Life Happens


Dad & Me April 2013 at John Deere Museum in Moline, IL

In February last year, when I sent my invitation to announce my forthcoming Writer’s News newsletter, I thought it’d be a week or two before I hit the send button. But as I worked with my web-team to get the look and feel “just right” and every word perfect, February turned into March, and March ran into April. Then life tossed me a curveball on April 15th. My brother called to tell me that our dad had been admitted to Methodist hospital in Peoria, IL. Dad’s house cleaner had found him doubled over on the couch. His symptoms, a bowel obstruction caused by scar tissue from a 20-year-old surgery. Conveniently I was in in the Midwest instead of California and drove to Peoria the next day. When Dad went in to surgery four days later, it hadn’t occurred to my brother, sister-in-law and me that he would be dead 18 days later.

There are so many ideas surrounding my dad’s death to write about, but they’re swimming around in my head like schools of fish. I have no idea where to start. I don’t have the patience. I can’t concentrate. I recognize these as signs of grief. So in the mean time I’ve been jotting down notes for essays or blog posts. Leaving the writing about them for another time.

grinnellTwo Saturdays ago while I was driving from Peoria to Ames, Iowa to drop off a load of things I’d collected from my parents house (my brother, sister-in-law and I with the help of Ed, my husband, and my friend Mary purged my parents house in a month. The auctioneer came on June 11th to cart away what we didn’t want.), I stopped on I-80 at the Grinnell rest stop in Iowa for a coaching session with Elka. I told her I had nothing to say about my writing, which has been on hiatus for at least two-and a half months. Elka suggested I cut myself a break and consider I’m in a state of “experience”, and eventually I’ll digest these experiences and articulate them into stories. ElkaNotesExperienceLike I always do when she and I are on the phone, I jotted notes, and drew an “experience” diagram. “Wow,” I blurted. “My drawing almost looks like my dad’s bowel obstruction.” We laughed, an important aspect of grief, I’ve learned.

At the beginning of this year, I laid out plans for my writing. Write a second draft of my memoir. My first and someday soon, subsequent newsletters. BookonDeskatMechInstituteI have a beautiful to-do list garnered from the six-pages of in-depth notes author Marion Roach Smith wrote for me after she reread my first draft three times and we had a one-on-one consult. Top three items on the list:

  1. ✓ Determine what my memoir is about. Write an argument statement for the book (happy to report I’ve done this.)
  2. Organize my memoir chapters into four sections Marion and I identified (half way there)
  3. Rewrite

My extended to-do list and the print out of my memoir are collecting dust on my desk in my office at the Mechanics Institute in downtown San Francisco. officedoorI try not to compare myself to authors like Ellen Sussman who I know personally, and who I know writes daily. Sigh. Will I ever be that kind of writer? Not now. Here’s my excuse (funny how many excuses best intentioned writers have): I don’t have the patience and I can’t concentrate. But what I can do is to start taking baby-steps, and get this 1st Writer’s News newsletter so many recipients have been asking me about, OUT.

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9 Responses to Life Happens

  1. Hope things are better now.
    Try to return to your writing. I know how it
    helps when things become overwhelming.
    Good luck and best wishes

  2. Bernie Ryan says:

    Congratulations!, Ana! You’ve done the hardest part — starting. I can so-o-o-o relate to your inability to write everyday. It’s hard to get into a habit that isn’t being forced on you (i.e., a 9-5 job), no matter how much you love doing it. Baby steps! Glad you started your newsletter. Just keep at it. Can’t wait to see what’s next. (No pressure. 🙂

  3. Brave of you to commit your confusion and grief to paper. A teacher recently told me that thinking about your work, making notes, making plans, etc., is all “working on the project” and that she doesn’t necessarily write unless she has something to say. Think it just goes to show that even after we accept the “no rules” theory of being a writer, we still feel a need to fulfill some standard. Sounds like you’re finding your way, taking it all in, noodling it all over…can’t wait to read what comes out!

  4. What a beautiful newsletter, Ana!! Wow. I love how open you are, how personal all of this is. I am sorry to hear about your dad, yet I’m happy that you’re writing about his death, here and (I hope) in other places.

    I will just add, I too can only write when my life has calmed and steadied. I’ve always been this way. I really feel that, in these times, I’m filling up with life. Or sometimes my metaphor is that I’m letting my lands lie fallow. This is very important to me — necessary! Once the writing comes, I am more ready. So take heart, and don’t worry about whether you’re writing or not writing — each writer has her/his own ways of going about it. Take care! Be good to yourself! and I’ll eagerly read your memoir in future!

    • Harriet!
      Thank you, thank you for the beautiful thought and metaphor. I will cherish, “I’m filling up with life and I’m letting my lands lie fallow.” Very calm ways to think about my writing or not writing. Thank you also for reading my newsletter.
      Cheers! Ana

  5. John Gould says:

    I am catching-up and enjoying the reading. I like “that even after we accept the “no rules” theory of being a writer, we still feel a need to fulfill some standard.” I do not know all of the rules and violate many. Yet, I know those who invest their time to read my books expect writers to follow the rules. I mostly write for myself, and hopefully leave a small gift for kids and grandkids when I am no longer available to call, text or email. I have long lapses between writing chapters, or even a page; and I have unjoined piles of research; yet less than two years for the second book. My hair will catch fire and I will slam more together. I then let it age like wine. After ten re-writes I share with my editor.

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