Tag Archives: writing

The Choices I Make

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My daughter said it with me standing right there.  “My mother,” she said, “is not a cookie-baking, babysitting grandma.”

I was startled at the description of what I am not, but I couldn’t possibly take offense.  In the first place, she said it so cheerfully.  In the second, what she said is so true.

I was a bread-baking-from-scratch, hands-on-up-to-my-elbows mother.  But that was a long time ago.  And the first years of that kind of full-throttle commitment came before I went to work.  The work I’m referring to is my day after day, year after year commitment to writing.

Writing was only a guilty hobby until the aforementioned daughter, who was the younger of my children, started first grade.  But in the space her absence opened for me, I decided to make my writing my work.

In those years before my children’s books had garnered much notice, writing was an ideal career for a stay-at-home mom.  I was there, right there, every time my kids came through the door.  I might be at the typewriter—my early books were written on a manual, portable Smith Corona typewriter that had been my high school graduation gift in 1956—but I was there.

Sometimes, inevitably, my two children and my occasional foster children resented that typewriter, though they did come to appreciate its issue.

When Peter was in sixth or seventh grade, he said to me one day, “You know, Mom.  Kids at school talk to me all the time about your books.”

“What kids?” I asked.

“Oh”—and he ducked his head and blushed a bit—“girls.”

When Beth-Alison was very young, she accepted her mother-the-writer as she accepted the rest of the fabric of her life.  By the time she entered junior high, though, she was beginning to resent the time I spent off in storyland.

One day in response to her complaints I said, “Do you know what your life would be like if I weren’t writing?  You would be my job.  Every day when you got home from school I’d be at the door waiting for you.  ‘Tell me about your day.’ I’d say. ‘Tell me everything you did.’  And you would hate it!”

She grew up knowing she never wanted to be a writer.  In fact, having witnessed my long, slow process with so little result, she always said she couldn’t think of a worse job.  But she wanted very much to be a self-employed, working-out-of-her-home mother.  And she made that happen.

They were both interesting if not always useful critics of my work, too.

Beth-Alison used to beg me to write just one best seller.  “So our family will have some money.”  (Their dad is an Episcopal priest.  Not much money in that.)  “After that,” she always promised me, “you can go back to writing what you want.”

Peter once said, “Mom, when you write about sex, you write about it like it’s no big deal.  If you’d write about it like it was a big deal, every kid in school would read your books.”

I listened to them both and went on writing what is given to me to write.

By the time grandchildren arrived, my career had come to be a more complex entity.  I was teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts, traveling back and forth from Minneapolis, and traveling frequently to lecture, too.

I missed the birth of my sole granddaughter in a gaggle of grandsons because I was in Vermont when she arrived.  And for their entire lives I have been, I’ll admit, a busy grandma.  If not always busy out there in the world, then busy at home pecking away at my computer.

Still, I did manage to gather them up—mostly the ones who were available to me by living close—and take them to the Children’s Theater and the Minnesota Orchestra and the Arboretum and the zoo and sometimes even to the indoor amusement park at the Mall of America.  (In case you have never experienced an indoor amusement park, I can tell you it fits my vision of hell perfectly.)

Marion and Grandchildren

When each grandchild, near or far, turned nine, we went on an intergenerational Elderhostel trip.

Do you hear a note of self-justification in my voice?

Usually, though, I’ll admit I’ve been here at my desk pecking away at a keyboard.

And aware every day that this is the choice I’m making.

The grandchildren are mostly grown now, in college or launched into the world, and I love them and am intrigued by them and proud of them and sometimes just a little sad about them, as well.  I know I missed a lot by not being a “cookie-baking, babysitting grandma.”

What brings up this reverie is a conversation I had recently with a writer friend who is caring for her infant grandchild a couple of days a week.  “Sometimes,” I said, “I regret I didn’t do more of that.”

“Sometimes,” she replied, “I regret that I didn’t take my writing more seriously sooner, that I don’t take it seriously enough now.”

And I thought, For every choice . . . a gain, a loss.

Am I sad about the choices I’ve made?  Not at all.  But wouldn’t it be fine if life allowed us to have it both ways?

WE WANT PEACE!

Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

I did not vote for our current president, and I take exception to his ideas and his manner in too many ways to count.  But occasionally, out of his barrage of verbiage, the man says something that I find myself sitting up and listening to.  Something that gives me a scrap of exceedingly cautious hope. (The caution earned by the fact that little of what he says ever holds.)

Some of what I pay attention to is this:

President Trump admitted that his initial instinct was to pull our troops out of Afghanistan.  Soon after, however, he announced a troop increase.

He talked about staving off “a major and uncontrollable arms race” and hinted at high-level talks with President Xi of China and President Putin of Russian, though those talks have yet to happen.

He called our defense spending, $716 billion this year, “crazy.”  Then he proposed boosting it to $750 billion.

Now he talks about withdrawing our troops from Syria and Afghanistan, and as of this writing, he hasn’t yet backed down on that one.  But what an uproar pushing him to back down from both sides of the aisle!

Clearly, as we proved in Vietnam, there is no good way to extricate ourselves from these kinds of military excursions.  And it’s also clear that Trump has no plan for performing these withdrawals with a minimum of confusion and harm.

But let’s remember that Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned over Trump’s refusal to take his advice in this matter, had a nickname in the Marines.  It was “Mad Dog.”  Mad Dog once said about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, “It’s fun to shoot some people.  You know, it’s a hell of a hoot.”  This man, who is being referred to as “the only adult in the room,” also said, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

It’s just possible that the “adults in the room” have it wrong, entirely wrong.  It’s possible that the entire “war on terror” we have been sold since 9/11 isn’t a war on terror at all, but multiple wars with a very different purpose.

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria, said, “Trump’s critics . . . will have the vapors about ‘losing ground to Russia,’ ‘making Iran’s day,’ and ‘abdicating influence,’ but their criticism is ill-founded.  Contrary to their apparent belief, the U.S. does not have a God-given right to send its forces anywhere on the planet it deems fit.  Withdrawal will see the U.S. in one respect at least follow the international rules-based system we are so fond of enjoining on others, and will therefore be a victory of sorts for upholders of international law.”

Do we know, do we want to know, that we have 170,000 troops stationed outside the U.S. in 150 countries?  That’s more than 800 overseas bases.  Then there are nearly 40,000 assigned to classified missions in undisclosed locations.  And all these men and women are “fighting for our freedom”!  Really?

Not my freedom I want to say, every time that phrase is trotted out.  Is it yours?

It’s hard to find hope in a man like Donald Trump, and I can’t pretend I do.  But few of our elected officials are as vulnerable to public approval as he is.  Just think what could happen if we stood up together, you and I and everyone we know who longs for a different world, and said, loudly and repeatedly, “President Trump, you are right!  Ignore the advisers taking you down a road we’ve been traveling far too long.  Listen to your own first instincts.  Listen to your country.  WE WANT PEACE!”

Because we do, don’t we?

Finding What I Need to Say

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I’m happy to be working on something that feels personally important. I think that’s really the best there is in writing, yes? Finding what I need to say, and then the way to say it. It’s so much easier than I imagined all those years ago when I started writing. And it is so much harder. Surprisingly so. I’m feeling like I’ve found a new vantage point for being a career author after this second sale–and now I can see just how long this road is. The truth is exciting and daunting. Tiring and somehow thrilling. I’ll hold on.

Cori McCarthy

Write On!

Credit: Tracy Walsh | Minnesota Good Age

My daughter, Beth-Alison, posts my blogs and quotes for me, and she calls me faithfully when I’ve failed to deliver what she needs according to the schedule we have agreed upon.  An interesting reversal of roles that is, no doubt, only the beginning of a much more substantial reversal that I prefer not to spend too much time thinking about.

So I’ve just hung up from talking to her and from justifying my tardiness in giving her my first-week-of-December blog.  Of course, I explained why I was late, like a kid explaining why there simply hasn’t been time to clean her room.

My explanation?  I’m moving into the final chapters of my latest revision of Sunshine, the novel I have been slogging through for entirely too long, and I’m building momentum, and I just can’t make myself put the novel down to pick up something else.  Even when the something else has a deadline, and Sunshine doesn’t.

“But I’ll do it,” I promised.  “I’ll get it to you very soon.”

