Monday, December 24, 2012

A Memoir Christmas Memory

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite Christmas presents was Shirley Temple's book of classic fairy tales. With its shiny pale yellow cover and Shirley dressed as Snow White, I loved to sit under the Christmas tree, hold it, smell it, turn the pages and study the illustrations in every pale color and sepia-toned hue imaginable. 
The little girl who loved fairy tales.

My favorite stories in that book were Rapunzel . . .  her prince almost dying to rescue her and her tears healing him of his blindness (near-tragedy and romance!) and Rumpelstiltskin about the beautiful daughter of a poor miller, who had to perform the impossible - spin straw into gold.  (Welcome to a woman's world!)

Rumplestiltskin, if you recall, promises he will work his magic to give the girl gold-spun straw in exchange for the unimaginable - her firstborn child.  A desperate woman, she promises this, but then resorts to her wiles. Look no further than a miniature person - a strange little man - (today he would be called a Hobbit),  gifted with a unique power, along with the message that bragging will do you in every time . . . and there it was.  An unforgettable story.

Fairy tales don't pretend to depict real life, yet there is an element of truth to them since they foretell little is lasting, especially fantasies and dreams.  No matter how many tears I shed, I could not heal my prince.  My husband, John Cavalieri, died of cancer at the impossibly young age of 47. After that, it was up to me to spin dry and brittle straw into gold, raise two little boys, work a fulltime job and keep it all together so that my children did not suffer more than they already had.

But somehow, despite everything,  Christmas still held magic.  Over the years, I watched in delight as my sons tore open their gifts - the new set of Pokemon cards, the ubiquitous video games (no getting around that when you have boys)  . . . and the stocking stuffers - paperback novels they enjoyed as they got older, including the stories of Jules Verne, the great Russian novels, and, of course, the latest Ludlum thriller.  Maybe, I had had influence as their mother, after all!

Daniel and Alex a bit unsure on Santa's lap.
It always seemed - and still does - that after the presents had been opened and there was a moment of solitude, the first thing I did was reach for that new book I had been given.  One Christmas a friend gave me a journal with a woman astride a unicorn, her wavy blond hair flowing in the wind . . . oh, those 60s never released their hold on us Baby Boomers.  I think it even smelled of patchouli oil - the ultimate hippie perfume.  The book's creamy white blank pages delighted me; I could hardly wait to slip away and start writing.

The Christmas "book tree" at Wellington Square.
Then the magical would happen - just as it does now as I write this blog and share my memories with you . . .  hours fly by and with the words come serenity and peace . . . pure magic, pure joy on a Christmas day.

What about you?  What is your favorite Christmas memory?  What gives you a sense of peace and serenity?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guest Blog - Journey Of The Heart

 As we share our stories and journeys, I am pleased that Kathleen Pooler has written our first guest blog. I hope this is the beginning of  writers from around the country offering  insight and inspiration here at the Women's Writing Circle. I met Kathy this past June after she wrote me how much she enjoyed my memoir, Again in a Heartbeat. Since then we have kept in contact and are working together to teach a journaling workshop here in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I have been touched by Kathy's generosity, not only in sharing her story, but encouraging others to tell theirs.  ~ Susan

Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained.”   Thomas M. Cirignano The Constant Outsider

"We all have a book inside us, whether we choose to write it or not. For as long as I can remember, a book has bubbled inside me .
Ever since I was ten years old and wrote plays for my maternal grandmother, Nan, and her little Italian lady friends, I enjoyed writing. I see them gathered in the living room sipping coffee and chattering in Italian. I never understood a word but I still feel their fascination and loving attention as they hushed each other when I stood in the archway to announce a play would begin.
As I grew older and began facing life with all its complications, I’d grab a pen and pour my feelings into a journal. I had stacks of spiral notebooks filled with the heartaches of relationship failures, the exhaustion of being a single parent, the terror of living with and loving an alcoholic son; heart-wrenching losses . . .  my Nan . . . my best friend, Judy . . . my beloved father . . . the uncertainties of my own cancer diagnosis.
Heart in Hand" by Marx Falardean/Flickr Creative Commons

