Excavating the Past

Recently my 92-year-old grandfather told my parents that he wanted me to write his life story. Living on the other side of the country, I wasn’t in attendance for this revelation, but my mom texted me about it almost immediately. Of course I was thrilled and began planning a short visit home.

It’s now August and I’m entering the final week before I fly home for six days. How do I prepare for this? What (if anything) do I need? Should I have questions ready, or just let him ramble? How emotionally exhausted will we both be at the end of a session? Are just some of the questions swirling in my head right now.

I did what a logical writer (is that an oxymoron?) would do: Posed these questions to my fantastic writer’s group. Their responses and insight were humbling to say the least. Their generosity with their own experiences, their regrets, and their support has been crucial for me in prepping my visit.

Walk around the house with him and note what he looks at or picks up, does it hold a special meaning for him? What are his reactions to the events he’s lived through (at 92, he’s lived through a lot!)? How did he know Grammy was the one (personally, this is one of my favorites and I cannot wait to hear the answer)?

I don’t know much about my grandparents’ lives pre-Dad-being-born. I’ve always been told they don’t remember, or don’t want to remember, their own childhoods. Their parents (my great-grandparents) didn’t want to remember the old country, so nothing is known. I hope to dig deep and discover some roots on my sparse family tree.

In addition to letting him speak without interruption and asking questions here and there to fill gaps, providing him with his own tape recorder to speak when I’m not around was one of the best pieces of advice. To have his (and my grandmother’s) voice recorded so that I can listen to later will be a treasure unto itself.

It’s a big undertaking, and overwhelming when I stop to think about it. Time is not on my side. But I am so very fortunate to have this opportunity and I am going to enjoy every moment leading up to and while I’m there, in their company.

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When Shadows Threaten

Most of my life has been in the shadow of someone else. Whether this was a real person, or a fictitious nemesis, there was always something to outdo me; to outshine me. Shrinks would probably call this anxiety. I call this my Bane; the big dude telling Batman that he will break him.

Part of what drives me is my comparison to others. Part of what makes me a perfectionist is the way I study what others do to receive the recognition that I, myself, want. Part of it is that I don’t want to fail. I’m afraid.

BIG SIGH now that my biggest secret is out in the open. But is it? Really, that’s just the surface. Anyone who deals with their own Bane knows it goes much deeper. I deleted a paragraph of ranting about life not being fair, about family pitted against one another, because you know what? At the end of the day, those are only excuses brought on by fear.

To move forward and to become a better person–to shed my Bane– I need to shake it off. I might even sing that Taylor Swift song at the top of my lungs! (In reality, probably not. I’m too ashamed of my way off key voice.)  I’m still going to compare myself to the next person; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give that up! However, I’m going to look closely at the larger shadow next to me to see if they truly possess a quality that I want to work towards.

So much of what we see is only surface deep; the things a person wants you to see. I must dig deeper, observe, evaluate: does this idolized figure have a quality that I admire? Perhaps then my internal Bane will be a whisper instead of a booming shout.

What I’m reading: Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

Why I Write

I write because I need to write. That is what many writers say.

I write because I need to feel. I need to process the world around me, take in the images I see, and process the feelings, the emotions that linger long after the image is gone. Writing keeps me grounded. Without writing, I would go through life, not truly seeing what is around me.

As a writer, I sit at the edge of a conversation or interaction. Being a writer means taking into account what is around me, observing what takes place during gatherings or impromptu conversations. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a daydreamer.

I’ve always been a writer; however, it wasn’t until recently that I identified myself as a writer. In elementary school I wrote stories about my cat and dog; middle school I copied Edgar Allan Poe’s style, and wrote stories and plays of the macabre. High school I penned poems of unrequited love (because who didn’t do that in high school?). College killed my creative writing. I was excited to take a creative fiction writing class, but not so excited the mechanics of sentence structure. I stopped writing. I stopped feeling.

Only recently, at my husband’s suggestion, did I attend graduate school for creative writing. I had dreams of being an editor. He had dreams of being married to the next very successful author.

I learned all over again how to feel through words.

Now I write because I need to write. Days without writing negatively affects my mood. Of course I want to be a successful author, but that is not why I write.

Currently reading: What’s Important is Feeling by Adam Wilson