It’s a grey Monday, and I’m ‘working at writing’ in a session with Amy Lyles Wilson, my editor. I say ‘my editor,’ because that sounds very official, doesn’t it? And she is my editor; she’s also a dear, trusted, and longstanding friend. The fact is, I’m not sure how a writer/editor relationship could work otherwise.
It’s a courageous thing, writing. As Hemingway says, ‘There’s nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’ That’s the long and the short if it, right there.
The first draft of my book is finished. Yes, I deliberately “buried the lead” here. Because I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’ll tell you this: it was with a weary, a relieved, and an ultimately dispassionate resolve that I finally finished that draft. And I’m a bit nervous about all the soul bearing stuff I wrote down in those 177 pages. I’d like to change my mind about some of it. But that would require a rewriting of my little piece of history. Truth lives on those pages, for better or for worse. Now, all I can do is breathe.
Writing is an excavation of the heart. When it’s about your own life, about how you got to here from there, it is a staunch enterprise. There are days — many — when you’re riddled with the thought that nobody could possibly be interested. Why would they care? Why am I doing this? But you continue on determined to, at the very least, finish what you started.
And so, you do. It might take twenty three years. You might, in 1995, get an official invite-to-submit from a major New York agent and knock yourself out writing enough to send her a sample. You might even get a letter back, saying she loves your work, that it feels “introductory,” and to please send more when your book is further along.
It’s March, 2018. That letter is in my file drawer. Wonder if she’s still interested.
The fact is, we all have stories. Amy’s slugline on her website is, “It’s the sharing of our stories that saves us.” And nothing could be more true. The funny stories, the heartbreaking stories, the stories that, when the readers read them, make their eyes well up or their hair catch fire … the hard stories.
The stories that don’t want to be written; the ones hiding in the shadows. THOSE are the stories we must write. And that’s what I’ve done.
There are more stories from different periods in my life that may need telling, if only for my children. Stories of my own childhood. Stories of my dreams, what they were, when some of them were abandoned, and why. For whom. And the resulting life that came after. The fact that, in this one lifetime, I’ve lived what could be classified as three distinct incarnations.
I’m in the third incarnation now, and closer to the end than I’ve ever been. With each passing day I pray, and wonder, and hope, and love. Even at this age, I feel the same creative passion and zest for life that I felt in my twenties. Those of you reading this who aren’t yet where I am, you’ll be here one day; you’ll think of this passage and realize the truth in what I’m saying to you now.
So yes, it’s a grey day of writing, and we’re here at this table, doing just that. I wouldn’t be here at all if I had no story to tell. The thing is, we all have stories inside us, wanting to be told. Let’s write them down. It may, indeed, be what saves us after all.
I don’t wax nostalgic often. But when I do, it seems my nostalgia — my longing — is for moments of connection. Moments confirming that the thread I bring to the tapestry of life is sufficiently interwoven with those of others. Moments that say “yes” to the presence of me. I know; self-centered is all I can call it, and yet … it seems to me that same sweet ache lives at the heart of us all.
We need reassurance that our time here matters, or mattered. In that sense, I think we’re all well advised to do the very best we can, always, with everyone. Then we must leave the rest to those who write about it afterward. Even so, if I could, I’d write of moments experienced or, at the very least, dreamed of:
- Standing at the kitchen sink in summer, barefoot, washing dishes and singing to the radio; breeze through the kitchen window makes the curtains flutter and plays with my hair. He slips up behind me, wraps around me and we become one, soapy hands in the water, swaying to the music.
- The children, rosy cheeked and sleepy eyed, pile into the bed where we snuggle under the covers and read The Velveteen Rabbit
- He wakes me in the wee hours whispering, “Hey, sleepyhead, come with me.” He takes my hand, urges me into my slippers and coat, then leads me outside where it’s snowing. We dance under the night sky with snowflakes falling all around us.
- The children come into us in the dark of morning squealing, “Mama, Daddy, it’s Christmas! Come see!” We roll out of bed, into our robes, and settle on the couch where we lean into each other over cups of hot coffee while watching the children open their gifts.
- He and I, walking hand in hand, talking, laughing, and scuffling through drifts of Autumn leaves.
- Peaking in on my sweet, sleeping children, touching them softly, blessing them, wondering if they know how much they are loved.
- He takes my bare face in his hands, kisses my forehead, looks into my eyes and whispers, “You. It’s you and me. It’s always been you and me. Forever. You and me.”
