Edible Memories: Laughter

Sometimes I leap first.

When my online writing friend Stacey asked me to consider signing up for a 14-day writing group via the Inky Path, my first instinct was to say no. I barely have enough time to work on my novel, not to mention the grief course I’m creating, let alone the safety skills class I’m organizing – oh, and then there’s that whole mother/wife gig, plus my nemesis, the bottomless laundry basket.

But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. A tell-tale sign. As I kept tabs on the rising enrollment, I felt an itch, a twinge, but couldn’t tell if it was a competitive-fear-of-missing-out or the I-need-to-do-this kind of feeling. Looking back, it was probably a little of both.

One week into the Winter Joy Retreat: Edible Memories, and I’m fully immersed. It’s pretty impossible to keep up with the group’s Facebook posts (over 100 people registered, though not all post daily) but I’m trying to hold fast to my own commitment, one writing prompt each day. This isn’t easy – my kids are young and life is full, but I’m delighted to say that – so far at least – I’m making it happen. I’ve always felt like my memory is kind of bad, but each prompt seems to unlock one, two, more scenes in my mind, and I’m taking notes like mad, for both the prompts and the possibility of memoir.

I’d like to share with you my most recent prompt. The theme was Laughter (with an emphasis always on food) yet somehow I managed to turn it around to sadness (just like the character on Inside Out!). But that’s how I’ve always been. Drawn to the bittersweet, both in food and life.

Winter Joy Retreat: Edible Memories

Laughter

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. As a kid we took turns having it at our house, but after my mother’s MS diagnosis, we always hosted. My uncle, king of turkey and CEO of stuffing, would come to our house in the morning with bags of supplies, plus a bonus bag filled with appetizers from Zabar’s: salami, cheeses, crackers, olives, lox spread, and bagels.

He’d pop the prepared turkey in the oven and it would cook all day while we snacked and cracked jokes. When it came time to eat, my father would hoist my mother into her scooter and drive her into the dining room after she could no longer do so herself. We’d eat and laugh, and when all us kids were of legal age, or close enough, drink some wine.

My memories of Thanksgiving were almost always punctuated by laughter. Especially in the earlier years, before my mother’s pain became unbearable.

This was from Passover, but same crew, without the matzoh.

This was from Passover, but the same characters.

The house was always filled with warmth and smelled of roasting turkey and marshmallow topped yams. My uncle would always cook the main meal. My cousin Pia would always bring dessert. My mom always insisted on making, or instructing me how to make, her favorite side dish, green bean casserole. And I always had to have a slice (or two, three) of pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip.

Maybe that’s what I loved most about Thanksgiving – the “always’s,” the traditions we had curated and nurtured over the years. We were Jewish and didn’t have the show stopper of Christmas to look forward to, so I banked all my love and hope on Thanksgiving.

Things weren’t always so rosy, of course. There were fights and tantrums, angry words and slammed doors, more so as the years edged on to darker times, but mostly I remember the laughter.

The time when my cousin Ari and I stumbled upon a very strange AOL chat room in the late 90s. Don’t ask me why or how this happened, but let’s just say we were beside ourselves with hilarity when we ended up in a conversation about fruit fetishes, among other things.

Then there was the time my grandmother got drunk. Alcohol was pretty minimal at our house, even on the holidays, but somehow she had gotten her glass refilled one time too many and ended up divulging a bizarre genetic glitch afflicting several relatives. I’m almost positive somebody spit out their mashed potatoes, or at least choked on their soda.

Laughter filled the rooms and rang through the kitchen and seeped into the walls, so that when it ended, I could feel its echo.

My mother’s last Thanksgiving was hard. There was little laughter. The mood was dour, tense. My husband and I thought it might be helpful to order dinner from Fresh Direct and bring it from Brooklyn, rather than have my uncle cook in the house since my mom was feeling worse. The king of turkey did not take kindly to what felt like a personal affront. He sulked in the kitchen eating his “take-out” meal while the rest of us sat in the family room with my mother, who was too uncomfortable to transfer from her reclining chair.

I remember feeling desperate for some levity, anything to lighten the mood, to coax my uncle out of the kitchen, to ease the tension with my brother, to make my mother laugh. But nothing worked. We sat on the couch for what felt like an uncomfortable amount of time, and I rolled my eyes at my cousin Pia when our brothers began talking of sports, not with any vigor or enthusiasm, but dully, as if they had nothing else to say. Perhaps because they didn’t.

When everyone finally left, I felt a heavy weight settle around my shoulders as I dumped the leftovers in the trash. Looking back, I wonder if my sadness was actually a sign, a warning. It left me uncomfortable. A sense of foreboding prickled up my spine.

