I wrote this in October:
But that was how I was raised. Casting nets with gaping holes, letting things collapse in upon themselves, trawling in the ruins. Unraveling thread — the opposite of knitting. The pull of the slipknot traveling like a stuck cursor down and down and down until what you’re left with is erasure: tangled, knotted yarn in your lap.
Some families are gardeners, tenders, herders … drawing you toward the central story you all share. In my family the personal story is held close to the vest, told as a cautionary tale; these are not the stories you want to take as your own. But they follow you.
Z will be in kindergarten next year; W will be a sophomore in high school. We adopted a puppy that lolls and chews and tears through the yard. We managed through pure ignorance and benign neglect to cull our flock of chickens from six to four. Z takes this in stride in a way that seems both utterly foreign and familiar — balanced with a kind of acceptance of the natural world and the order of things; I was a child who perseverated on things. If you can feel things too much, I did, which led somehow to a complete disconnect from them. I am still bothered sometimes, the way you are bothered if you have some small pebble in your shoe that’s too small to bother with but big enough to notice, that my best friend, in the months before she died mentioned to a mutual friend “well you know how sensitive Pam is.” And I often think to myself that no one quite knew me like she did and she didn’t say it to admonish but to acknowledge, trying to shield me from something she supposed I might see as a minor slight.
Funny. I think of myself as tough. And I am. Raised working-poor by a woman who, I can see now, was in her own way an orphan and a self-determined outsider: outside the world of her half-siblings, the step-father who adopted her at eight, the mother who fashioned a world so wholly different from the world she was born into to which she and my mother both belonged. My mother bequeathed to me a kind of fluid class status — drifting back and forth over the borderlands; I passed. I perfected, over time, the ability of removal. My life’s work now seems to be to root myself.
Easier said than done.
I woke up today and thought how I was nearly Z’s age in 1978 on this day when my father was drinking away his last day on earth — whiskey with his ex-wife and his old air force buddies. I was with my mother then in an Illinois farm town where she was teaching at a community college. My father was in a Florida coastal town near the space coast. They’d divorced the year before.
You know how everyone these days is so entranced with Serial? In passing someone will ask if I follow it and I say no. My father was a murder victim. I know we’ve built whole genres on the very act. I grew up on my mother’s Agatha Christies. I am a rabid fan of good police procedurals… and yet.
I was at a writing conference once. I’ll never forget this woman I was sharing a condo with who said she didn’t have something as sensational to write about as my life story — and at that moment any drive I had to sell a memoir about that disappeared. I balance that same borderland — creative work I want to do and the same old stories I can’t get past. When Alicia died, after W’s accident, for the first time in my life narrative failed. It felt, strangely, too close, too deep, too raw. The story of the family I was born into — that I could tell more easily (however I felt about about turning it into a product) — but the story of the family I chose and built — that has felt impossible to tell.
I figured I should write here before the space is hijacked by Russian bots … AWP is coming to my city — I’ll be going and reentering the writing world. I’ve spent the last seven years writing Blood Signs — titled after a collection of stories I wrote when I was 26. I’m 42 now.
I finally understand what David Long, one of the finest writing teachers I ever had, said. He was quoting his own mentor who talked about writing like bricklaying. You show up every day and lay the bricks.
So if you wonder where I am or what I’m doing?Anne Lamott has Bird by Bird and I have brick by brick.
Meanwhile you can find me on twitter @bloodsigns or on IG as zoebsmom
I can tell by my stats that at least nine of you have checked in on me. I’m alive!