March 12, 2008

Writing 101 - Composting

In the chapter “Composting,” Natalie Goldberg relates an anecdote about Hemmingway, who wrote “Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan. I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough.”

Perhaps I know Nebraska too well. Or perhaps I cannot see it clearly while I am here. Forrest, trees, etc. I have been trying to write a bit about my history – to understand the causes and conditions of my present circumstance. I have been writing about Nebraska, my family, my childhood. I had the fairly rare experience of writing and rewriting and rewriting. I drew upon previous short essays and pulled in new stories, memories, anecdotes. I usually don’t struggle so, but I must have tossed the metaphorical wadded up paper into the metaphorical trash can (which, of course, I hit every time because of my superb aim) half a dozen times by now.

I was composting, working the detritus, creating good soil in which something could grow. The final results are the preceding post, Being Nebraska: My Heritage and My Contrary Nature. Several items I have touched on here before.

I don’t know what prompted me to write this reflection now. Perhaps it was my Grandmother’s worsening condition. I began it before we went up to see her last month and finished it just before she died. Perhaps it is the recent angst and loneliness I have experienced since returning to Nebraska at the end of the summer. I came “home” from someplace that feels more like home than anywhere I have ever been. Perhaps it is all the recent t travel, Colorado, Western Nebraska, Toronto, Milwaukee, and next week San Francisco. I don’t know.

I think it came at a good time though. After we had returned home on Sunday, as my Mom was heading up to bed she stopped for a rare moment of seriousness. She told me she was glad I came with them to see Grandma in February, glad I came to the funeral, that she really was proud of me and she loved me. Then she went up to bed, knowing she would be gone off to work before I was up the next morning. That morning, I wandered down as my Dad was preparing to leave. He looked at me, demanded his hug, and said much the same thing.

We had spent the previous four days surrounded by family. Great-aunts and great-uncles and every type of cousin imaginable. There were people I haven’t seen for ten years, but they all think they know me. I think we all saw how different I was from them. They are all of a piece. I can get along, but I have never exactly fit in.

We went to see my Great-grandma Peterson, my mother’s mother’s mother. She has a strong grip and a sharp wit for a ninety-four year old lady. She says God is calling her and she is ready to go. She seems entirely delighted by the prospect.

“Dayle [my mother], I remember when they brought you home from the hospital. You were my little doll. I remember our little Monica. She would never let us hold her or sit on my lap. She didn’t want to be loved. She just wanted to do her own thing, always running around. Now I love to get your letters and read about all the exciting stuff you’re doing,” she told us.

My parents took the time to reassure me that even though I hadn’t turned out as expected, or necessarily even as they had wanted, they loved me and are proud of me.

That’s what family is.

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