Monday, October 24, 2011

I Cannot Imagine a Home Without Story.

When I was a little girl, my beloved grandmother told us a favorite bedtime story every time we slept over. I loved listening to her silvery voice tell us the old-fashioned tale "Cozette" so much that I asked for a tape recording for my 25th birthday. Grandma also told us silly stories about our dad when he was growing up: how he got a baby chick for Easter and named it Hallelujah. How he put two kittens in the fridge, and a duck in the dryer, and rode a horse bareback. How he misbehaved. We LOVED this youngster image of our dad that only Grandma could share.
My grandpa told us stories that would raise the hair on the back of your neck: How he and his friends spit on a horseshoe for good luck, then he tossed it over his shoulder and sent it crashing through the school window! How he had a part-time job playing the organ at the silent movie theater. How great-grandpa Cort once shot a bear right between the eyes. How his father outsmarted a town official in order to gain restitution for a Japanese immigrant who’d been swindled. And how he himself spoke out against the Japanese internment camps during World War 2. 

My grandpa on my mom's side used to SING us his stories. He loved the Christopher Robin songs by A. A. Milne and delighted us over and over with his adorable boyish renditions. It was pure magic to hear him sing these timeless stories.
My mother told us stories of her own family: How she was raised by her grandmother, whom they affectionately called Marmee (Marmee, like the character she was nicknamed for, was a strong young widow with four spirited daughters); How her youngest brother spit out a now-famous string of the naughtiest words he could think of: P.O. Poop Out Stinker Bum!; how her father took them sailing on the Great Salt Lake, sang solos in the Messiah, had his own radio show; how her mother worked at an advertising agency in Los Angeles and how Grandpa called her his Happy Heart; how she wrote magazine articles under a pen name, and authored a children’s book. 

Mom also read to us night after night...The Cookie Tree and Miss Suzie and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, plus timeless classics from her own childhood: Epaminondas and Thunder Cave.
My father told us stories of his own childhood adventures -- ones I’m sure he never told his mother: How he and his friends found a dead body on the capitol grounds; How he found a leather pouch full of money under a tree and inadvertently interrupted an FBI stakeout; how he and his friends let the air out of the tires of a whole fleet of police cars parked at the capitol building one night; how an unstable kid named Ikey threatened to kill him; and how he discovered a hermit cave—and the hermit who lived there!   Dad also made up hilarious bedtime stories about spaceships and astronauts.
My husband is the King of Story. He writes screenplays, teaches screenwriting, directs movies, creates webisodes, and exhausts every possible outlet for storytelling (as evidenced here). He reads wonderful books out loud to the family -- The Tale of Despereaux, Walk Two Moons, and Watership Down. He also makes up fabulous stories about our kids and their friends and their secret superpowers. He lives and breathes story.
Which is why he’s been invited to speak at this conference:
It’s presented by Cherish Bound.

And hosted by FamilySearch.
March 8-10, 2012.
Save the date, and I’ll save you a seat!

          --But wait, there’s more! (No Ginzu Knives...)
            I’m presenting there too. I’m speaking about balance. Or rather, how to juggle a lot of dangerous objects projects without maiming or injuring yourself. Something along those lines.  

I believe there are few things as powerful as STORY to unite us at home. I’m so
excited about this conference and a chance to explore something so important and
entertaining and beloved. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Book Group Went All Stream-of-Consciousness On Me

—And it was awesome.

Instead of reading a book this month, our hostess (who teaches a writing class at BYU) decided we should all try our hands at writing. She came armed with fun, designer-ish notebooks for everyone, and a stash of ballpoint pens.

She had us try three free-writing exercises. The first was called I Am.
The assignment was to capture ourselves through objects, places, events that are important to us, define us. Here's one paragraph:

I am January 
I am newness and silent snowfall 
I am the glow of the firelight after the hustle and bustle of celebration fades 
I am fire and ice

The second was called Mirror, Mirror. We had to hold a hand mirror up to our face and close our eyes, then write about what first grabbed our attention.  I struggled with this one because most of the time I avoid mirrors and prefer to be invisible.  I finally allowed myself to focus on an eyebrow, and then an eye. Here's one paragraph  (after I wrote about the hiding and avoidance):

I see a round lifted arch with confidence and an air of mystery. There is a fringe of darkness surrounding a circle of blue. There is light and more light — a reflecting pool. There is a veil of cast shadow coming from the left, and expressiveness moving toward the light. There is seriousness and playfulness coming from the same source. There is wisdom and wit and a very strong will. ...A circle that finds beauty in unexpected places, sometimes sees what others miss.

