Sandra Hurtes is the author of the essay collection, On My Way To Someplace Else and the chapbook RESCUE. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Poets & Writers, among other publications. You can find links to her work and a link to her new blog, Chasing the Present Moment. This week, Sandra offers Writing It Real members an excerpt from her current blog-to-book project, Obsessions Digressions and Epiphanies: Notes from a writer and adjunct professor.
In May 2007, I graduated from a graduate writing program. I was an older student and a working writer and had already put in a great deal of time culling through my past. But I wanted that degree along with the discipline of enforced deadlines to finish a memoir.
Two years went by with an extraordinary amount of class time discussing trauma, abuse, abandonment, any and all suffering for childhoods lost. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, I held my own…for a time. After a few months, lethargy set in. I was ready to wrap up the past, send it off to Addressee Unknown and begin something fresh.
And so, not surprisingly when my two years of school ended, thesis completed, I did not have a finished book. Nor did I hunker down to the task of turning that thesis into a book. Instead, I made bows.
My friend’s daughter Jill turned two, and I reached into my bag of creativity—a bag (as opposed to baggage) that contains my love of writing only as an addendum to numerous other talents comprising my life. For Jill, I took black velvet fabric from the back of the linen closet, folded here, puffed there, added feathers, beads, and voila—two hours had gone by, while I was wondrously consumed by the present moment. And…Jill had a bow.
I carried on, making bows in tulle, organza, satin, silk, you name it! I purchased polka dot and striped ribbons to sew around them, purple feathers for here and there, and crazy clips. My bow mania went on for months. What gratification, remembering the thrill of making products I could touch, not only read.
I forget my myriad creative loves too often, especially when caught up in the business side of writing, or the compare side. As in: someone I know will have a book, or two; someone else (from my MFA program!) an essay in a highly regarded journal. I get envious and forget that I’m a fabulous knitter, cut my own hair, bake supremely delicious banana muffins.
As writers—as mere mortals—we ask so much of ourselves. At least, I do. I love the days when my creative process is the true reward, the gift that sucks each moment dry. Woven into those moments is my greatest life.
Talking to My Father
While walking to work today, I had a long talk with my father. It hit me a few blocks from home that I felt disconnected from the pain of losing him, six months earlier. I didn’t want the pain in all its force (my subconscious might argue that), but a reminder of it—a lingering sense of grief, a hollowness. How else to pay honor to my father’s 94 years of life?
And so I conjured him. Hi Dad! I said. How are you? I was happy, so happy, in that awkward state of knowing the awfulness of losing him, and his unbelievable return. Hiya mámala, he said. His multi-faces came into view then—my 94-year old father with steel white hair—sort of like Zorba the Greek—and the gorgeous man he was at 35. Both images filled my mind’s eye. It was so good to see him. And in seeing him, there was so much to write.
I saw myself at my computer, tapping out the pain, the story of my father’s life, and where it all began on a shtetl in Lócket, Czechoslovakia. Soon I worked myself into a good old-fashioned heartache.
In Prozac Diary, a memoir my writing class read, author Lauren Slater claims Prozac robbed her of her writing instinct. Mental health came with a price—no tortured material. Illness had given her imaginary friends, obsessions, delusions to fill her pages. She wanted off of Prozac.
In the loss of my father, I’m a woman without parents. A woman without the anguish of our intense and conflicted love. A woman without a map. My life’s journey has been searching for a place—and a way—to have my own life. There was always something from which I was breaking free. An obstacle high as the moon. Now,
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