Here Today . . .

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It might seem like an ordinary spot.

Now, as then, one rock’s broad surface comfortably seats a man over six feet tall, allowing him to look up at the much slighter young woman facing him under a Long Nights Moon.

You faced the moon and I faced you. . . .

Technically I have been alone when revisiting the spot, in mind or body.  Even now, few couples would make the rocky climb on a December night. Its most perilous stretches had no guard rails then. Hemmed by poison ivy and washed by surf, scattered signs warned of the trek’s perils, beginning with the precipitous drop from unsteady earth to roiling sea. 

And we talked about the future we hoped to have and came to be

From the narrow, rutted path’s highest point, where the young man sits and she stands, an  overlook offers a panoramic view of the horizon, bracketed by ridged limestone shelves angled into the seabed, as glaciers had decreed.

img_6546 copyThe young man’s vision is razor-sharp, as it will remain all his life. Beyond his moonlit partner he sees a swath of inky, noisy ocean punctuated only by a rocky outcropping miles from shore. There, tiny Boon Island personifies the word “barren.” No less a luminary spirit than poet Celia Thaxter, of New Hampshire’s convivial close-knit Isles of Shoals and their blooming gardens, is said to have once described Boon Island as “the forlornest place that can be imagined.”   

Despite its size and solitude, its uneven granite has drawn in and grounded ships over the centuries. And more than one sturdy stone lighthouse there has been storm-toppled into the sea, rearranging itself into mazes on the ocean floor.

The distant toothpick of the most recently rebuilt lighthouse is in fact New England’s tallest. Standing at strict attention atop the granite pile where nothing grows, it laconically cycles its pure white light, lest another insufficiently attentive traveler come too close. 

Compared to its nearest neighbor, the gaudily scarlet-strobing, holiday-bedazzled and aggressively photographed Nubble Lighthouse, one would have to concentrate very carefully to commit this shy slender cousin to pixels or film. When one does, the tiny island itself often appears to be hovering above the water, as if it is present both as we know it to be and also its own ghost.

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At this spot my husband and I shared at the cliff’s edge, the only sound likely to be heard during any season gently floated upwards. Thousands of water-smoothed stones companionably clattered as waves cycled below. They mingle and chatter as each wave washes over them and recedes, resettling their companions only slightly as they all await the next incoming wave. The sound becomes less mellifluous only in the most ferocious storms–the rare, intense storms we sometimes do not sense are coming, and which might fell even the most dependable beacons.

It is no coincidence that this single quotidian patch of earth and rock snuck itself into  my subconscious memory, and in turn has played a role in both my  fiction and non-fiction.

My husband died almost twelve years ago, but I will always find him–and our younger selves and our future children–in this spot, at least as present as the rocky shore and surrounding sea, and the seagulls who pause to quietly survey the rising sun along with me.

Broken Beauty (and a Blogiversary)

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Our Backyard, January 2012

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.”

Continue reading “Broken Beauty (and a Blogiversary)”

The Hint of a Spark

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(c) 2008 Jim Glennon

Maurice Sendak could not draw horses.

This proved to be a significant problem, for an editor had seen the hint of a spark in him, and had secured for him a contract to complete an illustrated book called “Where the Wild Horses Are.”

Sendak recalled his formidable editor’s “acid tones. She said, ‘Maurice, what can you draw?’ Okay. Cause she was investing in a full color picture book. That was an enormous thing back then.”

Sitting shiva for a family member and encountering an array of much older, distant and alarmingly disheveled relatives whose appearance and behavior was a wild curiosity to him and his sister inspired Sendak to write another book entirely. Continue reading “The Hint of a Spark”

Drawing on Darkness

     

                     

                     Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
                     Every poem an epitaph. . . .

                                                                                                        —T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding 

When I began writing it had been exactly hundred days since my husband Jim was diagnosed.

After he was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer Randy Pausch pondered what to do for his three young children: “If I were a painter, I would have painted for them.  If I were a musician, I would have composed music.  But I am a lecturer.  So I lectured.”[i]

Of course, I was not the patient.  But any caregiver who also is a parent will think endlessly  of those young hearts, and wonder how to help them.

What are my skills?  I put together criminal cases and I write, and while the former had no evident application in this situation, a friend suggested very early on that I write.

But I simply could not start until the first hundred days had passed.  I will never know how that season’s passage and distance may have colored what I wrote, and may color it now.  My children have my husband’s tendency to observe meticulously, to prepare themselves and learn all they can before jumping in.

The season (summer) of my husband’s aggressive treatment became a time for me to observe and learn, although no number of seasons will allow me to process this profound change in our family.

What I write is not really a story about my husband’s death, although his last four days would prove extraordinary, and I cannot imagine ever will be duplicated for anyone else.  It is a story about a lifelong caregiver and teacher who would not have thought of himself as being either of those things.

The experienced criminal defense lawyer will tell his or her client not “Tell me what happened,” but “Tell me your story.”

The prohibition is against knowingly putting on a witness stand a client he or she is aware will be lying under oath.  Putting on a criminal defense case can be akin to what Tim O’Brien, in The Things They Carried, described of a foot soldier’s stories: “I want you to feel what I felt.  I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.”[ii]

But trying to tell a life story and a family story is not as simple as separating truth from fiction: so much is a matter of perception, of trying to grasp and recount what happened during that slipstream of time.  Even the biological encoding of different types of memories can affect what the mind holds.

Jenny Fields–better known as Garp’s mother in The World According to Garptold her son, “Everybody dies. I’m going to die too. So will you. The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure having a life.”

Jim had a real adventure having a life.

Dying at home, as he wanted, also proved to be far more of an adventure than anyone could have anticipated. Continue reading “Drawing on Darkness”

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