The third one is called Childhood Place. We were to describe a place that was memorable and meaningful to us as a child. Here is my free-writing description of my earliest memories of place (about 10 minutes, long-hand):

There is a landing that feels like a cage at the top of the stairs. Standing there I can peer down at the people below. I should be napping but instead I am poking my face through the balustrade, peeking down into the entryway below. There are magical pieces of rainbow scattered across the rose-patterned carpet. Light pouring through cut glass. Prisms. I am suspended in time and place as this top-of-the-world view gives me perspective, makes me feel tall.  
The entry is Nana's, the staircase is Nana's, the carpet is Nana's, chosen for her mother, Rose. But the landing is mine and the prisms are God's come to greet me in this chapel of relics. 
The landing is lifted by columns with stairs rising up toward the sky. Some dolls and a rocking horse wait at the base of the stairs, as if to call out "suffer the little one" to sneak down and play awhile. 
Uncle is jolly and balding, roundish with glasses. We play a game where he fills his cheek up with air and I poke it, making a popping sound that bursts through the silence and pulls laughter up and out from deep inside me, bouncing against the walls and the wood and dancing with the prisms on the floor below.

Free-write. Zero editing. I'd love to have you join me. Try an I Am or a Mirror, Mirror or a Childhood Place. Even just a paragraph. This week, you can be part of our fabulous book group and free-write your inner world.

Just write.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Hour in Five Stages

Stage 1: DENIAL. I think to myself I SHOULD BE FEELING SOMETHING but I am completely numb. The Beatles are in the CD player and I sing along at the top of my lungs, “Paperback writer (writer, writer)” and even throw in the guitar lick...buhbuduheeee buhduh bombomduh... 
Comic relief: Around the point of the mountain I pass this car that is going WAY TOO SLOW in the center lane. Attempting to pass, I speak into an imaginary microphone, entertaining no one but myself: “Hello, officer? I’d like to report a CORPSE driving in the center lane on I-15...”  Then (I SWEAR I am not making this up!) I pass the alleged corpse-car only to discover that the driver does in fact appear to be dead (or at least asleep): Head tilted back, eyes closed, mouth wide open. AAHHHH! I try to keep a wide berth between me and the corpse-car, and continue to keep one eye on him in the rearview mirror, expecting him at any moment to crash right into the median. “Bang, bang, Johnny’s silver hammer comes down on his head...Bang, bang, Johnny’s silver hammer made sure he was dead....” (Miraculously, the corpse continues on autopilot, making all the curves and remaining in the center lane. Hmmm.) 
Stage 2: ANGER. I exit the freeway in plenty of time, giving me a straight shot to Huntsman Cancer Institute, and twelve minutes to park and go inside. Then everything starts going out of control, multiplying so rapidly I let it get the best of me. The directions on the iPhone map are wrong, and I spend twenty frustrating minutes cruising around a spaghetti-ish network of long driveways and one-way circles that makes Los Angeles at rush hour look like child’s play. “Help! I need somebody. He-ehelp me, help me-ee!”  I could feel my blood pressure rising with every wrong turn, until I was no longer singing along, but shouting, spitting out the lyrics like nails out of a gun. How did the music that was helping me feel fun-loving and free-wheeling just moments ago suddenly have me tied up in vicious knots? I turned off the stereo by slamming it down with my fist. Yes I did. Take that, Ringo! 
Stage 3: BARGAINING. I don’t know why arriving a few minutes late has sent me into such a tailspin, but I can feel myself starting to panic, wondering if they’ll even be able to see me if I’m 20 minutes late, if I made this drive for nothing, and will have to do it all again, and if it will take me another two months to get an appointment. I have crazy conversations in my head, making my plea. Finally, in desperation, I pull up to a construction worker and ask how to get to the hospital entrance. So simple. Why didn’t I do this right at the beginning? 
Help me if you can I’m feeling dow-ow-own. And I do appreciate you comin’ rou-ou-ound. Help me get my feet back on the grou-ou-ound.”  (Yeah, I turned it off, but it’s still playing softly in my head.)
Stage 4: DEPRESSION. I feel completely defeated as I enter the parking lot. The attendant is informative and kind, yet I feel a black hole in my heart as I look for a space to park and make my way through the looming glass doors. I am here but I am still lost. And I know it. I push elevator buttons, put one foot in front of the other, but my world is gray.
Stage 5: ACCEPTANCE. No one says a word or even raises an eyebrow about my late arrival. I am ushered into a back room before I even have a chance to take a seat in the waiting area. My genetic counselor and her grad-student assistant are the perfect combination of competent and compassionate. It is surreal to hear myself reciting details about my family history with utter calm, like reading numbers off a report: My mother found a lump at age 47. She was diagnosed at age 49. She died of breast cancer at age 53. Her sister battled breast cancer three times over several decades and finally passed away at age 83. More questions: Yes. No. I don’t know. 
I realize I have passed through the five stages of grief in the hour it took me to arrive at this place, just footsteps away from the room where my mother took her final breaths. I think I may also have been grieving my own mortality as I approached that place and draw closer to that age, seeking clues to my what own future holds. I received no concrete answers, but every ounce of knowledge I acquire empowers me. I journey home, fast-forwarding through Fool On A Hill and Yesterday, ultimately landing on Across the Universe. Which takes me home.

Note of clarification: I was just in for genetic counseling and DNA testing. I have no signs of breast cancer, other than my marked family history. I do want to remind everyone that October is breast cancer awareness month. 

This post is inspired by  Just Write, an exercise in free writing{Please see the details here.}  Not sure if I'm following all the rules, or if there even ARE any rules to a free-write, but at least it keeps me writing!