Happy 2014! As I spend the day editing, I thought I'd share a little nibble from my memoir, Open Road: a life worth waiting for. I've often said it takes a village to grow a writer, and I've been blessed to have so many wonderfully supportive gardeners along the way. It's almost time to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Blessings for a year filled with joy, hope and kindness!
Garden apprentice, age 2
My mother kept meticulous records in my baby book. In the "Famous Firsts" section, she wrote: "First cartoon movie: April, '69 Snow White." I was two at the time and, of course, have no memory of the event. But when I turned six, Mom insisted that I have a birthday party and invite some girls from the neighborhood. Not wanting any attention focused solely on me, I balked endlessly. Finally, after some cajoling, Mom promised the party could be any theme I wanted.
Now satisfied that I could have some choice in the matter, I replied, "I want a Snow White birthday party."
"What's that?" Mom asked.
"I want you to find a Snow White at the store and put it on the dining room table with all your little ceramic animals."
My mother had a delightful collection of birds and fauna that decorated the corner shelves of our kitchen and living room. I cheerfully explained that they could be like all the animals Snow White met in the forest before she discovered the seven dwarves.
There's only a brief mention of this party in my baby book, accompanied by a short list of the girls who attended. What I remember most is that I absolutely did not want to play games, so we went to the movies instead. And I can also remember sitting in the darkened theater at Southwyck Mall relieved that everyone was paying attention to something other than the fact that it was my birthday. Yet, I also felt disgusted that the movie I had chosen ("What's Up Doc?") was not about Bugs Bunny at all, but a tedious love story between Ryan O'Neil and Barbra Streisand.
Enter the pattern of my life: I can ask for what I want, but it rarely turns out as I imagined or hoped it would be.
Still, my favorite memory of that birthday is standing in the doorway of the dining room, looking at the table where Mom had carefully assembled Snow White in a makeshift forest surrounded by her collection of little animals. Even now, I can see myself as a young girl, wondering what those animals would say if they could speak.
What would Snow White say?
What would I say?
Longing to discover my own voice, I started keeping a journal in my adolescence and eventually became a novelist. In the process, I've created dozens of characters who marginally personify pieces of myself. Many of them have been written into a life I had once planned, yet never experienced. None of them reveal my own life as it has truly been. So last year I began writing this memoir.
The process has been daunting...yet ultimately freeing.
I tend to be more content with writing fiction. Sculpting a story is much like sculpting clay. I am free to do anything...create anything. I can mold my characters in a variety of shapes and sizes, all the while directly touching the novel with my narrative hands, smoothing a plotline here, adding texture to the conflict there.
In contrast, writing a memoir is much like working with an erector set. It's limited and finite, since I can only use the components provided. The tools of real life events are in my hands, creating a barrier between me and the object I'm constructing. There are pieces I can't alter or influence, because their rigidity is unchangeable. In every instance, I must tell my life experiences as they were, not as I would have liked them to be.
And through it all, I've been amazed that the story of Snow White continues to shape my life's lessons. Like her, I have encountered wicked, green-eyed queens who have wanted to diminish or silence my existence. I have escaped to the silence of a solitary forest in order to recreate myself beyond what I had been taught to be. I have spent decades as a teacher, working with little people of all ages, unearthing jewels of learning while they mine their own talents and abilities. I have been terrified of the unknown, the unfamiliar, and the endless search for who I am and where I belong.
Naturally, my favorite part of the story of Snow White is when she enters the forest and all the animals befriend her. They take her to a little cottage in the heart of the woods where she will be safe. Where she will eventually meet the seven dwarves and face the trials of being the object of the Queen's wrath. Deep in the forest, Snow White is nurtured by the natural world and it is through being in nature that I am continually healed. Like Snow White, I live in a little cottage and tend to the lovely gardens which surround it. What a blessing to touch the earth and experience more clearly the unspoken, yet profound life lessons flourishing in my own back yard.
This memoir is the story of my journey as reflected through the seven stages of gardening. Part One contains the essential lessons of groundwork: tilling the soil of my past, planting seeds of regeneration, and tending the fragile life experiences as they became more clear and vital. In Parts Two and Three, the more intangible and dynamic qualities of both inner and outer gardening are enhanced. It's here where I reached for the sunlight that encouraged each bud. Where I pruned away that which no longer served me in order for new, healthier growth to occur. Where I now nurture love, wisdom, and a divine connection that allows me to embrace joy and grace in every waking moment.
Throughout this conscious awakening, the tale of Snow White keeps me ever mindful to listen carefully to that which sparks my attention, which engages me beyond words or thought. Which allows me to feel my authentic heart that has never been stolen. This journey echoes a message I have spent a lifetime trying to decipher: my truth, my own enchantment is not what I had been taught to want, but rather a new reality that has risen from its ashes.
This memoir is my literary phoenix.
It reflects the life I have chosen to recreate in light of all that has happened and not happened. Of all I had once dreamed and feared. Of holding on and letting go. Of seeing what is Truth and not necessarily what is true in the moment. In its reflection, I hope you see yourself, a friend, a sister or an aunt, a lover or a wife. Most of all, may you discover you are not alone in your journey, neither before nor after this moment in time.
Those of us who are creating new paradigms are blessed to find each other along the way.