Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just So

(photo of Michael Amos Hall, 1960's, N. Ireland)

My father was distant, and then, he died.

Of course that is not the whole story. However, that is a big part of the story I have managed to overlook on one level or another for many years. When people ask me, especially if they have recently lost someone close to them, "Will this sadness ever end?" I gently try to say no, but it does lessen somewhat. On weeks like these, I remember what really happens: grief, like everything else, changes. That's all. Just when you think you've figured it out, it changes.

In working on my memoir, Bermuda Triangles, I have slowed down considerably, finely editing the draft to send out to a possible agent. A local friend, wonderful writer and fabulous editor, Lissa, pointed out while helping me to revise that the protagonist (me as a little girl) seems to adore her father and yet, there are no instances, nada, showing WHY. Nothing to make the reader understand why she loved her father so. She said this a few times, but I only got it myself when I began to edit parts about his sickness and death (when I was 12) - finally, it hit home, and even when it hit home, it took me a few weeks of lots of space and getting out of town to finally start to have some memories come back.

This week's class prompt is about "Reading and Writing" - favorite books, how reading relates to writing, etc. I knew it would come eventually - that I would write about reading the Just So Stories to my father when he was sick, and him correcting me repeatedly, without cease, whenever I got the slightest thing wrong.

Remember my post about him as Judge Hawthorne? Yep. So of course I knew this was a part of his personality, but as I explored those memories, I realized the only ones in which I actually think of him fondly, he is silent or speaking to someone else - a bookstore owner or musician. The negative memories? He's either not around or speaking to me - criticizing me, warning me or - yeah, not good.

There's a lot more remembering to do, and likely, some of it will be painful. But today, after writing about the Just So Stories, and then sharing it with my AM class (the first time I have ever cried throughout my whole reading of a piece during a class), I feel cleaner. Clearer. More honest. It never fails, though always feels awful getting there - knowing what is actually causing me pain is less painful than making up something else to hide it. For instance, for years I really hated my mom. Now, suddenly, on a newer level (again, I've known this before - sort of) I realize she gave me, expressed, far more love than my dad did. But I didn't want her love. I wanted his. And it was hard to get.

Without blame or shame, though with tremendous sadness, I softly explore the underbelly of the stories I have told myself for decades in order to survive. As the actual stories appear, they write themselves easily, unlike the parts in my memoir that Lissa noticed as absent, not as strong, lacking and seemingly contradictory. There was plenty that was contradictory in my childhood - my mom and I fighting for my dad's affection, at the top. But I don't need to fight myself anymore. That's a conflict I can relax. I hope. I can try, anyway.


  1. Children don't need a particular reason to love their parents. I felt a gaping hole inside of me after my father had hit the road with another woman when I was 5 and never even returned the letters which I wrote him after I had self-taught myself how to write. My love for him was huge and glorifying, even though he used to beat my blank butt with a coat hanger, lock me up in the car, or send me to bed without dinner whenever I didn't follow what his concept of 'behaving' was.
    When we met again, 20 years later, instead of listening to me, showing an interest in me, or getting to know me, he immediately started lecturing me about how to live my life. From that day on, I only felt contempt and indifference for him, even when I learned that he had died, another 10 years later.

    I wish you strength in dealing with everything that will come up for you in this matter. Most of all, I hope you will remember that it's not your fault, and has never been. This is the mantra which kept me relatively sane through all the years. Much love to you.

  2. Very moving post, Miriam--I love what it says about writing as well as what it says about your life.


  3. Erin- thank you.

    Gabi - you are right, they don't. But readers reading a memoir need to understand the narrator's motives. This is the wonderful - read: painful but true and heartening - thing about writing memoir - I have never really understood myself that I loved him, as you achingly and accurately described, in a way that was "huge and glorifying," *without premise*. I knew it was huge love, but had no idea it had little experiential basis - or not a full idea, anyway, until now.

    Wow. Thanks for your reply.