Jo

After reading a June 4, New York Times article by Sarah Kershaw “Therapists Wired to Write” my cousin Dorothy sent me last summer, I decided that for my writing to grow optimally I needed most particularly a support group. In the article’s first paragraph the following words caught my eye “The six psychotherapists…make up what may be the most nurturing and deeply connected creative writing group to arrive on the literary scene.” The words “nurturing” and “connected” jumped out from the page.

I emailed my friend Jo in Lawrence and asked if she was interested in such a venture. She responded quickly. Yes.

We were quite formal at our first meeting. Two professionals, we sat over our note pads and wrote down ideas and possible goals. She read the New York Times article and made a few comments. She liked certain parts of it but not others. She would think about what she might like to write. Having been in a women’s group with Jo for five years, I already knew her essential character: knows her own mind, smart, deeply committed to humanitarian concerns, goal setter and achiever, reliable, a good listener, kind.

We decided to meet once a week on Thursday mornings for an hour to read and discuss what each of us has written. We have kept it up, taking turns. These meetings hold me accountable for producing new work each week. Now I look forward to listening, reading, sharing, and commenting with Jo. I can count on support, nurturing and a feeling of connection for the writing process.

Revision X6 of My Memoir, Jewels That Speak

I revealed in my first blog article–The beginning of my writing life–that it was editor Margaret Gable in her course at The New School in New York City who trained me to sit down and revise.

Long before I retired from teaching, I knew I wanted to tell my story in a memoir. Not everyone grows up in two different countries and has to quickly make up new character traits in order to fit into different cultures. Such jarring experiences occasionally produce the themes of great artists, like one of my favorites–Henry James. Not every bored ten-year-old goes up to the attic to rummage through suitcases and musty old boxes only to find pieces of the most beautiful colored shimmering glass the eye can behold.

Later I learned the pieces were remnants of the opalescent stained glass, Favrile glass, named and patented and used in his designs by Louis Comfort Tiffany. And who was he? No less than my father’s grandfather–my very own Great-Grandfather. Not every child has to take an ocean voyage on the Queen Mary during the 1957 boat strike to rejoin a father in London who had essentially left us–my mother and us five kids–in order to be closer to his mother, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, and her famous colleague and companion, Anna Freud. How did Grandmother and Anna Freud wield so much power? Not everyone is the daughter of a strong, handsome Norwegian mother who devised a plan to take us five kids to ski in the mountains of Norway and on arrival handed out backpacks bulging with all our food and other supplies to strap on our backs to cross-country to a remote hytte (cabin) with no running water, electricity, or toilet when not one of us had ever skied before. Not every girl learns how to attract men like flies to defer the pain of the loss of her father’s love. But everyone suffers losses, and has to be ingenious in learning how to combat them. We just all do it differently.

My Memoir–Jewels that Speak–began with the title scribbled on a page of a plan book in March 2007, when I was in the Ozarks with my husband Paul for my birthday weekend. Within six months, I produced a first draft. Editorial help from Laurie Wagner Buyer prompted me to write a second draft. Then, a third draft. Since then, the book has been in the hands of a New York editor, producing additional critiques, and inspiring additional revisions.

After a fifth round of critique from the Writers Group I blogged about last week–Feast for Seven Women–I have started another draft. Who said, “in revision the scissors are even more necessary than the pencil,” or some such thing? Sounds about right.

In another blog, I will talk about what the jewels mean in my memoir.

Should I Begin a Website?

Should I begin a website? That was the question. So I asked my first editor: Laurie Wagner Buyer and she said, “It’s a good idea to have a web presence.” I thought about it for a year. I should (pluck). I shouldn’t (pluck), and so on. I kept an eye on her website, which changed dramatically for the better in front of my eyes. Wow!

More about that in a minute.

How did I meet Laurie? At the Ozark Creative Writers Conference a few years ago. A tall handsome man stood at table where–presumably–his books were for sale. I picked up a book of poems, not his: Across the High Divide. I leafed through it. The title “Running out of Thread” caught my eye. Within seconds, I was glued to the story about the end of a romantic relationship. “Who wrote these beautiful words?” I asked the tall man. He said, “Laurie Wagner Buyer. She’ll be back shortly. You can speak to her yourself.”

The lovely Laurie returned. We talked about her poem. When I asked, she said she did editing/mentoring work, handed me her editing business brochure, Creative Adventure: A Guide Service for Writers. Shortly after that, I sent her the first draft of my memoir Jewels that Speak. I sensed it was in capable nurturing hands.

Back to Laurie’s website. Every now and then, I checked in on her. I wanted to see how the presentation of her books was unfolding. About a year ago, I noticed a change. How to describe it? Comparing one library to another is the closest I can get. Some are dead and some are alive. Her new site leapt off the page, bursting with information about Laurie’s writing life: her books, her editing, her events’ calendar, and some personal sharing. If you wanted to see the full spectrum of Laurie’s work, a touch of the keypad gave you that wealth of information. It keeps evolving.

A few weeks ago when the last pluck told me I should, I studied the website to see who designed and maintained it: Deborah Kunzie of Garlic D’zign powered by keZoor. That’s how this website began.

Beginning of My Writing Life

My writing life began when I sat down with a legal pad and a pencil at my desk facing the Delaware River ten months after my son was born and wrote the words: gifted, or just your average weirdo? I had just moved into a charming house on the water after ten years of living in NYC apartments. New mother, new house. But, restless with ideas shooting around in my brain. It had come to me the year before (when I was teaching at Hunter College Elem. School–NYC’s public school for gifted children) that I wanted to write a book about a gifted kid with identity problems. Here was my opportunity, squeezed in between breast feeding, diaper changing, and walking my baby in the park.

Six months later I had what I thought was a book, just sixty-seven pages. One of the first editors I sent it to was Dick Jackson (Judy Bloom’s editor) at Bradbury Press. In speaking of the main character he said, “I read Michael’s story with much sympathy for his plight.” In a follow up phone call, he added, “Your novella needs to be at least 110-120 pages.”

Oh, I can do that, I thought.

But, of course, nothing comes that easy.

Another editor suggested I attend Margaret Gable’s writing class at The New School in NYC. I put my Gifted, or Just Your Average Weirdo? book aside for the time being and began In-Between Summer at Old Black Point, a story for middle grades about a direct honest eleven year old tomboy confronted with feminine peer expectations. Her rock turns out to be her blind, deaf great-grandfather.

Each week with a new chapter typed up, I took the train into the city to attend Gable’s class. There were some wonderful writers in the group like Patricia Reilly Giff. And each week my chapter would come back with pages of single-spaced typed criticism on thin blue paper–concrete things to think about. Margaret Gable trained me to sit down and revise.

Many years, three more books, two children and a teaching career later……

Jewels that Speak is the memoir I wrote over the last three years since I retired from teaching. It addresses the most compelling conflicts and puzzling parts of my life that, simply must be heard.

A jewel can mean more than the enjoyment of dazzling sparks of light refracted through colorful minerals when it is given to you by a beloved in life, or is bequeathed to you after death. It can represent the thrill of romance, the horror of betrayal, or simply sister-love.

The hidden personal meanings of jewels is woven through my chronicle highlighting my passage from little girl growing up amongst powerful family names like Tiffany and Freud to a woman/teacher/writer/wife/mother in a self-created life.

I am presently working on a short light piece of narrative non-fiction.