There are times in a person’s life when everything is tinted gray and the future looks too dark to step into. Then in one single shift of the universe, something happens—we turn left, instead of right; we answer the phone, smile at a stranger, or meet an old lover. Something moves. And the light reappears. … Continue reading
All of us benefit from the memory of a place held dear. Such a memory keeps us breathing; such a memory calms our nerves; such a memory refreshes when life’s difficult times enervate us. Read Nancy Lamb’s well-drawn description of Cow Creek Canyon, a place she experienced as a child, and then try your hand … Continue reading
Two weeks ago, I posted an article with writing ideas for getting started on new material and asked those who wanted to do so to send me accounts of the games they have played and enjoyed, especially in childhood. My thanks to Nancy Levinson, author of Moments of Dawn: A Poetic Memoir of Love & … Continue reading
I am pleased to share long-time Writing It Real member Mary Ann Payne’s writing in response to the writing exercise I shared last week. Grave Matters by Mary Ann Payne It’s time to bury the piano. Chop it up in tiny pieces and put it in a deep hole in the backyard next to the … Continue reading
In our final week of posting contest entries from the fall/winter WIR writing contest, we have seven poems by Linda M. Robertson. Our contest judge Sharon Bryan wrote this about selecting these poems as winners: These poems speak in a voice that makes me want to listen to everything it says. They are so well-crafted that … Continue reading
Our fall/winter writing contest guest judge Sharon Bryan chose Emma Hunter’s essay, “Long Meg Speaks,” as one of three winners. This week, we have the judge’s words about the essay as well as the author’s words about writing it, and, of course, the essay. Emma wrote this in answer to my request for words about … Continue reading
[I will be posting the work of our recent three winners this week and then for the next two weeks. I hope you enjoy their comments about the writing of their work, our contest judge Sharon Byran’s comments, and, of course, the writing. – Ed.] Here is Dorothy Ross on why she is writing the … Continue reading
Librarian, poet and author Carol Smallwood came to my attention over the years when she emailed calls for essays to consider for anthologies she was editing. I was very pleased to learn about these anthologies and very pleased when she accepted my essays for inclusion in Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful … Continue reading
For National Poetry Month, tonight I am reading from my own poetry at the link below. For me poetry is an everyday experience and so there aren’t any huge production values or perfect lighting in this video. Just me sharing my poems and talking to you about what I hope poetry accomplishes for humanity. You can … Continue reading
“The Way I See It” is the “Prologue” from Writing Personal Essays: Sharing and Shaping Your Life Experience, Published in print and digitally by Sheila Bender’s Writing It Real, March, 2017 [Note: I wrote a slightly different version of this essay for the 1995 edition of my book. Everything I realized then remains important to … Continue reading
As my mother’s 90th birthday approaches, my husband and I have sorted through photographs from nine decades of her life. He is making a photo essay book to be given to her this Sunday and shared with guests at the party we are making.
As we sorted, I reached into a manila envelope and to my surprise, it wasn’t a photo inside but a record, the size of a 45 rpm, with a note, “Bert and Arline, March 1945” handwritten on the label. I soon went to see a DJ at KPTZ FM, the station for which I produce my program “In Conversation: Discussions on Writing and the Writing Life.” The DJ kindly used the equipment the station has to play what turned out to be a 78 record.
Everyone there at the studio stood in the soundproof room waiting to hear what my parents, who were 18 at the time, said to one another in a recording booth they must have dropped into in NY six months before they eloped and probably just as my dad prepared to leave for Oklahoma having enlisted in the Navy. It’s a short recording. One of the most endearing moments for me is when my father says, “I love you so much” and then asks, “Do you love me?” My mother says, “Yes, I do.” My dad asks, “Why?” And she laughs, “God only knows.”
So, I am thinking of my dad a lot as we prepare for this weekend’s celebration. I have gone into my files to find the eulogy I wrote for his funeral services. I see that I employed anaphora, the craft form I wrote about last week. I am sharing the writing I read at my father’s funeral in the hopes that it may help you if are tasked with writing a eulogy or want to write one, even long after a person has died.
As you will see, repeating a specific phrase helped me keep writing and conjuring moments infused with meaning for me.
At My Father’s Funeral, 2001, The Words I Shared
When I think of my father, I think of the words he taught me: presentable as in his morning question those years he was climbing the corporate ladder, “Do I look presentable;” indispensable as in the mantra that kept him motivated toward excellence, “No man is indispensable;” and the one he taught us using the British pronunciation because the company he worked for had had research done there, “laboratory.”
When I think of my father, I think of the way he taught me to be conscientious, honest, forthright, and disciplined. Homework was to get done, goals were to be set and reached, and mistakes were to be noted and fixed.
I think of the gifts he most cherished giving my sister and me—copies of books like Treasure Island, a white football he tried to teach us to throw, a chemistry set we could only use with him as our proctor, money for college saved each week in the blue envelopes we brought to school.