- A card arrives in the mail. Old fashioned roses painted on the front. Inside, a simple message: “We believe in you. We’re proud of you. We love you. Mother and Daddy.”
- A family dinner of all the siblings, children, and grandchildren. The main course served amongst us all is love, with laughter a plentiful condiment.
- That final moment when, having fought the good fight and for all the right reasons, I know without question that I’ve done my best. It no longer matters if anyone else knows. I know. And that’s enough.
People always ask me when I started to write. Especially songwriting.
I can think of points along my childhood and teen years, when I wrote to process feelings or moments; heartbreak. Confusion. Boys. But the truth is I’ve always, as long as I can remember, written it down.
I say that, and it strikes me quite odd that a tiny girl, not exposed to literary pursuits, would even think of writing.
I was a post war baby; my mother and daddy were young, beautiful, hard working. My daddy was a Navy man, and knew how to do just about everything. They were musical, and funny, but they were not the type to bury themselves in Tolstoy or Hemmingway. They had better things to do: roll up the rug in the dining room on Saturday afternoon and dance to Benny Goodman and Kay Starr records. Or sit on the front stoop at sunset, leaning into each other, beer in hand, and watch the kids ride their trikes in the driveway.
So how did I end up here, at this keyboard? Or way back there, at that Big Chief tablet with my Dixon Laddie #304?
I remember a moment when I was five. I was sitting on the swing in the back yard at 1563 North Marion. The sky was so blue, and I was so happy, I wanted to write a song about how I felt. I threw my head back, and instead of words coming out, I cried. My happy went heartbroken in that moment; I wept, because I knew I was too little to write a song that sounded like the ones on the radio.
And it’s interesting, isn’t it? How I remember that moment so clearly. How even as I think about it, I am “back there,” under that blue sky. In that back yard on that swing. My stomach even grabs for a second as the feelings I had then are here with me now.
So I guess you could say the writing thing has always been part of what I am. I remember in first grade, Sister Dianna was teaching us a song, and I was saying the words with her. She stopped, looked at me, and said,
“Mary Cecelia, do you know this song already?” No, I didn’t. I’d never heard it before. But somehow, I knew what would come next in the lyrics. Didn’t everybody? No, it turns out. They didn’t.
In third grade, Sister Mary Damien announced that the Highschool newspaper class was asking for poems from the grade school. They were going to publish one poem in the next edition of their paper. We were to turn our poems in the next day. My hear jumped, and my head started spinning with the tomes I would write.
That night at home, I took out my Big Chief tablet and my Laddie pencil, and I wrote. I wrote at least a half dozen one-stanza poems. I gave each stanza a name, and its own sheet of lined paper. I made the pages as neat as my third grade southpaw printing could get.
The next morning, I shuffled into the classroom with my classmates, laid my stack of poems on the corner of Sister’s desk, and took my seat. I watched her eagerly, hoping she would be proud of me.
Finally, Sister Damien walked over to her desk and picked up my pages. She leafed through them, then ripped them in half and threw them in the waste basket. As she did so she looked up at me briefly and stated,
“You were not to copy out of a book.”
My stomach lurched. My face turned hot. My eyes welled up. I was horrified, for several reasons:
First, it would never have crossed my mind to turn in someone else’s work; the fact that she thought I would do such a thing made me want to cry.
Second, even at seven years of age, I was in a panic: those were the only copies I had. I learned an important lesson that day: always make duplicates.
Third, though my classmates were laughing at me, I was more concerned with people thinking I had such a flawed moral compass. They clearly didn’t know me at all.
On another level, buried deep beneath my chaotic feelings, was a little voice that whispered,
“Hmmm. They must have been good. REALLY good. She thought you copied them out of a book.”
A backhanded compliment from a nun, saying my work was so good I could not have done it. I’ve lived a lifetime of twisted victories like that.
In fourth grade, we had music class two mornings a week. One morning the music teacher announced that there would be a music program, and that we would be in it. She then said to the class,
“We will need someone to sing the solo. Are there any solo singers in here?”
The entire class turned, without a sound, and pointed at me. All I’d ever done was sing with everyone else. I was completely unaware of my own voice. With all those fingers and eyes directed at me, I buried my face in my arms and cried.
Eventually I did sing the solo in the program that year. And I kept writing. There were times, big stretches in fact, when I was writing for my life. And music is the silver thread that’s always kept me tethered here.