Journaling became my pathway to healing, capturing my moments of need, longing, creativity . . . my life.
These journal entries morphed into vignettes as I followed my dream to write my story. In 2009, I started taking memoir workshops with Linda Joy Myers through The National Association of memoir writers (NAMW) and began my own journey of the heart into my story, the story only I can tell.
These vignettes have been shaped into a bigger story, my memoir-in-progress, now in the first revision of the first draft stage.
Here are my thoughts on why writing my memoir has been a journey of the heart:
1.       Writing my story has helped me clarify the things that have really mattered in my life:
Often times when I sit down to write, the story I intend to write does not end up being the story I write. The story reveals itself to me in the writing, when I listen to the whispers in my heart.
2.       Resurrecting my memories keeps me connected to people and events that shaped me:
Flashing back to those plays acted out in front of Nan and her friends is heartwarming and fills me with validation and inspiration to keep writing through the harder parts.
3.       Writing through the pain has helped release the burdens of my heart:

For years I held on to the guilt of making poor choices and putting my children through so many upheavals as a result of my choices. Writing my memoir has helped me to forgive that young woman and believe that she acted in good faith.

4.       Writing out my painful memories has helped me forgive those whom I perceive have hurt me:
In attempting to capture the essence of my characters’ personalities and the impact they have had on my life, I have gained new insights into their behavior. Forgiveness is freedom and my heart feels lighter.
5.       Revisiting my past self and reflecting upon my motivations and needs at the time have increased my self-awareness and filled me with gratitude for the growth I have experienced:
When I recreate a scene from my past and feel, deep in my heart, that I would never do the same thing today, I realize how far I’ve come.
 Writing my memoir has helped me to heal the painful parts of my past that I have carried around for years.

It truly has been a “Journey of the Heart.”

How about you?
Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.
            She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: and can be found on Twitter @kathypooler and on LinkedIn, Google+, Goodreads and Facebook: Kathleen Pooler
            Her story “The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Traveling The Writer's Road

This year marks my second Christmas living alone. For thirty-three years I lived either with my husband, my sons, or both. As I sit at the kitchen table contemplating sunlight on the leafless black walnut trees in my backyard, I reflect on this:   "Use loneliness.  Its ache creates urgency to reconnect with the world. Take that aching and use it to propel you deeper into your need for expression - to speak, to say who you are . . ." Natalie Goldberg ~ Writing Down the Bones
                                                                ~ ~ ~ ~
"Do you remember me?"  A small woman with snow white hair stood  by my table of books and bright red poinsettias. I had come to the local library to talk about memoir. She smiled and her eyes crinkled at the corners.  "I'm Sandy," she said  . . . and then I remembered. I was back in a quiet room 18 years ago this January.  Pastel watercolors hung on the walls and the only sound . . . my voice breaking into a sob. "It's not fair.  He was too young, too good a person to die."   Sandy smiled and said, "Remember, Susan, he loved you." And so I wrote about that unforgettable moment in Again in a Heartbeat.

Now here on a pale winter's day, my former therapist and grief counselor held my memoirs, reading the synopsis on the back of each.  She looked up at me. "I have two clients who recently lost their husbands.  I want to give them your books.  I'm thinking of starting a grief support group in a church," she added. "Thank you for writing these."

Later that afternoon,  another woman held a copy of Morning at Wellington Square.  "What's it about?" she asked.  I told her it was about finding meaning after leaving my newspaper career. I told her about the Women's Writing Circle at Wellington Square. She confessed her life felt as if it were on hold since retiring the summer before. 

"In some ways, I feel useless, unsure of where to go," she said. Someone suggested she use her graphic arts skills to teach a class of adult learners how to paint. While her passion had always been art, she found little time for it over the years. 

"I don't know," she shrugged.  "It seems I've spent my whole life giving up everything for my career.  I never married, never had children," she added.  "Now I wonder . . . what can I do?"
                                                           ~ ~ ~ ~

All writers ask themselves, "Who will read what I have written? Who can I share my story?"

In answer, all I can say is that writing your story is connection. You enter a road teeming with travelers on many different, yet amazingly similar journeys.

Last month on this blog, the women who attend the Women's Writing Circle spoke of our small group of supportive compatriots on this, the writer's road. They spoke of helping each other ease loneliness . . . of tossing out an emotional and creative life line through writing on Saturday mornings over coffee and candlelight in a bookshop.

All it takes is faith in yourself and an appreciation for how much we share.  And so I challenge and cheer you on this holiday season to follow your heart's desire and travel the writer's road.