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.

Is There Room for Fear?

Since removing my boot (broken foot, long story, maybe a blog post down the road) in June, I’ve made it my mission to conquer fear.

Conquer may be the wrong word. I’ll never completely get over certain fears, but I do want to learn to live with my fears. I want to acknowledge those fears exist, and then flip them the finger.

A few weeks ago I went snorkeling. Those who know me know that I have an unfounded fear of being in water, despite being an excellent swimmer. One night, maybe in my early teens, I had a dream that I was drowning. Not pleasant. The same dream occurred on a regular basis for years, into my mid-twenties. Always, I was alone and drowning in murky ocean water. Until I moved to Phoenix and the heat forced me to be okay with pools, I wouldn’t even go in a pool! So, snorkeling was a HUGE deal for me.

I hyperventilated, I silently repeated a mantra, at one point on the boat I said “hell, no,” but that didn’t fly because I had told my husband earlier to not let me sit this one out. And then I got in the water. I started to really panic then because, while pool water is safe, this was ocean water. Not safe, according to my fear based on a reoccurring dream.

That’s when I made an arrangement with myself. I said: Self, you’re going to have this fear, but work with me. Let’s put on the mask and peek our head underwater for a second.

I had a death grip on my husband’s hand. We swam against the current and away from a rock that supposedly burned like acid if you touched it (hey, that’s what the guide said). And then nature showed her beauty. A school of rainbow-colored fish swam around me. For an instant my vision blurred not from water, but from the bright colors of a hundred fish!

Fear–whether imagined or learned by experience– is a barrier. Conquering fear might help some people, but I prefer my less-intense approach of accepting fear and living beside it. I don’t want to miss the magic that surprises us in moments of living. Maybe someday I’ll be over my fear of open water, but until that day comes, I plan to live along side of that fear, but still live.

My Tribe

More than a week later and I’m still experiencing a surge of energy from talking with like-minded people: my writing group. I secretly call them my tribe. They probably don’t know the impact they’ve made on my life unless they read this personal, but not-so-personal blog. (This is published on the inter-web, after all.)

I met these two kick ass writers at a local class. When we kept in touch outside of class, I assumed it would be like every other writing group I’ve been a part of: we’d exchange pages a few times and things would fizzle out.

Months later and we are stronger than ever! Pushing boundaries and making things up as we go. The three of us come from completely different backgrounds, both social and educational. But perhaps that’s why this works so well. We all want the same thing: to be better. And we all bring unique experiences to the table so learning from one another never turns stale.

Even though we don’t know many personal details about one another, we know each other intimately through our writing. We have a place to share ideas and pitch crazy off-the-handle stories that any sane person would say, “this person has LOST their marbles!”

I guess the moral of the blog is this: I write for me. My tribe inspires me to write better.

 

Currently reading: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz & After by Amy Efaw