Returning to the Scene, Seasonally and Socially Distanced
You really would not have wanted to be there, in the almost ten months since my last post, as I quarantined my writing-as-therapy and re-directed my priorities, blurring my focus and resulting in no writing and extended procrastination. For positives, a couple of aha moments, and one epiphany, as I return to the writing therapy thing.
As I recently discovered, even my memoiring can be presented in three acts, dramatic or not, but convenient for breaking up extensive overwrites.
AHA! ONE: The Writing Workshop. For three years I had enjoyed writing workshops conducted by children’s book author and former People Magazine writer Kate Klise, whose creative sessions included an on-the-trail walk through a local conservation territory, as she laddered up and down the paths counseling us on the state of our projects and how to get to the next step. She was coaching me on the standards for a children’s-book-for-adults I was creating (example: 29 pages, 800 words; at the time I was at 2300 words, realized children aren’t intrigued by long-claused sentences, and am now down to 1100 words, in search of an illustrator when I get back on that track). But…
Last year’s workshop was dredged up from one of her People assignments: obituary writing. It seems to be the new literary thing: roll your own. This was almost an ice-water-in-the-face challenge. I think this end-of-times thing was breaking out long before the new virus. My first reaction was: morbid, I’ll pass. Then she suggested this could be a positive direction-setting impulse, give yourself credit for some achievement you may be secretly harboring. I was encouraged by listening to another writer’s “future achievements,” and decided to play.
So I projected I had been awarded honorable mention in Oprah’s list of 2019’s Best Reads for Octogenarian Grandmothers in the poetry category. But for cause of death, I projected that three floor-to ceiling-columns of 1) unread books and 2) a double column of every version of every verse or script or musical or Chairman of the Board game archives I had written had fallen on and suffocated me. There, I’m gone.
The AHA! here was a realization that my priority needs to be de-cluttering my house, so that the kids won’t have to do that. So I embarked on this new filtering adventure, had maybe two days of productivity, then slipped into fatigue mode, followed by a long string of cascading procrastinations, then repeating same. In the interim, my volunteer time at My Brother’s Keeper provided me with a feeling of camaraderie in accomplishing something and being useful somewhere. The charity wisely furloughed volunteers, at least in my age group, and I agreed to join the firewall, lest I become a victim or perpetrator. Writing again at least provides a feeling of doing something useful, if only for myself.
The de-cluttering is back-burnered, and with it the realization that endowing that task to the kids will be an organic no-brainer, home-to-dumpster operation, no filtering to inspect many strange and quixotic artifacts with no rest-of-the-story interpretation and not destined for Antiques Roadshow.
AHA! TWO: The Luncheon. Another unexpected insight arrived in the guise of a lunch with my recently married son and his wife, a mental health professional, acutely aware of the multiplicity of emergences of the human genome. With source material including only this one luncheon and her interactions with my son, she clarified an overriding family genetic trait, and offered not only a name, but also a flowchart, for clarification. The contrast is spectacularly clear. The flowchart defines “Start of Story – End of Story” as the mental path of “Non-ADHD Storytelling.” The “ADHD-Storytelling” path includes “Pre-Story prologue for ‘context’” – “Start of Story” – “too many details” – “semi-related side story” – “Wait, okay, back to the main story” – “Something I just now remembered” – “Lose train of thought” – “What was I talking about?” – “Realize I’ve been talking too long” – “Wrap story up and finally get to the point” – “End of Story” – “Apologize” steps. She nailed the diagnosis! (My interpretation: the last three or four steps are not guaranteed.).
Most of my siblings will chuckle at this description, even more when I forward them the actual flowchart. My son clearly inherited this gene from me, and we all know it came from Dad, but have no idea of the original benefactor. With my Dad, “Incidentally” was the alarm; our flags went up, and our minds closed, as if Groucho Marx had sent down the magic word (which in ancient TV lingo would mean a bonus if the contestant stumbled upon that word in answering Groucho’s questions). Various cousinly indicators, such as “by the way,” signal similar off-trail wandering. I believe my particular trigger is silence. I rush in to fill voids, and pauses spring me back into action. Marketers are trained to let pregnant pauses draw potential customers into revealing their positions (in negotiations, “first to speak, loses!”). Good thing I was a technician. I have recently been coached to recognize closing eyelids as “land the plane” signals, but there is no guarantee I will notice. So herewith is my blanket APOLOGY to all whose endurance I have tested.
