Looking back and thinking forward

Month: October, 2012

A writer’s life

Quote of the day:

The hard part is showing up for it [writing] over and over again. Natalie Goldberg, Villa Lina. October 3, 2012.

Am I all written out? Writing from dawn till dusk each day at the retreat with Natalie Goldberg seems to have written me out. Or was it the return to an empty house without my beloved cat? Her ashes lie in a small wooden box on the mantelpiece. I wait to plant a large rust-colored chrysanthemum atop her grave today, when we bury those ashes in our garden. I miss the early morning silence and meditation with Wendy and Natalie at Villa Lina last week. At times, when I am home from work, I find myself pacing through the house searching for my cat, unable to focus on anything clearly. At others, I seem to sit and stare into space for extended periods. Writing by hand for ten minutes at a time was a different experience, because it has been so long since I did that concentratedly. Many years ago, I kept hand-written journals, but that was way before I learned about blogging – probably ten years ago or more. When I write by hand as Natalie required us to do last week, I feel as if I am writing a private journal instead of a piece I might like to publish sometime. It was effective. It helped squeeze out of my brain, memories from childhood that were long forgotten.

I find comfort in returning to the blog. I am able to combine journal-type writing with the knowledge that passers-by "out there" will read what I write here. It gives me a different kind of focus. Reflecting back to the past week at Villa Lina, I think that more than anything else, I received validation for the pieces I have been writing on my blog these past seven years. On Thursday night students were reviewing and commenting on my book they had read for one of their assignments. Almost all of them described how the sharing of my life helped them feel supported in reflecting on their own memories and childhood stories. One student stopped by to see me in my office yesterday and told me how she had given my book to her mother to read. Her mother had been having a difficult time, and my book gave her much needed validation for her feelings about her own life experiences.

I am encouraged. I went to the retreat seeking a focus for a memoir I have been thinking about writing. Am not sure that I found a specific focus. However, I received affirmation that the books I wrote for teachers these past nine years or so have been useful and worthwhile. That, in a way, I have been writing memoir through my education books, as well as on this blog, for almost ten years. Indeed, I included some of my past blog posts in my second book. The retreat also helped me own the fact that I am, indeed, a writer – an author. On the second day in Italy, early that morning, I suddenly experienced an anxiety attack, realizing that I had dared to tread on turf that I believed belonged to my mother. For she had always longed to be a writer, and still, at age 95, loves reading with all her heart and soul. In a way it was a kind of shocking revelation. I felt a shortness of breath, an emptiness in the pit of my stomach, and my hands were trembling. I thought to myself, "I wish I knew how to be a painter, rather!" I wrote about my revelation in my journal that morning:

Wednesday, October 3 (early morning journal): I awake and lie flat on my back this morning at 5:47 a.m. Day two and yet my morning routine has begun. Is my mother right? Is there no such thing as jet lag? Or do I feel at home in some way? I realize that I will always be connected to my mother because I want to write. She wanted to write. She loved and admired authors – still does. Even as she reads who knows how many books a week. She says I'm not a reader, because I don't read enough novels perhaps – or maybe because I don't read what she tells me to. I don't know why I am not a reader according to her. It hurts me each time she says it, and I think to myself that I am probably not much of a writer either. I just cannot match up- always lacking. Is that why I write? To hold onto the feeling of always lacking? To never match up? Is this how I remain connected to her?

By the end of the retreat, after many, more writing exercises, and having read my pieces out loud in small and large groups, I owned being a writer.

It was a quiet, accepting feeling.

It was comfortable.

I realized, finally, that this is the way I express myself. 

Writing down my bones …

Quote of the day:

Continue under all circumstances; Don't be tossed away; Positive effort for the good. Natalie Goldberg, Villa Lina. October 2, 2012


One of my first writing exercises on October 2. The prompt from Natalie:

"Where have you come from?" 10 minutes – go:

I arrived at Villa Lina in a large red bus. It rambled slowly out of Rome along a highway, and as it rocked and rolled its way along the pavement, I stared out of the windows. My body ached with fatigue. The plane ride had been uneventful but sleep was fitful of thoughts and feelings about Ada. How I held her soft, sweet body in my arms, and how she laid her little head on my wrist, finally receiving some peace from the pain in her pancreas, the fear in her eyes from the stark, sterile, cold, linoleum floor of the emergency unit in the hospital. I slept for a few moments as the bus rumbled along, and felt relief from my pain at the loss of my darling companion only two mornings earlier. As I opened my eyes I realized the bus was driving through what looked like a narrow lane. "It is Italy," I thought to myself. "I am in Italy." I could tell by the olive trees in the distance, the pink blossoms of the oleander bushes, and tall Cyprus trees. "Are those Cyprus trees?" I almost wondered out loud. Ada slipped from my mind as the bus continued along the way. It felt like Israel – the narrow road and large, rambling bus – oleander blooming everywhere my eyes wandered. "I could be in Israel," I thought. And then we reached the small town of Ronciglioni, and I knew it was Italy, from the small, winding streets and signs in Italian. Of course I wasn't in Israel! The wall and gates of Villa Lina suddenly appeared right there in front of us right out of the blue of my ruminations. I listened. My aching heart had stopped weeping. The tall iron, grated gate greeted my anticipation, and I smiled to myself because no sooner had it opened, so it shut again. And then, it opened once more. We walked out of the bus and I could smell the air. It was warm, with a slight breeze in the trees fanning my face with humidity as I walked up the rocky path towards the barn and restaurant for lunch at Villa Lina. It felt like Israel again.

Seven years ago at Tamarika: The old me