Writing : Necessity

m.d. leto
Posted November 26, 2011 from United States

The other night in class my professor was talking about the difference in the poems we create when we are writing out of necessity, or just writing to write: meet a deadline, get an assignment done, etc.

My voice, words, poems, stories, have always been out of necessity. Almost three months ago I found my mother dead, at 52-years-old, full of stories that I will have to craft as fiction from fragments now. Only within the last month of her life did she begin to take long breaths between answers to my questions befpre responding. I gave her a journal last Christmas and within the following 9 months she filled 3 pages. When I first flipped through the book after she died I felt sad, wishing she had sat down more often to write anything. Then I found three pages where she confessed more than I had ever heard her say out loud.

It is only this year that I am shedding genre altogether. I've said for a long while: I am not a poet, I am not a journalist, I don't know how to write fiction. I really shorted myself out of writing good poems, articles, stories. Really, what I needed, was to stay with a piece of anything long enough to revise it. This can take seasons, even for the most diligent writer. I am slow, I know this, especially when it comes to words. I was blessed last year to partake in VOF 2010, but I was also at a point where any faith I had in my country to change was small. I'd be lying if I said I wanted to infiltrate a realm of politics. I don't. I think most politicians are liars. I didn't see any state representatives during the first day/night of Occupy Phoenix. So where is my place in it? What was the calling to it? Where did it lead me?

I like small workshops and empowering women, one at a time. The calling is always to words. The gem is the story. While focusing last year on articles, a large benefit was developing a comfort with asking questions. Within the past year both of my grandmothers and mother have died, and friends around me have lost grandmothers and mothers as well. I sat around a fire last year as my friend Jenny told me about her Nana. I think I wrote an op-ed article on it. Nothing seemed more intimate at that moment. I found my tape recorder the other day and listened to over 40 clips of bonfire conversations about immigration and sexuality; stories from my friend's mother who is called the fringe dweller sometimes because she travels from state to state taking care of people, returning to us in winter full of story and heirloom seeds for the gardens.

I had one file with my mother's voice on it. She bought me the tape recorder last year for VOF. At first, I felt I had failed because I had only one file with her and so many questions that I never asked. I had Jenny's Nana's story, Pam's story, Sue Ellen's story, the senator's story, lobbyists' stories, random citizen stories....

so many questions that I never asked. Some of them seem silly, like, what did you eat most when you were pregnant with me? What were you going through emotionally at the time? When did you realize dad would never stop drinking whiskey? Why did you stay when he talked to you like that? How come you always insisted I was just like you, and why did I always resist that? Why did you decide to start going to church? What did it do for you? What did you do when you felt lonely? Did you hope to meet someone else? How long has it been since you completely accepted who you are? What's your favorite memory of me as a child? Which part of Jone's Beach was your favorite?

Next week I'll be in New York scattering her ashes. Who says where the right spot is? Why have I not wanted to keep any of them until I think about letting her all go? Why does this gap in my heart feel so much more unusually empty than anything else? How do I feel so far from the great mother right now?

I asked Pam to lay her hands on me earlier. I felt the welling up through my belly and ribcage, reaching my heart; I just want peace. I want the sadness to go, or to be able to control it - I can't - I have to surrender and be at peace.

I had her ashes in the car with me on the way to my dad's house for dinner the other night. I didn't take the freeway. I wanted to talk to her longer. I remember asking my little brother to keep the ashes at his house, but he never took them. It was too much, finding her dead and then holding that box.

I write to save my own life, I am writing out of necessity. My professor asked if we believed we could change the world just by writing. I said yes. I told him that there is nothing more empowering than elevating someone's voice and sometimes it happens when they read something you write, just like that, and THAT does change the world - one pen at a time.

I like the pen. I don't think I like to be an actual presence, in front of people, lecturing, talking, unless it's a small group and I'm teaching a workshop, and maybe that's all a part of the plan somehow. Whatever the plan is. I'm a little mousy, maybe it is something I will grow out of, or maybe it serves me and will serve who I connect to who need to connect on that level as well.

I have been working on a project since my mother died, writing every single day, and sometimes it sounds like a manual for daughters grieving the loss of their mothers, other times it is a hodge-podge of fragments disguised as poems, other times it takes on the voice of a wounded animal, or Mother Earth. Today is day 60 and I am sitting in the garden: lilies, lemon trees, bamboo, bouganvillea, mulberry, cyprus, snapdragons, sleeping 9-month-old baby girl Juniper, and Grandma Pam in the kitchen feeding her grandson Moses blueberries, and singing. I ache when it is beautiful, for reasons now that bloom out of gratitude.

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