McKenzie Free

One woman's quest for greater understanding through freedom of self expression.

Archive for the tag “writing”

WHY?

In a writing class I’m taking one woman repeatedly asked the same question over and over again one night.  Her question was “Why?”  What she wanted to know was, “Why would anyone want to read what I have to write?”   When asked why she reads, she replied, “I don’t really.   I don’t have time.  I’m basically illiterate?”  You might think in a class of writers that we would take offense to someone who doesn’t read but I sensed nothing of the sort among us.  I can’t answer for everyone but I suspect that most of us write for the same reason we read, and for the same reason I’d like to read her stories, and it’s because I’m continually asking the same question she is, “Why?”

I began writing as soon as I learned to hold a pen and I’ve always been an incessant reader.   Put me in a room with nothing to read and I’ll find a poster on the wall or directions on how to use the microwave and I’ll start reading.   Reading and writing have always been a means for me to try and understand “Why?”  The heading on my blog remains “One woman’s quest for greater understanding through freedom of self-expression”.

Since I was born I’ve been trying to figure out why people act the way they do?  Why was I put on the planet and is any of it supposed to make any sense?  Why do we respond the way we do in situations? Why is one person considered successful and another not?  Why are parents, who are the people children rely on to keep them safe, often the ones who harm children the most?  Why did Michael O’Brien love his baseball cap more than me?  Why did my brother cut off all my dolly’s hair?  Why did my sister wear seven pairs of socks and take one off each day so it would look like she had clean one’s on?  Why are people attracted to each other?  Why didn’t my Daddy love me?  Or, if he did, why couldn’t he show it?  Why does the one male director in my Agency seem to not have to follow any rules of norm?   Why have I failed to find a lasting partner while my best friends are happily ensconced in a long-term love affair with each other that’s lasted 30 years?  Why? Why? Why?   I’m like a three year old who never got past the questioning phase.  Everything about human behavior is interesting to me and I want to know more about it.

Currently one of the most popular TV programs on the air is NBC’s number 1 rated “This Is Us”.   According to Forbes Online, the trailer for the second season of this show got a whopping 105 million views.  What’s the show about?   A family.  A mother, a father, and three kids.  Regular parents with a relatively regular family.  Two twins, a boy and a girl, and an adopted brother born on the same day.   The children are adults when the show takes place with weekly flashbacks into their lives growing up.

Why is it so popular?   I think it’s because we all want to know the answer to “why”?    Why is one twin a normal weight while the other is morbidly obese?  Why did the parents choose not to tell the adopted son about his birth parents?   Why were the parents attracted to each other?  Was their style of parenting like ours?  Like our parents? Is it better?  Is it worse?  Did it work?

We all read and watch and write in order to be entertained, certainly.  But why is it entertaining?   It entertains us because it’s a way of trying to understand the world around us and the life we find ourselves living.  If next season finds that Chrissy Metz, who plays the twin sister Kate, is suddenly able to drop 100 pounds and find solace in something other than food I will be on the edge of my seat hoping she has finally solved the riddle of why so many of us have this love/hate struggle with food.  Why do we struggle when so many others don’t?  Why is this our particular cross to bear?

So I continue to ask the question, “Why?”, and in response to my fellow classmate I want to read your story because I’m fascinated by human behavior and still desperate to know:  Why were you in the dorm room to begin with, why was your hand on that suitcase so ready to flee, why were you still in the room when the roommate and her mother finally appeared, what happened next and ….why?…why?….why???

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The Easy Chair

Oh how I wish I could write like Barbara Kingsolver.  All I’ve wanted for as long as I can remember is to be able to write in a way that elicits emotions from people.  Sometimes emotions they don’t even know they have.  To write something with a kernel of profound truth that people can relate to and say, “that’s it…that’s just how that feels”.

In Kingsolver’s “Pigs in Heaven” her first six paragraphs describe exactly how if feels to be in a relationship after a certain age.  Those sentences resonate with everything I’ve been feeling of late.  As I get older my world is becoming smaller and smaller, my desire for things less and less, and my desire for intimate conversation greater and greater, while at exactly the same moment in time the average man seems to have used up his lifetime allotment of words.

The middle aged man spending his days in his easy chair couldn’t have become a cliche unless there was some truth in it.  Kingsolver’s descripton, “his Naugahyde recliner confronts her, smug as a catcher’s mitt, with a long, deep impression of Harland running  down it’s center” describes it better than I’ve ever heard or read it described.  I’ve seen that same impression in more men’s chairs than I’d care to admit.

The easy chair has always made me sad.  Not because it eludes to TV watching.  I can be the Queen of Netflix marathons myself.  I thinks it’s the singleness of the chair.  Where I would prefer to snuggle up and share my experience with someone (one of my fondest memories is spending an entire day with my God daughter on the sofa watching episode after episode of “Cake Boss” together until someone had to come and force us to shut it off) the easy chair sits alone and seems to say “there’s no room for anyone but me here…leave me alone”.

I have a single, male friend whose living room is set up with the requisite enormous flat screen TV with his comfortable easy chair right smack dab in the center of the room and a sofa pushed back against one wall.  Even when told he doesn’t see that this set up says to all who enter, “it’s all about my comfort…you sit over there against the wall and don’t bother me.”

