A few weeks ago, on a Tuesday, under an evening sky of aquamarine set with a pearly China chip of moon set high, I headed to Barnes and Noble in Greenwich Village, in search of inspiration. Since late January, unless I was paid to do so, I haven’t written a word creatively.
The reason why? The passing of my mother.
Of course, I knew the experience would be difficult. What I didn’t count on was that shelved along with every other element of my existance would be my personal creative writing life, a connection that has held strong for more than a decade.
The craving to write takes place inside my head, in a certain part of my brain. I’ve come to realize that all memories of my mother lives in a section of my brain, too. To descend there and think about my words, to organizing them, to shape them into something wonderful, can’t happen because a sour sadness is housed there, too
“Plumbers don’t get plumbers block, I don’t believe in writers’ block,” Susan Shapiro, a mentor and former professor of mine famously tells her newbie students.
And as far as advertising writing is concerned, Sue’s edit holds true. I write every day using with my advertising head. Creative writing? Nope, nada, nothing.
To shrink-a-fy myself, I’m having an emotional block to the work that draws the greater emotion. People who write creative nonfiction love to dig down deep, unearthing nuggets of truth about their world and where they fit into that reality. When we return to the surface, we share those valued insights for all, but especially for ourselves. I just don’t have it in me to grab a shove and start digging. Ironically, last year was my best year yet for published work, I birthed three pieces into the world. This year, I might be barren.
So, on that Wednesday, I entered the Barnes and Noble, as if it were a temple, seeking a path of enlightenment, connection. I boarded the escalator and road its silvery steps up to the fourth floor to peruse some literary journals and poetry books. I’d hoped just by touching the printed materials, by reading some fine writing, I would reconnect and warmth to the idea of work. I rushed over to the bid of journals, selected an issue of Tin House, and held my breath. The pages flipped by, lines of copy, black rivers of ink, and I felt nothing but the weight of the magazine.
Next, I grabbed The Paris Review another fine literary journal, and thumbed through the pages, Typically, seeing the published works of others, the bylines of friends, acquaintances or even just writers that I admired, produces inspiration, at times envy, and most certainly a thrill. But that day, only more numbness set into my mind.
Next, I wandered down the aisles set with neat stacks of books and settled on a book of poetry. My eyes landed on a page, on the curve of a line. I found a five-dollar word where a two-dollar selection would’ve served better. My saliva soured. I grimaced. I tried to shake the offense loose. I could not.
I closed the book and headed back downstairs towards the exit. One floor after another passed, miles and miles of books, the published works, the efforts of others, culminated into a sea of colorful hardback and soft covers, books of mystery, strange works that were culminated by strangers, created by the strange of writing.
I strode out of the door into the cool of the evening under that crescent moon. I looked over the Manhattan scape, a view millions of people around the world would offer up a limb to experience, and could think of one thought: in five days my first Mother’s Day without my mother would detonate. The bad would become worse. And with that, the tears began to flow.
When I got home I wrote to one of my mentor’s, the essayist and poet Molly Peacock and asked her what I should do. Molly’s response came quick.
“I laid down on the sofa after my mother’s death for days and couldn’t move. It seems that it’s a normal response to the loss of a parent. You’ve returned to non-verbal kind of a pre-baby state.”
I love Molly.
She can make anything sound cool and interesting. Even a chronic yet functional depression. So, I continue on my nonverbal track reading a lot, walking a lot, trying to out run the fact that I miss my mom and can’t escape that thought, and don’t want to think of much else. And I don’t want to look into my soul and remember just how much I miss her. I don’t want to face the feeling of being an orphan, even at this age.
I descend into the subway and saw a small figure, slim and brown skin, holding a sign that read, “Hungry.” I kept walking, sliding my MetroCard into the slot, pushing my thighs against the turnstile, heading home. But something nags at me. The small nagging grows into a big nagging. I stop. And turned around to look at the figure again. Man? Woman? I can’t say.
But what I did know was this, I couldn’t move past this human being. Something held me there to do what I could do. I fished into my purse and pulled out a few singles
“Excuse me, excuse me,” I say, working for attention.
Under the roar of the trains, the stumping of thousands of shoes, the figure doesn’t hear m.e
I studied the form dressed in a jogging suit, and a knit cap pulled down over the ears, fifteen feet away. “Hey! Excuse me,” I say waving my arms, with the cash in hand.
The figure turns, looks at me with wide eyes, then head towards me. She’s tinier than I thought. Like a child from a war-torn country. Or someone who came across the border under the cover of an inky black sky.
“Here,” I say, and pressed the bills into her palm.
“Thank you,” she says soft, her voice accented
“You’re welcome,” is what I said. But what I thought is this: “You are lost. And so, I’m I. I’ve found a sister in the world. But we are still orphans.”
So, I wrote this post as a Mother’s Day remembrance. Then, after the passing pop a few weeks, it slipped into a difference sort of Memorial Day piece, in my mind, Now, after a long weekend and I still didn’t get the damn this posted, I’m just pushing publish. This mourning has me so weighted down, it’s serious reserve just to point and click. To send something out in the world.