Writer William Faulkner is credited with the phrase “in writing you must kill all your darlings”. What Faulkner meant is that when editing their work, writers must be brutal in eliminating any words they love but that do nothing for the story. I was intrigued by this concept but it wasn’t until I recently read Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that I ‘got’ it. Anyone who has ever entered my house and seen my bookshelves knows I am an admirer of Stephen King (although for some strange reason, when people notice all the SK books, they always assume the ‘reader’ is my husband). I love King’s writing style. I love how he draws me in. His writing is always fresh: I am in awe of his ability to come up with a seemingly endless supply of story lines. I love how he makes me care for, root for and often love his characters.
So… to ‘sit down’ with my favourite author and benefit from his words of advice on the craft of writing? Well, I had to trust that he knows what he is talking about.
I am waiting at the seniors’ home for my Mom and my sister to get back from an appointment at the ophthalmologist. I had to stay behind to attend the yearly Care Conference meeting, when they review Mom’s health concerns. Bureaucracy being what it is, the home could not change the time to accommodate our mother’s appointment so my sister and I have divided the tasks.
The meeting does not take long – just fifteen minutes – and because it’s going to be a long wait, I’ve brought a book (two books, actually: I’m almost at the end of one of them). I needn’t have bothered: a seniors’ home can be an interesting place in the middle of a quiet afternoon, if you pay attention.
She is the crazy old lady who talks to her plants, welcoming a new blossom or a new shoot with a soft exclamation of welcoming delight. She marvels at the sight of a freshly-laid egg. She tenderly rescues the insect who got into her home and is now frantically trying to find its way out. She softly caresses her favourite tree as she passes under its cool canopy. She never picks wild flowers: instead, she gently sends them a wave of gratitude as she gazes with appreciation in their direction and then lovingly moves on.
I blame all of this on my Mom. She has been hankering, lately, to go for a swim at a local hotel pool she and my step-father used to go to.
“Oh, I wish I had kept my bathing suit,” she tells me regretfully, as I experience a familiar pang of guilt for yet another little piece of her life that my sister and I gave away at some point, not knowing she would ask for it later.
My daughter ‘C’ is quiet like her Mama. That is to say, she is quiet until she has something to say; until she has a safe way – and a safe place – to say it. Until she trusts you. Once those criteria are met, well, she could talk your ear off.
I recently came across the following quote by Lawrence Cohen, PhD, and it brought back a flood of memories: “Children don’t say, “I had a hard day at school today; can I talk to you about it?” They say, “Will you play with me?”
When my daughter was little, she had a cute little stuffed bunny that she loved above all the many other stuffed toys who lived on her bed throughout her childhood and whom she called friends. Bunny was different than all her other beloved stuffed toys and he alone held the coveted position of sleeping every night – pressed to her cheek – on her pillow. He also came with her on any trips we made to visit family at Christmas or on summer holidays.
In her teens, her step-father and I got blow-by-blow accounts of her days, her troubles at school, the issues she was grappling with at her first job, that homework assignment that she was struggling with. ‘C’ processed everything by talking it out with us. The anger, frustration or worry she could not always easily express to others came out like a faucet when she got into the car and expressed a need to ‘vent”.
It had not always been that way, however. When she was little, everything that was bothering her tended to get bottled up inside. The only way anything ever came out was in great, awful, turbulent temper tantrums that were exhausting to witness and must have been exhausting to live through. There was nothing I could do while the temper tantrums were in full swing so I learned to walk away until they had ridden themselves out. Once she had calmed down, only then could I approach her.
On one occasion, after a doozy of a meltdown, I came into ‘C’s room where she was lying on her bed, turned toward the wall. I lay down beside her and I snuggled close as I gently questioned her about what was bothering her.
The silence was impenetrable.
I don’t know what possessed me to give Bunny a voice, but at some point, I picked him up, sat him on my hip and in a childish bunny voice, I asked “What’s wrong, ‘C’?”
She might have been able to ignore her Mama’s questioning but Bunny was a different matter. “I’m sad,” she told him, rolling over to give him her full attention. I could tell at that moment that I had ceased to be in the room at all.
“What about?” he asked, interested and concerned, as his ears – propped up from behind by her Mama’s fingers – came forward expectantly.
This started a ritual we would continue for several years whenever things were bothering my quiet, introspective little girl. She wasn’t always ready to tell her Mama what was bothering her but she solemnly told Bunny every single detail.
My baby girl just turned thirty and we Facetime frequently. Occasionally, she still struggles to find the words for the tougher things that are bothering her. Sometimes, it takes us an hour of talking about nothing and everything before she gets to the point of her call; as whatever dilemma she happens to be facing finally comes tumbling out. She usually doesn’t want or need my input: she tends to figure out her own solutions just by voicing the problem out loud.
As the memory of all those heart-to-hearts with Bunny came flooding back, I wondered whether she would get to the point sooner if I still had Bunny and could just let him take over the conversation.
But, well, Bunny lives with her now.
I’m sure she still tells him all kinds of things I’m not even aware of…
I wrote the post below several years ago. Unless we are hunting – with a valid and very strict hunting licence – we aren’t allowed to carry guns in my country. I admit, I was feeling a bit smug at the time that I wrote this: until quite recently, you didn’t hear about inner-city gangs (we do now) and you didn’t mourn the loss of eight (!!!) police officers in the line of duty in six months, as our country has been mourning since just yesterday. You didn’t hear about mass shootings either, but the world seems to have been rubbing off on what I used to consider my gentle country and unfortunately, they now happen here, too. Nothing though, compares to the regularity of mass gun shootings in the United States and nothing compares to the dreaded, unthinkable School Shooting. Those two words should never have been paired: I cannot even imagine having my children go to school every day in such a context and my heart hurts for each and every family that has ever gone through such a horror. I will always maintain that no guns = less violence. Unless you are putting food on the table, I do not see the need for owning a gun. Ever. But I have lived long enough to understand that money and corruption rule the world. People will debate; people will argue; people will protest. But money will always win…
It was an amazing day: my Dad’s first cousins were coming back to visit my home province and we had planned on meeting – for the very first time.
I can be a little obsessive. Just ask anyone who knows me. I worry about my kids (well, I suspect every parent does that); I worry about my friends’ kids. I frequently worry about strangers’ kids. I worry about my Mom. I worry about my home. I worry about the environment – a lot.
In a time when people – even dear friends and family – are divided over just about everything; in a time when most news channels cover stories that have been carefully crafted and custom-designed with a very specific viewer in mind, it is impossible not to take a side. Do you lean to the left? There are news channels guaranteed to mirror exactly how you feel about every possible news story that interests you! Do you lean to the right? We’ll provide you with news guaranteed to make the left look like idiots! Just watching the news is pretty much certain to leave you feeling confused, torn, frustrated, anxious, and likely, pretty angry.
The deer are back. They always stop me in my tracks, making me take a deep, wonder-filled breath.
I am sitting at my desk, fingers poised to write and – as I often do when I sit in this spot – I glance up to look out the window. I am immediately soothed by the sight of some snowflakes that are gently falling to the earth. Unless it’s summer and the gardens are at stake, rain tends to get my spirits down, whereas a soft snowfall always lifts my spirits and makes me feel glad that I am alive to witness such beauty. I also have a lovely view of the river – just metres away – as well as a view of the impossibly-steep, high slope on the far side, covered in trees that always seem to defy gravity by growing on what appears – from here – to be a 90-degree angle (in reality, it’s probably closer to 75 degrees).