I am a middle-aged woman, and one on the down hill side of that bell curve.  I am beginning to understand that the chances of meeting a man my age who has a serious desire for emotional and intellectual intimacy is slightly less than the chance of me ever fitting into my original size 6 wedding dress again.  Even if the intimacy were to be there to couple lifestyles at such an age would likely be as uncomfortable of a fit as that dress.

I guess the moral of this story is that I will now have plenty of time to devote to improving my writing skills.

 

 

 

Touchstone [tuhch-stohn] – Noun

  1.  A test or criterion for the qualities of a thing.
  2.   A black siliceous stone formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the color of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.

(Source: Dictionary.com Unabridged, Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.)

My mother died a year and a half ago and this weekend my sister and I thought it was time to go through the personal items that my sister had boxed up from her dresser when she died.  My sister brought the box in from the garage and gave it to me to open. The very first item I pulled out of the box was a simple, tiny, plastic stamp dispenser.  Like myself my mother was an avid writer but her writing took the form of letters.  Living over 2,000 miles away from her most of my adult life I’d gotten hundreds of letters from Mom.  Her letters were always engaging, entertaining and filled with humorous stories and vivid descriptions.

She probably wrote a letter to each person in her address book once a month.  So for years she had bought stamps in rolls of a hundred and used her stamp dispenser daily.  That stamp dispenser was such a tiny thing, yet such an enormous part of who my mother was that simply touching it brought tears to my eyes immediately.

I began crying, my sister began crying, and my sister’s little two year old granddaughter began slapping her grandmother on the leg because she thought Grandma had made Aunt McKenzie cry.  It was quite a scene which ended with us laughing at the baby girl and explaining to her that we were crying about our Mommy and that Grandma hadn’t hurt Aunt McKenzie.  We then put the box away to try again another time.

My mother was my touchstone.  She was my mirror to my place in the world. Being Lois’ youngest daughter — the attractive, successful happily married one who lived on the East Coast — was an enormous part of my identity.  She not only took pride in who I had become but reminded me always of where I came from.  With my mother’s passing I felt not only her loss, but without my tether to the past and my touchstone to reflect the purity of my beliefs, I lost a bit of my identity for a while as well.

Mom was a strong and independent woman who rarely asked anyone for help.  She survived a fractured skull in her twenties when she was hit by a car while on her bike.  Until the day she died she had slight hearing loss in one ear and dizziness when she turned her head to a certain angle from that accident.  She survived the loss of an infant child, WWII, the great depression, poverty, the loss of a spouse, raising six children alone, the death of her youngest child before his fortieth birthday, a dog attack, and at eighty was hit by a truck while out walking.  The doctors and physical therapists told us that no one else her age and in her condition would have walked again.  It was her sheer stubbornness that brought on her recovery and ability to walk again six months later.  She did all of these things, and others too numerous to mention, and carried on with a joy that brought tears to your eyes.

The one strong belief that my mother had that she passed on to me was that every day is a fresh start and a chance for renewed hope.  No matter how bad things get I realize that the very next morning I could wake up to a day that brings me infinite joy.  So it was with this belief that I put one foot in front of the other each day after my Mom’s death until the pain subsided and I was able to tether myself to my place in the world again.

I hope that one day very soon my sister and I can attempt to sort through Mom’s personal belongings once again.  Next time we’ll better prepare ourselves for the bittersweet memories we’re sure to experience and perhaps, without a toddler there, we’ll allow ourselves as many tears as we need to get through it and finish the job.

Reprinted below is the speech that I wrote for my mother’s 80th birthday celebration and gave again at her funeral.

My Mom was born on November 10th and shared her birthday with the United States Marine Corps.  These two events may seem to be unrelated to some, but not to those of us who know both the Marine Corps and Mom well.  Let me enumerate just a few of the characteristics they have in common.

 Courage – Whether attacked by the poverty of her early youth, distance between loved ones, government red tape, or the common hardships of everyday life, Mom always faced her enemies with courage and taught her children to do the same.

 Loyalty – Lord knows, each of us children tested the limits of our Mother’s loyalty and love and found it remained limitless and unwavering.

Honor – Mom’s honesty and integrity were beyond questions.  In fact, I’m sure there are those of us who wished at times that she had been a little less “honest’ since she tended to  “call ‘em as she saw ‘em”.  Her straight forward approach and homegrown advice usually hit the mark.

 Endurance – No matter how many times circumstances conspired to knock her down, she pulled herself up and never lost hope that things would get better.  In fact, it was because of her singular determination that many things in our lives WERE changed for the better.  Even getting hit by a truck couldn’t keep that woman down.  After her recovery, she continued to volunteer at St. Alice Parish and McKenzie Willamette Nursing Home.

 Strength – You can’t tell me that raising the flag at Iwo Jima was more difficult than raising six children to maturity (especially these particular children!).  As far as we’re concerned Mom deserves a monument in her honor as well.

 Through her 88 years she maintained a nobility of character that made us proud to call her Mom.  We’re proud today to celebrate her life.  She was a great mother, a great grandmother (in both senses of the term) and a friend to many.

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