In fact, writing and music have laced the pieces of my life together, helped me make sense of myself, this world, and the path I’m on. They still do.
I used to think maybe these things were pieces of generations past, pulling me back. But I’m starting to believe maybe they’re pieces of the future, pulling me forward.
Either way, I’ll take it. And I’ll write and sing the pieces of my life together, for as long as I’m here.
“God knows I gave my best in baseball at all times, and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise.” – Shoeless Joe Jackson
I got up this morning, flipped on the TV, and discovered−happily−that Field of Dreams had just started.
Field of Dreams has to be one of my all time favorite movies. It’s about listening to that voice inside, following your gut, and discovering that the dreams you dream are often found in places and forms you least expect.
The movie centers on a family who lives on a farm in Iowa. The man−Ray−plows under a huge portion of his land and turns it into a baseball field. He goes all the way, with flood lights and bleachers. His extended family and the town community are skeptical, they say he’s lost his mind. But his wife, Annie, and his daughter, Karin, stand by him.
Ball players who’ve passed away show up on Ray’s field. But the only people who can see them are Ray, his wife Annie, and daughter Karin. The ball players are invisible to the cynics. Which only reinforces their contempt for the whole set up.
One of the ball players who shows up on Ray’s field is Shoeless Joe Jackson. That jogged my memory, and I started thinking; I knew there’d been a scandal that forced Shoeless Joe out of baseball, but what was it? What did Joe do?
So I read up on what’s called, “the Black Sox Scandal.” Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and seven teammates on the Chicago White Sox were accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
But here’s where it gets interesting: Joe claimed that his teammates gave his name to the gamblers even though he never agreed to participate. And the teammates admitted that Joe never attended the meetings where the fix was discussed and arranged.
There’s no debate that, during the games in question, Shoeless Joe played his ass off−throwing nothing, and hitting everything.
Joe and his teammates were acquitted following a jury trial in 1921, but newly appointed baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis barred them all from professional baseball, for life.
Jackson always claimed his innocence. He contended that teammates got him to sign a document of confession he didn’t fully understand.
That is very likely; Shoeless Joe could not read or write.
Ever since the 1921 ruling, folks have continued to fight to restore Shoeless Joe’s name.
People who knew Joe were clear: he couldn’t be guilty. Joe was the kind of guy everybody wanted as a friend. He was an honest man with a huge heart, and his love of kids was even bigger.
Today I was told that an appeal sits on the Commissioner’s desk right now, to clear Shoeless Joe Jackson from the lifetime ban. This would allow Jackson to take his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Many fans are waiting for word on the decision, eager to see the ban removed, and to gather in Cooperstown to at long last celebrate Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Shoeless Joe died on December 5, 1951. So he will not be present for any induction. But he lived his life, and died, knowing the truth about himself. I trust that gave him some comfort in the dark moments.
So I’m watching this amazing movie, wiping my eyes when Ray meets his departed dad, John, and thinking of my own situation.
I feel passionately for Shoeless Joe Jackson, in part because I know what it’s like to be falsely and publicly accused. And I know how, even after being declared innocent, the stain of accusation remains.
Many people you once knew as close friends look at you through that distant lens of “guilty even though proven innocent.” It is a buckling burden; a yoke I’m still getting used to.
I remind myself that the wheel turns slowly, but it does turn. Sometimes it seems like it doesn’t. But it really does.
In the movie I hear Ray’s dad, John, ask Ray,
“Is this heaven?” Ray says,
“It’s Iowa. Is there a heaven?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s where dreams come true.” Ray responds,
“Maybe this is heaven.”
I muffle a sob, and remind myself that it all evens out in the end.
And if Shoeless Joe could bear up under all that till he finally reached his own Field of Dreams − I will, too.
Truth is something I think most claim to be aligned with. Many people swear they are always on a quest for truth. But I wonder: does anyone know what they’re saying? And if they do, do they really mean what they say?
I go through deliberate periods of brutal self-examination. I’ll confess, I don’t do it as often as I should. But when I’m in the process of it, I have a “no bullshit” rule; I force myself to face the true things about me and how I view life. It’s not fun. It can be exhausting, and humbling. But to live authentically, or “in truth,” isn’t it crucial? For me, the answer is yes.
I think we want to believe we are who we claim to be. But pretty much always, in many ways (sometimes most ways) we’re just not; it’s very easy to get off track and not even know it. And to not even think about that possibility.