Beth-Alison was kind, understanding, but she still needs the blog.

That being the case, I’ve decided to cheat.  An article just came out in Minnesota Good Age Magazine about me, about my turning 80, and about my work.  The author of the article, Julie Kendrick, did a very nice job of interviewing and writing.  The photographer, Tracy Walsh, has given me a lot of new photos.  (Posing for photos is one of my least favorite activities, ranking close to scrubbing floors.)  So why not take advantage of their good work?

Here is the URL for the article.

http://bit.ly/2KJZ93s

Happy reading.

This Blink of Time

Today is my birthday.  My 80th, would you believe?  I add “would you believe?” because I don’t quite believe it myself.  That’s despite the fact that I’ve been trying out the number for months, mostly inside my head, sometimes out loud.  “Hey!  You’re 80!”

I’ve been saying it when I do a full Pilates hang, suspended by my ankles.

I’ve been saying it when, despite that full hang, I find myself suppressing a groan when I rise from a chair.

I’ve been saying it when I dive back into the novel I’ve been working on for too long and discover that I’m repeating myself . . . again.  Do I do that when I talk as well?

I’ve been saying it when I find the world wearying, threatening, horrifying.  “You’re 80!  Perhaps you won’t have to live into whatever is coming.”

I’ve been saying it when I gaze out at the wonder of a new day, budding trees or swirling snow, and ask how many more such gifts await me.

I never expected to be 80, though the irony is that I don’t suppose I’ve been expecting to die, either.  Does any of us truly believe that inevitable, uncompromising end will be our own?  Every life is a blink between two unknowns, and as I have never tried to imagine my whereabouts prior to my birth, I don’t attempt to fathom what lies beyond these days I have been given.  But my death grows larger in me every day.

Along with the hope that I may arrive there with some grace intact.

Eighty seems such a venerable age that I tell myself I should have some wisdom to impart on this page.  But I don’t feel wise.

I have made a lot of mistakes along the way and learned a few things in the process.  The two are not unrelated.  Mostly I learned because I made mistakes.

I married almost 60 years ago, though I had little desire for the man I decided to marry.  (I had never desired any other man, either, and was incapable in that homophobic time of understanding why.)  I thought him a fixer-upper.  I knew he wasn’t all I wanted, but I planned to bring him around.

I learned that I am the “fixer-upper.”  When I finally realized how difficult it is to grow and change myself, I understood the futility of attempting to change anyone else.  I understood, too, that no one of his gender could ever meet my needs.

Now, in our mutual age, my one-time husband and I live a great distance from one another, but we come together often on Words with Friends and on FaceTime where we rejoice in and occasionally worry about our progeny.  We each accept the other tenderly, unquestioningly.  That acceptance represents an abundance of learning on both sides.

Fifty-four years ago, I gave birth to a son, a child so longed for that my desire for him, my need to mother him, lived in my bones.  And from the time he was very small, he defeated me every step of the way.  Lovingly.  Masterfully.

When Peter died at the age of 42 of a disease that robbed him of control of his body and of his intelligence and finally of his sanity, too, I learned, at last, that he had always been the only son he could be.

I learned, too, that the love that lived between us was enough.

I started my life trying to fit in, seeking approval.  And I learned that I don’t fit in and that approval has very limited value.  I’m not made for the kind of coupling society demands.  The activities so many care about don’t appeal to me.  And my mind, while possessing a certain uniqueness, lacks some very basic skills.

Maybe no one ever fits in, truly.  Maybe we each feel in some way alienated and alone.  And maybe we all have to learn, as I am finally beginning to learn, that it is enough to be who we are given to be.

Who am I?  All my life that question has puzzled me.  I have no answer.  None.  I don’t even know what might make an answer possible.

But as I move into this end time, I am beginning to understand something else.  I am a human becoming.  I am a verb, an action, not a noun.  I am not, will never be, a static thing that can be labeled and explained.  Even to myself.

I am a human in process, making mistakes—oh, so many mistakes—and learning and moving on.  And learning again.

And while I’m learning, I rejoice in the love that happens along the way.

Finally it is only the love that gives this blink of time purpose and meaning and even holiness.