I thought, next year will be better. Next year has to be better.

But it wasn’t, because my mother was dead.

 

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Thank you to Maddy over at Writing Bubble for hosting her What I’m Writing link-up. Check it out for more wonderful words.

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Tapping into Your Creativity

“If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door… If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” 

– Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Photo Credit: hans pohl via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: hans pohl via Compfight cc

Part 3 of my Unpacking Your Creative Life series on The Gift of Writing is all about tapping into creativity. In the post, I detail 6 techniques that can help the stories flow. Here is an excerpt:

I’ve never bought into the myth that creativity is a gift bestowed on a lucky minority; nor do I feel it’s a mysterious force whose generosity we’re reliant upon. We all have stories, and I’m a firm believer in the tagline to this website, Your Story Matters. But how can we tap into our inherent creativity, especially after a break?

For me, the answer is simple:

We must feel, and feel deeply. Even those emotions that cause us pain. Especially those.

Writer Dawna Markova sums up this concept in her book, I Will Not Die An Unlived Life: “To be fully alive, we have no choice but to finally move closer toward what we usually veer away from.”

Emotion is like oxygen for the creative soul. It’s what breathes life into our stories, whether autobiographical or not.

Click here for the rest of the article and let me know what you think!

Opening Up the Boxes

The second part of my month long series about unpacking creativity is now up on The Gift of Writing.

After a long break away, the first step in returning is making a new commitment to writing. I’ve mentioned here before that I stepped away from my novel for five years (!). An extreme situation, for sure.

But every day that passed made it that much harder for me to return until – ironically, it became easier not to write. To believe my dream of being a writer was a mistake.

But that was a lie I told myself, based out of fear.

Click on over to read more about how I got back on track and how you can, too. I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment on the post if it resonates.

The gorgeous lake we've been swimming in while away this week in upstate NY.

The gorgeous lake we’ve been swimming in while away this week in upstate NY.

Unpacking Your Creative Life Series

I’m so excited that my month long series on creativity has begun on The Gift of Writing! It’s called, Unpacking Your Creative Life, and part 1 is all about reconnecting to your love of writing and starting again after a long (or short!) hiatus.

When Claire asked me to write a series, I was flattered, grateful, and nervous. I’ve written guest posts before, but never anything that had to sustain interest over a period of time. But what I discovered is that creating a series is similar to writing a story. There’s an introduction, an arc, a climax, and a conclusion. Once I chose a theme, one I’m quite familiar with, I’ve had a lot of fun working on it.

I was inspired by my own writing hiatus (ahem, new motherhood) and some of my favorite craft books, including Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Still Writing by Dani Shapiro.

My goal is that this four-part series will offer help and solace to writers who feel stuck or frozen, as I did after the birth of my first child, though new motherhood is just one of many reasons why writers stray from the page.

I remember questioning my life-long dream of being a writer. I seriously considered giving up. This crisis shook my core, and it took a lot of soul searching, some sessions with a wonderfully intuitive life coach, and of course writing, to find my way back.

I’d love to hear what you think, so if the topic interests you, pop over to Claire’s site and leave me a comment.

In the meantime, I’ll be a little quieter over here while I dig into the revision process of my novel. Spending two magical days at Highlights helped me finish my draft, but that was only the first step.

My goal is to complete this first content heavy revision by summer’s end. A lofty goal, perhaps, but I did some math (I know, crazy) and if I can edit about 45 pages a week, I’ll make it happen.

My daughter is helping me keep track with revisions. Who needs an app when you have an artist?

My daughter is helping me track my revisions. Who needs an app when you have an artist?

Then comes round 2 and 3, but each one brings me closer to the moment when I can pass this albatross, I mean novel, over to my beta readers.

Being a writer means never giving up, even when you’re at your lowest point, but I honestly couldn’t do that without your help. Readers of this blog and all the wonderful friends and fellow writers I’ve met along the way. Thank you for keeping me company on this journey! I’m rooting for you, too, because we’re in this together.

Enjoy your summer!

summer kids

Spring of Life

flowering tree

Spring is here. The season I’ve been anticipating, the season closest to my heart, but one I’ve also been quietly dreading. Spring is like a mandatory party. Nobody gets out of spring.

Once the sun shines and flowers burst into bloom, it begins. Everyone emerges from their homes and holes, some of us sidling out more slowly than others. The time for hiding is over. Spring is about exposure, bare legs sticking out of shorts like pale stalks. Spring is for letting kids trash their sneakers in the mud when they can’t find their boots. Spring is for cracking open the chrysalis, sliding out of the cocoon, and letting the sun warm your skin.

