Today, Wednesday, is Insecure Writers Support Group day.
Our Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.
The awesome co-hosts for the July 7 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, Victoria Marie Lees,and Louise – Fundy Blue!
Each month we have an optional question. This month it is: What would make you quit writing?
What would make me quit writing? Last month I would have said absolutely nothing. Discouragement hasn’t done it in forty plus years; and there has certainly been plenty of discouragement. With the popularity and acceptance of Indie publishing, rejection can’t crush me the way it once did.
If those two things can’t stop me, nothing can. At least, that’s what I thought. This week I know better.
I recently signed up for a webinar called The Pleasure of the Personal Essay, offered by Jane Freidman. Our instructor was Dinty W. Moore, one of my favorites. I have his excellent book, Crafting The Personal Essay.
Hearing Dinty speak about the essay stimulated my imagination, and encouraged me. I’ve always figured the essay is short and formal—not a relaxed observation with questions and answers, ponderings and research. I never realized an essay could be book-length. Have you ever heard of a book-length essay? The White Album by Joan Didion? Heavy by Roxane Gay? How did I miss the book-length essay? Is it something I’ve forgotten?
The seventy-five minutes of Dinty W. Moore’s voice was akin to pouring fuel on smoldering coals. My mind raced with all kinds of possibilities for writing essays about things that have touched me, scared me, confused me. Actions and observations that I’m still pondering from long ago and far away.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see my 97 year old mother who has round the clock sitters. Mom was a spit-fire in her day. A country girl from Arkansas, bright red hair and freckles, she was the oldest of ten kids. Her dad was an ordained, self-proclaimed Baptist minister. And Grandpa was totally illiterate. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t write. Often we couldn’t even understand the word he was trying to say.
Mom always said he was too mean to learn, but later, she amended that to too lazy. I suspect today we’d label him with a learning disability.
But my auditory processing Grandpa learned the Bible by making his eight daughters read to him. And from listening to an odd assortment of preachers on the radio. (His two youngest children—sons—became preachers too, though to their credit, they were educated.)
Mom was the first to leave home. After a failed marriage to her best friend’s brother, she hopped a bus and headed to Texas where she became a nurse. And while there is a much interesting story between leaving Arkansas and meeting Dad, I’ll save it for a later date.
Each time I go home to Texas from Louisiana, I wonder what I’ll encounter. Will she sleep during our entire visit? Will she know me? Will she bring up embarrassing childhood events as if they happened to someone else? She loves to tell stories about switching my little brother’s legs; she can’t quite remember popping me when I stuck my face out and backtalked her.
For seven years, I was an only child. My little brother came along when I was a first grader. Today, our mom fuzzily recognizes us.
This recent visit, she called me by name then wept, covering her face with her manicured hands. Thankfully, her sitters spoil her. She always wanted beautiful nails—she has them now.
When she looked up at me, she asked: “You’re my daughter? I’m a mother?” I couldn’t help wonder why that would surprise her.
My brother warned that she’d done the same with him. Over and over again, the ritual played out. She would cry, look at us with tears streaming down her face.
“Mom, why are you sad about that?” Even as I said the words, I wondered if I really wanted to hear her answer.
“You don’t understand,” she said in a small voice that wasn’t hers. (Mom had never owned a small voice.) “I’m different from most people. I cry when I’m happy.”
Her logic was impressive. It was the small, pitiful voice that was so disconcerting.
I’m just as disturbed by the disconnect in her mind. How can one forget children of sixty and seventy years? The intimate things shared and learned together. The fights and disagreements? How can one forget much loved shopping trips?
Oh, how I dreaded those shopping trips, just as much as I loved the new clothes. Mom touched and examined every garment, every price tag, and then went back to the beginning and touched, examined them all again, wondering, visualizing, making her decision about the wisest investment. The quality. During my growing up years, she owned two starched nurse’s uniforms, bright white, not a stain anywhere, and two dresses for church. My closet was full.
How could she forget those unique bell bottoms she bought for me, or those black leather pants? I had matching shoes for my skirts and dresses. Pointed toes. T-straps. She was a shoe lover; and I was the recipient of her love for shoes. No matter the size, if they were on sale, they were mine. My toes scrunched into six and a half narrows and I stuffed cotton and Kleenex into the eights.
When I remember the life we shared, the laughter, the tears, the anger, the disagreements, the hostility, the sacrifice … I wonder where it is in her mind? What corner of her deteriorating brain protects those memories, because she is … was … a hoarder, of sorts. She has to be saving memories somewhere, doesn’t she?