EPIPHANY! THE IDENTITY. Finally aware of my psychic need for writing and my genetic place in the exercise, I intuitively resolved a major self-image issue. Other than “rush to publication,” my main source of disorientation has been determining my creative identity. At poetry venues, I was considered a “poet,” but I never felt like one, especially in the modern sense of free-form, painterly impressionism, with many-onion-layered images, externally focused on nature or political truth and justice concerns*, contrasting with my structured rhyming approach, usually focused on personal experiences. And whenever I think I’ve written a significant and unusual verse, such as “Gumbo” in response to a call from Poets for Living Waters after the BP oil spill (https://poetsgulfcoast.wordpress.com/2010/12/25/gumbo-by-george-comeaux/ ), I find other poets’ works much more descriptive, colorful, emotional, and connected to the natural world, if less lyrical.
*(A poet friend was nicknamed “Sir Roger Rantsalot” for his disdain for certain political operatives, circa 2004. His wife, award-winning poet and visual artist Sheila Mullen Twyman, was my chapbook coach – publish 44 pages, 11 sheets of paper which can fold without fanning too far to be closed. She objected when I called her my Chapbook Godmother, but she was that for me, and for many fledgling poets when we started open mike readings. The Twymans were the first to nudge me toward reading, after noticing me observing at a local open mike about five times, then asking when was I going to read.)
I considered myself more lyricist than poet, with most of my verses waiting to be musicalized by someone who does notes. One established poet workshop leader had noted something primal about my tendency to spill out fourteen syllable rhythmic lines, but I’m not sure what that means. And the “Gumbo” in my website name more accurately describes my writing identity – poems, lyrics, books for musicals and parish variety shows, (only one) screenplay, and even the board game. Well, if painters can work in oils, watercolors, acrylics, and pencil sketches, I guess I can creative smorgasbord also.
So, AHA! now I understand: I am a Storyteller, ADHD variety, with multiple modes of expression! When I heard Martin Scorsese state, in his interview attached to the Netflix movie “The Irishman,” that “All creativity is personal,” I felt re-inforced using my personal style and confirmed my new direction in memoir blogging. I had been thinking about structuring future posts around verses I had written, to present The Rest of the Stories, and now I’m boarding that plane. But first…
My next post will complete a trilogy, “Down on the Farm,” begun a few years ago. The first two postings were detailed top three highlights from Mom’s farm Blue Lake in Morganza, LA (https://youreallyhadtobethere.com/2017/02/01/down-on-the-farm-blue-lake-3-indelible-movie-scene-memories/ ), and Dad’s farm in White Castle, LA (https://youreallyhadtobethere.com/2016/11/17/down-on-the-farm-white-castle-3-lingering-memories/ ), and I had projected: “My Blue Lake memories will require at least two postings, one for my younger “Tom Sawyer” personal adventures, a second for somewhat older, more compelling group experiences of farm life and history.
Top 3 from Grandma’s farm were 1) the chemical cleansing of invasive species in Blue Lake which accidently decimated the pond’s dinner candidates; 2) the jubilant natural cleansing, with local residents recruited by my Uncle’s black farm workers, long wire-net seining of Blue Lake successfully providing the seiners with a variety of fish, snakes, and large alligator snapping turtles; and 3) the discomforting discovery that the farm’s antebellum legacy included slave labor, on introducing my pre-fiancée to the extended family. Top 3 from MawMaw’s farm were 1) listening at age eight through radio static to the 1952 political conventions, especially the three-rounder Democratic nomination of a reluctant candidate, Adlai Stevenson, over twelve opponents, detail-blogged in https://youreallyhadtobethere.com/2016/02/22/electoral-dysfunction/ ; 2) also at the age of eight, lingering effects from my Grandfather’s funeral (https://youreallyhadtobethere.com/2014/10/16/death-and-consequences/ ) ; and 3) at age 10, a project to help Dad and ten-year-old brother cut and burn a gigantic oak tree to clear space for a few more rows on MawMaw’s sugar cane farm, in which the burning itself required forty-eight hours.
Those were the top dramatics in my memory. Next, Down of the Farm 3, will begin the Rest of the Story stories, and recount the more everyday down on the farm experiences of imaginary Tom Sawyers – getting there, hunting, fishing, and playing.
Usually I re-write several drafts, for clariphrasing or cleverty, never brevity, before posting, but I’m rushing to publish this, and hoping I remember how to get this document into wordpress. Preparing for landing the plane, unless I see something interesting on the way down. Oh, I almost forgot… oops, plane just landed.