I’ve always loved spring for its promise, its electricity. How everything is rife with possibilities. How young the world looks when leaves are pale green flowers sprouting from branches, and the grass is vibrant and wet.

buddy

But this year, I feel an unease that I don’t usually associate with spring, one that has been coming on the last few years.

I’m no longer in the spring of my life. Forty is barreling down fast and I’m trying to keep my footing in a place I believe is called… middle age.

Whoa.

How did this happen? Is this actually happening? Yes, I know these questions are cliche, and all the rage right now, it seems. I can’t get away from articles about turning forty and mid-life, like this one that made me nod my head like an out of control marionette doll. A few months ago, under the heavy cloak of winter, these articles weren’t there…or maybe they were and I just wasn’t paying attention.

But despite this twinge, spring is unfurling and I can’t help but get caught up in the energy of it, the beauty and exuberance. My nearly seven-year-old daughter is thrilled to wear shorts and t-shirts, even while I’m still wrapped up in a sweater.

Do you need a fleece, I ask as she teeters on the edge of the sliding glass door. She looks at me like I’m crazy and dashes away.

Her young strong legs are pale as the clouds and spotted with blue bruises. She dangles upside down from the bar on our jungle gym while my husband and I cringe with worry. But she is confident. This is a new skill and she is eager to practice.

My three year old son’s light up Thomas sneakers almost graze the dirt beneath his baby swing. He is itching for a “big kid” swing like his sister’s. It’s time. He’s no longer a baby.

My children are in the spring of their lives. The cusp, the beginning.

kids

But maybe, in a way, I am too. Maybe life isn’t doled out in precise segments. Maybe it’s more malleable than that.

Yes, I’m about to be forty, and there is PLENTY of baggage that goes along with it, from feeling “old” and out of touch when it comes to pretty much everything pop culture, to being horrified at finding a gray eyebrow (!) hair and knowing it won’t be the last.

But there is also a springtime brewing in my soul, in my mind. My kids are no longer babies, and I’m no longer so young, but, because of this bitter and sweet knowledge, I’m holding fast to what I have, and running toward what I want.

I’m not done, far from it. I have so much I want to accomplish, so much I want to write and do and say and shout. In one day I’ll be on stage reading aloud an essay about the labor of death and life at the Lehigh Valley Listen To Your Mother show. I’m not a performer, I’m a writer, and yet I’m stretching my wings, still sticky from the chrysalis.

I’m not done bursting into bloom. I’m not ready to fade.

My mother hit her artistic stride at the age of forty and then it was ripped out of her hands, literally. When we kids were at school she bloomed in her mid to late thirties, spending hours at the local pottery studio, sculpting beautiful and haunting creations.

masks

mask and stones

Then, at her peak, she was cut down by a disease. Multiple sclerosis numbed her hands and her legs in rapid succession, though it never got her heart, not until the very end.

So, it doesn’t surprise me that in the midst of all this burgeoning hope and excitement, there is a darkness encroaching. A cautious hand pressed upon my shoulder. It says, be careful, it could happen to you, too.

It could, of course. Maybe not that illness specifically, but something else. Some other horrible stroke of misfortune or tragedy. But I can’t live that way, under a shadow.

I have to live as if there is only the wide expanse of blue sky above me, the warmth of the spring sun, as I chase my children, and my dreams.

 

Keep Your Creative Flame Alive

This month on The Gift of Writing I’m exploring the challenges – and offering solutions – for keeping your creative flame lit, even when life, inevitably, gets in the way.

gift of writing

I was inspired by a quote from the classic book, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. This book cracked open my creative life when I discovered it last year, and I return to it often, thumbing through the many dog-eared and highlighted pages.

Here is an extended version of the passage I quoted in my essay:

“Most of us would do better if we became more adept at watching the fire under our work… Too often we turn away from the pot, from the oven. We forget to watch, forget to add fuel, forget to stir. We mistakenly think the fire and the cooking are like one of those feisty houseplants that can go without water for eight months before the poor thing keels over.

It is not so. The fire bears, requires, watching, for it is easy to let the flame go out…

Without the fire, our great ideas, our original thoughts, our yearnings and longings remain uncooked, and everyone is unfulfilled.”

I have this quote prominently displayed on my writing bulletin board as a reminder, a warning, because I’ve let my flame go out before, more than once.

Read about my loss of fire on The Gift of Writing and how, over the years, I’ve come up with several practical ways to keep the creative coals hot no matter what else is going on in your life.

Hope to see you there!