Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

What I Would Show You

A photo odyssey of my graduate school, Pacific University, and what I would show Lee, if I could. (Lee, my late husband, took his life on October 3, 2002.)

A classroom of fellow students. I would have known them better, but your shadow loomed between us, and I burned my foot when I tried to step across

A classroom of fellow students. I would have known them better, but your shadow loomed between us, and I burned my foot when I tried to step across.

She bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. Even with extra arms, it's sometimes too much.

She bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. Even with extra arms, it’s sometimes too much.

Here's where I sat when a ready reminded me too much of you. I called a man who wasn't you, for comfort.

Here’s where I sat when a reading reminded me too much of you. I called a man who wasn’t you, for comfort.

Scattered patterns of clustered blossoms. There are some patterns I choose not to repeat.

Scattered patterns of clustered blossoms. There are some patterns I choose not to repeat.

I still don't like impatiens. They look too real, or not real at all. They look too good to be true.

I still don’t like impatiens. They look too real, or not real at all. They look too good to be true.

This bench has the best breeze. A man, not you, showed it to me, and we sat and talked. About you.

This bench has the best breeze. A man, not you, showed it to me, and we sat and talked. About you.

This reminded me of me: a curvy, sweeping path of a life. There's you - see the narrow, straight road that suddenly veers away?

My curvy, sweeping path of a life. There’s you – see the narrow, straight road that suddenly veers away?

I thought I caught a glimpse of you down the straight path, but then you got lost in the shadows.

I thought I caught a glimpse of you, but then you got lost in the shadows.

I'm sure there was a message, but it's unreadable now.

I’m sure there was a message, but it’s unreadable now.

I still don't know who Alice Hoskins is. Amazing how you can spend years in a place, and still not know someone.

I still don’t know who Alice Hoskins is. Amazing how you can spend years in a place, and still not know someone.

I couldn't catch a clear photo of the butterfly. It's because my camera was set to manual. I tried for too much control. Sometimes you have to let the camera, or the butterfly, decide.

I couldn’t catch a clear photo of the butterfly. It’s because my camera was set to manual: I tried for too much control. Sometimes you have to let the camera, or the butterfly, decide.

I don't have to look up to know the season. The dappled grass tells me summer has returned, that the trees are in full leaf. Deep maturity allows the light through in the most beautiful patterns.

I don’t have to look up to know the season. The dappled grass tells me summer has returned, that the trees are in full leaf. Deep maturity allows light through in the most beautiful patterns.

Hydrangeas still bloom, even without the man who loved their color best.

Hydrangeas still bloom, even without the man who loved their color best.

I know you assumed seminary, but I chose writing.

I know you assumed seminary, but I chose writing.

Time hides its face from me. At least, that's what I tell myself.

Time hides its face from me. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

The rock weeps, but I don't, not anymore.

The rock weeps, but I don’t, not anymore.

A spray of grassy blades, reminiscent of water fountaining up - life renewed again and again. I could have moved to my shadow didn't show, but I decided it was part of the picture. Your shadow isn't here, not anymore.

A spray of grassy blades, reminiscent of water fountaining up – life renewed again and again. I could have moved so my shadow didn’t show, but I decided it was part of the picture. Your shadow isn’t here, not anymore.

Transmuted from flora to fauna, from fixed to free, the feathery frond is poised to fly.

Transmuted from flora to fauna, from fixed to free, the feathery frond is poised to fly.

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Writing My Way Out

Any serious writer’s work is nothing more nor less than their own self turned inside out and exposed to all. You can’t hide your unflattering bits, because if you try to avoid those dark little corners, your writing becomes oblate, uninspired, and worst of all, unread. Maybe that’s why so many famous authors take their lives by bottle or by gun. It’s not easy to look that deeply into one’s own soul.

This week, I’m attending a writer’s workshop at my graduate alma mater, Pacific University. This morning, I listened to a lecture given by author Carolyn Coman. She is primarily known as a young adult writer. She theorized that perhaps the reason many writers avoided writing about teen years is because “it conjures up a time that was unbearably painful, and they don’t want to revisit it.”

Of course, the internal places we don’t want to go are EXACTLY where our deepest emotion – and therefore, most fruitful writing – can be found. I thought about my darkest corner. I pictured writing about my late husband’s suicide. I imagined writing a whole novel from his perspective, from the point of view of his pain. No. Even after all these years, I can’t. I mean, I really can’t.

OK, I thought, from whose perspective COULD I write? I knew the answer immediately: the standpoint of his mother, a woman with Alzheimer’s, who knew that someone had died tragically but never understood who. Her point of view would provide a whisper’s breath of distance from the event itself, give myself and the reader the ability to look at it clearly for a moment or two, and then lapse back into forgetfulness. It might just be possible.

But it takes years to write a novel. Do I want to spend that much time in such a painful place? I called my friend Neil and asked his opinion. He was quiet, then said, “Perhaps the question isn’t whether you want to spend years there. Perhaps the real question is, how many MORE years you want to spend there? You’re never going to leave that place, not for good, until you write your way out.”

Ouch.

Why the hell do I call my friends, anyway? I know they’re just going speak painful truth. You’d think I would learn.

But perhaps this is the choice every writer faces. Drinking. Suicide. Or writing our way out.

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