New Questions for a New Year

Many people continue to suffer from the results of our recent presidential election. They suffer not only from fear of the unknown (and the known!) that lies ahead, but also from the distress of trying to communicate with relatives, friends and co-workers who voted to go forward into the abyss with Donald Trump. I’ve listened to painful descriptions by mothers and daughters who can no longer speak together. Others have to cut short conversations with friends when they hear things like, “He seemed like the best alternative.” When I hear those words, I am awash in a speechless sadness for our country. I’m sad because Trump doesn’t represent the best of anything. I’m speechless because I know the conversation about him as president will be fruitless and frustrating – and potentially the end of a friendship, at least for now. But, I’d like to be able to speak with these people who presently seem to belong to another tribe. Is there a common language that we could converse in more comfortably? Is there a font of wisdom at which we could enjoy a drink together? What would the great philosophers suggest? Here is what Aristotle had to say about friendship and knowledge:  “A friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” “The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead.” “All people, by nature, desire knowledge.”         These encouraging ideas lead me to think that perhaps a path to greater comfort with friends who think differently […]

Writing When the Time is Right: Memoir and Emotional Events

On this New Year’s Day, I am stuck on a thought: When is a writer ready to write about an emotional life experience? Most writers of memoir say that we need time and distance to enter the reflective process, especially with a highly charged memory. We know we have been transformed, but how? Transformation (healing, movement of ideas, change) occurs slowly over weeks, months and often years. Each person responds in their own rhythm with the revelation and understanding of how the event is part of the big picture – the story. For those who want to nudge the process along, taking notes and keeping a journal is useful. Then, at the right moment, a voice says: Write something, now. Surprise yourself with ideas about what happened. Go as deep as you can, for now, always asking: Is this true?   My mother and I were more like sisters than mother and daughter. She lovingly tolerated me when I was a child, but a deeper, more collegial bond emerged when I became an adult. I was surprised when I felt “orphaned” after her death on January 1st, 2008 at 12:00 noon.  I was sixty-one and thought it odd to feel bereft of a parent in this way. I had witnessed her decline for years and I watched her battle against impending death during the four preceding days and nights that it took her to depart the world. The sudden awakenings, the furtive looks, the grasping for my hand, the noisy, ominous breathing, the calming effects of morphine doses – only during the last four hours of her life did she seem […]