I think of the things we took as gifts—riding his shoulders to play at great height in a swimming pool, his hand on the back of our two wheeler seats as we pedaled down the sidewalk learning to balance, his driving lessons and the degree of attention and seriousness he gave the task and his bravery sitting with us as we pressed the accelerator and learned to steer. He concentrated on helping us learn to make our way as well as helping our way be joyous. When I had my first job as an administrator and found the nonprofit I worked for was in the red, my father came to visit and sat for hours teaching me how to create, monitor, and control an organization’s budget. When my teenage son designed my husband and I a house, he donated the financing for skylights, an extra that would make all the difference to his grandson project. When I had a collection of poems that needed presales for the small press to make a print run, my father ordered about 50 copies and eventually gave them out like cigars when a baby is born.
When my dad’s health declined these past few years, I began writing poems incorporating my memories of his fathering. I would like to share one today because I think it best evokes his nature and what I will always treasure.
Some Things He May Not Know He Taught Me
For my father
I praise him for two varnished skulls from cats
he’d dissected in biology, the way he bolted those skulls to mahogany
and kept them on his shelves, a trophy for attending college against the odds.
I praise him for the diligence with which he wrote a jingle night after night
at our kitchen table trying to win prizes from the supermarket, the special care
he took with the 78 rpm Pinocchio album his jingle won him, how he kept it
on a high shelf so my sister and I would not touch it when he was not around.
I praise the way he cherished what he worked so hard for.
I praise him for the clay pot he planted with grass seed scooped from the ground
when gardeners sowed a lawn each spring between the buildings of our court.
I praise him for the joke he made, cutting the grass each Saturday
with a scissors, showing my sister and me that chores get done.
I praise him for the day when I was four and watched him shave
until the plumbing backed up. With an inch of sewer water
underfoot, he lifted me from the room waking my mother in a hurry,
telling her the problem, his feet already out the door to work.
She yelled how it wasn’t fair to leave her with the mess;
I praise him for teaching me nothing unexpected need be fair.
I praise him for the hand he slammed against the steering wheel
our first time through the Lincoln Tunnel when a car rear-ended us
and his sample cases of pharmaceuticals clanked, smashed and oozed.
I praise him for the way he did not easily accept what wasn’t in his control.
Quick most times to anger, he let us know his burden and his soul.
As a writer, repeating phrases helps me occupy and contain my abstraction-making mind so my image-making mind can deliver the details that bring my subject alive without me worrying about how to fit them into a narrative.
One of the beautiful things about a eulogy, in prose or in poetry, is the way that in honoring the dead with details and images, both writer and listener resurrect a life.
I do not know what memories my mom will find flooding in as we share my young father’s and young mother’s voices and the decades of photos with her and family members this Sunday. But I do know that whatever that reaction, it will usher in an occasion from which I will write. I know that the technique of anaphora will help me include more than I might otherwise be able to comfortably gather into one piece of writing.
[Editor’s note: Sometimes I teach a class for Women on Writing that I call “Writing is a Friend with Extraordinary Benefits.” The following essay by Katherine Clarke is reprinted with permission of the author, is an example of what happens in this class — one writer’s words offering extraordinary benefits for each of us who write.] Like many people … Continue reading
What are we writers to do in a nation where so many young and old seem to have gone mad, publically shouting and bullying, using crude names for those of the female sex and for people of non-Christian religions and for people of color — here in a country where over decades we’ve: Passed legislation … Continue reading
Adam L. Diament, the author of Kosher Patents: 101 Ingenious Inventions to Help Jews be Jewish, is a practicing patent attorney in Beverly Hills, California. He earned a B.A. in Religious Studies with an Emphasis in Judaism from the University of California, Berkeley in 1997 and a law degree from the University of San Diego … Continue reading
Deborah Berger asked women to write letters about what they never told their mothers. Ultimately, she edited a selection of the contributions, along with profiles of their authors, into Dear Mom, Women’s Letters of Love, Loss and Longing. In her introduction to the work, she writes, “We are always linked to our mothers: both to … Continue reading
This book is a big one—in every way. In its 813 beautifully designed pages and over 450 gorgeous photos and images, a story unfolds not only of fine handpress printing but the man who printed works by many great 20th Century writers as well as prepared food for them and others in his own kitchens … Continue reading
Our fall/winter contest judge Stan Rubin was struck with the lyric qualities in Afrose Ahmed’s entry, “the world did end…we just didn’t notice.” He wrote in his comments: “A gorgeous piece of lyrical writing. The odd but wonderfully sustained angle of vision—post-apocalyptic, witty, and liminal all at once—establishes its own rhythm and deepens to revelation. … Continue reading
Stan Rubin, our guest contest judge, shares these remarks about his choice of Amanda Noble’s essay, “The Meditation Room”: A nuanced portrayal of the shifting stages of private grief––and its gradual acceptance. This process is depicted with precision, intelligence, and sophisticated self-awareness. The writing keeps a sharp focus. A lot of emotional terrain is deftly … Continue reading
Contest judge Stan Rubin, a master teacher, poet and friend of writing, wrote that Emma Hunter’s essay: Gracefully lives up to its rather daunting title, with wit and philosophical sweep. Concisely renders a dual vision — adult and child, the mundane and the cosmic — with natural dialogue and internal reflection, in a realistic scene. The relationships are delicately and … Continue reading
Tarn Wilson delivered this paper for a panel on “Hydra-Headed Memoirs & Well-Connected Essays” at the 2015 Nonfiction Now conference. I am delighted to have her permission to post her words for Writing It Real readers. Tarn’s lovely memoir is The Slow Farm. She uses her experience writing it to inform other writers about her … Continue reading