distance and Other Stories) to her: “But he stays by the window, remembering that life. They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else—the cold and where he'd go in it—was outside, for a while anyway.”

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03/18/2016 3:38am

Choices of people have changed, and they have started to look out for paintings that lend a feel to the room rather than merely being a prop.

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12/06/2016 8:05pm

A writer doesn’t just write for the sake of what they can have, but writing is more of expressing an emotion and it preserves memories you can always go back to. As a writer, I can relate to you simply because things that happened when I was a child were still fresh in my mind. I have loved those moments and I would always want to write about how amazing my childhood days were.

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01/10/2017 11:44pm

Some people don't realize the real struggle of writing. They see it as an easy task. They think, if you know how to hold a pen, you'll be able to write. Writing is about putting up your mind and heart together for you to come up with a good write up. It's true that you need to unleash your spirit and just be free. Writing is a product of passion and materials needed for you to come up with a very good product are your heart and your mind.

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