A little fuzzy, a bit off kilter.
I chose the picture for its timing, not its content: I took it almost exactly three years ago, in the backyard of the home my husband Jim loved–the place where he lived, was loved, and died. Our children and I would move to another home months later.
I began writing this blog in deep, raw grief. I notice now that photographs I took at the time featured a disproportionate share of broken things–including the colonial-era picket fence that curved gracefully around the front of our home. As I nursed a broken foot inside the house, a speeding driver screeched off the road in light snow and crashed right through it, with enough momentum to fell a granite post that had stood for well more than a century.
But there was beauty in the breakage. Jigsaw shards of silver ice glowed atop sapphire water. Unadorned tree branches withstood hurricane-force winds and laced the white winter sky when the sun came out again.
With my third blogiversary careening down the tracks, I’ve been ruminating about the purpose and process of blogging.
A fellow blogger, Derek Bell, has an evocative blog, Playing in the City with Trains, in which he draws quite a bit on family and memory. He posed some great questions about writing. The new year–my fourth at the keyboard–seems a good opportunity to tackle them:
(1) What are you working on?
My site stats tell me I have a whopping 182 blog post drafts. They’re about everything from the color red to the soundtrack of grief. I’m also revising what I wrote for my children in the months after my husband died, but it’s difficult to revisit and yet more difficult to revise. I had a different voice then, belonging to the person I was at that time; it’s daunting to try to figure out what voice to preserve for my children. Procrastination has in this case generated some unique new challenges.
I also have ancient drafts of fiction in the legal thriller genre–much of it inspired by my day job. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish revising them, but rather than looking upon them as abandoned, I’ve decided to think of them as safely “gestating.”
(2) How does your work differ from others its genre?
This is difficult to answer because I’m not sure what genre my blog occupies. Were I pressed to characterize it, I’d say it’s personal memoir.
(At my job this question would be easy to answer: my professional prose is distinctive enough to occupy a genre of “scorching” legal prose, somewhere between arch and lacerating. I generate exhaustive footnotes. My legal writing is characterized by, shall we say, overkill.)
In reading other blogs I notice how unique their voices and cadences are, no matter the genre. Ultimately I think my own work is distinguished as others’ is, by the spirit carried in any individual’s voice. Writing in any personal format is like penning a letter–a missive characterized in Père Goriot as itself “a soul, so faithful an echo of the speaking voice that to the sensitive it is among the richest treasures of love.”
(3) Why do you write what you do?
I began writing the blog for my mental health, because I found it a helpful way to grieve. One of my children aptly observed that I seem to feel better when I write, and she patiently explained how to navigate the basics of beginning a blog.
In much the same way that physical movement helps me think through and prepare for work (I often perturb the beagles as I walk them, circling around while I conduct spirited arguments with invisible judges), the process of telling life stories–out loud or in writing– seems to help settle my soul. Doing so through a blog in turn has presented me with unexpected rewards. I am amazed by other people’s responses to posts, and their willingness to support a stranger and share their own varied perspectives. Sometimes their responses–and their own blog posts and pictures–will inspire ideas for new posts: the WordPress world contains is populated by amazing and thoughtful people all over the globe.
(4) How does your writing process work?
I’m tempted to say I don’t have a writing process. At least, I don’t have a writing process that is anchored in actually writing things out, by hand or keyboard.
Such as it is, my writing process seems to be grounded in movement and memory. I walk a great deal, and every time I’m outside something will catch my attention and move me to write. The same thing happens when I drive, though I find that thoughts while driving, hermetically sealed in a vehicle, are more contemplative and internal (and generally lead to sadder posts). Ferrying four children and doing a long distance work commute, I spend a lot of time in the car. Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of posts have sprung from the radio’s intrusions into my psyche–“Jupiter” (the Planets Suite version), Death Cab for Cutie, The Pretenders, and just about the entire John Hiatt ouevre.
(The latter, by the way, is the inspiration for my longest brewing post, which I inexplicably have not finished: it’s about a CD Jim burned–I have no idea when, or whether it was before or after he knew he would die, though I suspect it was after–and on whose metallic gold top he took a sharpie and wrote the name of a John Hiatt song. Jim left the CD in the overflowing side pocket of my vehicle and I did not find it for nearly a year-and-a-half after he died, and not until many lonely hours into my return drive from dropping off our youngest daughter at college. One of the songs he put on the CD is about dropping off a daughter at college and driving “back to an empty space.”)
My writing process is a bit like the Seussian two-story “ball machine” (thus dubbed by our young children, frequent museum guests)–also known as George Rhoads’ “Archimedean Excogitation Audiokinetic Sculpture”–in the vestibule of Boston’s Museum of Science. The machine has perpetually cycling balls which drop into shoots, careen around corners and dings bells, flails into loop-de-loops, and settle down to chugging speed between stretches of a wild ride. I never know what path the initial inspiration will take, but it glances against and gathers parts of tangential thoughts and memories and gathers its own peculiar momentum.
And somehow, I’m learning to see beauty in what’s been broken.