She saved tiny chunks of Dial soap in bags—just in case. Not sandwich bags, but large plastic grocery bags filled full. Just in case we became a world without Dial.
Where are her memories? Maybe we aren’t in her mind anymore, but stuffed deep down in her heart. With her love for nursing. I always thought Mom loved nursing so much more than she loved us. But in hindsight …
The second day I saw my mother, she still knew my name, but when I told her I was her daughter, she laughed. An unrecognizable giggle, not the belly laugh I grew up with. My mother never giggled in her life—at least, not during my lifetime.
“Why are you laughing, Mom?” I asked.
“Because I’m so proud of you.”
Proud of me?
She doesn’t remember the hateful words, the times I disappointed her. She doesn’t recall her continuous sacrifice that couldn’t possibly have been fun. Sacrifice was something she did without thinking, for her family. Her second nature.
“I’m so proud of my children.”
Just like in the old days, through tears and laughter, we love each other.
For four days, we entertained each other with foreign dialogue that neither of us understood, and I came away knowing more about myself, my own life. Asking myself hard questions that may or may not have decent answers. I know one thing for certain: When asked what can make me quit writing, the answer will be … will always be …
I’ll write forever, until my children sit beside me and I look at them in dismay and ask: “You’re my children and … I’m a writer?”
L. Diane Wolfe says
That’s the hardest thing when they fail to remember. I didn’t go through it with my mom, but my husband did with his as she was just out of it often the last few months. But all those memories are still there and you can write them down.
Jessica Ferguson says
Thanks Diane. Funny how the mind works. She remembers so much about her childhood.
This is absolutely beautiful. Three years ago my grandmother passed away. The two years before she died, she was in assisted living. She always remembered who we were but she would ask the same questions over and over again. I would entertain her by giving her a different answer each time. She’d been a spit fire in her day, too. Clothes perfectly matched, heels, hair always “done”. She was a writer, a poet, and I like to think I inherited something of that from her.
Jessica Ferguson says
Thank you, Jen. How exciting that your grandmother was a writer too. When I think of my grandparents I regret not asking them more questions about their childhood and the things they liked to do. I wish for a lot of do-overs, but I’m so thankful I knew them and spent time with them. I hope you have a few of your grandmother’s poems. 🙂
Natalie Aguirre says
My mom has dementia too. She still remembers me but has no concept of day or time anymore. I just moved her to assisted living, and it seems like she’s less confused. It’s so hard to watch our parents change like that because they don’t want to have it happen either.
Jessica Ferguson says
Heartbreaking, Natalie. I hope your mom thrives at the assisted living. Sometimes being able to socialize with others helps tremendously.
Larry D Mihm says
Thank you for writing about your preacher dad and your mother.
My spouse had one of those phone conversations today about the current state of my mother-in-law as she is in hospice. It is so hard to witness the decline of our parents.
Writing a book-long essay? Who would want to read my rant about any topic for the length of a whole book? I think most people want to tell me, “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”
Jessica Ferguson says
Larry, I’m sorry about your mother-in-law. It really is sad to see parents at their end. The older I get, the faster life seems to go too.
About the book length essay, I don’t think you should see it as a long rant. The way Dinty W. Moore explained it, we examine a specific topic, ask questions, look at the history of that topic, ask more questions, make observations, think of examples, one thing leads to another … really, it seems fascinating. And there’s even some room for a rant if you add in the other stuff. :). If you ever have an opportunity to check out Dinty Moore, do so. He says there are a lot of markets for essays. Thanks for popping in and for your comment. Saying a prayer for your mom-in-law.
Elizabeth Mueller says
Your mom is beautiful! How painful to see her memory gone like that. I’m sorry… Are you planning to write her life down in that essay? That would be a great and wonderful thing for her.
Jessica Ferguson says
Elizabeth, thank you! I’ve thought about writing her story. I’ve always thought it was so interesting. I did write a time travel piece based on her life, where she went back to her childhood. Never did anything with it though. Couldn’t figure out if it was a book or a series of short stories. I could probably get a lot of essays out of her life. <3
Quenntis Ashby says
Oh Jessica, this brought a tear to my eye.
My mother passed away twenty years ago, and she was a tough little lady. I can’t imagine seeing her older than 48, the age she died.
Your story brought your mom to life for me, and I could see how emotional it must be to experience the loss of important memories. You are the keeper of those memories now. It’s a great responsibility and your writerly superpower will bring them all back from the past just as you did here today.
Thanks for sharing.
Jessica Ferguson says
Thanks so much for your comments, Quenntis. Your mother was so young … that’s heartbreaking. My mom has outlived her nine younger siblings. She can’t figure out why, though she certainly tries.