We often choose positions and embrace opinions about things, and then “back the information in” that will support what we’ve already decided. It’s true. We all do it.
And we gravitate to others who agree, because it’s so much easier to surround ourselves with people on every strata who reaffirm our stories. … Then we can convince ourselves that what we’ve chosen to believe is authoritative; good, and noble. Being a member of such a group renders us reassuringly superior. It’s great to feel so right.
With the best of intentions, we dress our parsing, our denial, in beautiful stories … stories of bravery and justification; stories of righteousness and independence.
And yet, truth just sits there. It does not shout. It does not defend itself or try to convince. Nor does truth move, or shrink, or change, based on our opinion about it, or our unwillingness to acknowledge it.
Every night, when the darkness comes, and we lay our heads down on our pillows, that truth … that quiet, unassuming truth that lives at the center of every good thing … revisits our hearts. We know. In that deepest part, we all know.
And every night, in each of these quiet, private moments shimmers an opening; the chance to say “yes” to the rattling of our tidy preconceptions. Relaxing our hold is the willingness through which we can climb, into a world fraught with things that were, things that are; a vast universe of open-ended questions and limitless possibilities. The mysterious and miraculous are waiting for us there.
It only takes one brave, courageous moment to let it pull us out of our defensive rightness.
Just once, let’s refuse to roll over, turn our backs to it; let’s refuse to continue the nurturing of our own self contempt.
This one small choice; this different choice – when applied in enough hearts – is sure to transform this weary, broken world.
Y’know, I have my phases or *periods*, sort of like Picasso. Maybe we all do, I can’t really say. But mine usually include the following:
*Reflective (can get preachy, but means well);
*Outrageous (some would call this one “obnoxious with fits of long, deep laughter” … );
*Tenderhearted (the part who wants to scoop up every hurting baby/child/person);
*Pragmatic (the “let’s just get this crap done and behind us” part);
*Maria Von Trapp (the part that wants to organize all of civilization into groups, make their clothing out of drapes, and have everybody sing in three part harmony, and in rounds)… I’m sure there are others, these are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.
And so … *FAIR WARNING* … I’m in *reflective* mode today, and have been thinkin about this for awhile now:
When all’s said and done, I truly believe that all people, everywhere, want fundamentally the same thing. We all want to be loved, to be heard, to feel like our presence on earth matters. We all want to be safe, to live a happy and a peaceful life; we long to use our gifts to express our celebration of life.
When asked what they want, many celebrities state that they want an end to war, to have peace in the land. They speak for us all, really. We all want that. But I believe that we are blinded to the path that will lead us there. We have come to believe, many of us, that governments, or ideologies, will “give us” that. That if we vote for the right political candidates, they will bring this peace about. They, quite simply, cannot. But here’s the interesting truth:
They don’t have to “give” this to us. We already have it.
See, here’s the deal: Inside each of us, buried deeply at our core, beneath the belief of our absolute unworthiness, in there snuggled up next to our burgeoning self-contempt … there lives our truth: a thriving, pulsating, everlasting *light* … the very light we crave shines and waits inside of us; it was restored to perfection by our Redeemer’s purchase. But we live our lives in shadowy darkness, as if the gift was never given; like it never arrived.
And let me tell ya, the ego has worked one heck of an insidious job, convincing us that it is noble when we beat our breasts and declare our own revolting state. This is a self-manifesting prophecy … and it is the one that breeds envy, resentment, covetousness, greed, anger, jealousy … all the “deadlies” (and they are fatal) … ultimately the sense that we must “fight for what is rightfully mine.” This all comes from that seed of “lack.” These elements are at the center of every war, every murder, every scam, every betrayal … every corrupt company, government; every violation of real peace comes from fundamental self contempt.
And notice this: the beliefs we hold about ourselves are reflected perfectly in how we treat others. It can be no other way. When you see someone behaving negatively to others, or when you see someone relating with gentle kindness, think about that one. *Profound* truth.
It is the brave Spirit who awakens to their own authenticity and is willing, in the midst of naysayers, to reveal that to the world.
And it will continue to be a brave thing, until it is not. Until enough people start digging internally, determined to live a “self-examined life.” Then it will become the *norm*, and we will have returned to the Garden. But we go there by conscious choice, and one by one.
May each individual find the courage to *live* from their Spirit.
This is how we will change the world. ~ ♥ ~