Sunday, November 12, 2017

Her Last Words


Lou died two days ago—Lou, the character in one of my first novels based on good friends of mine, a funny friend, a quiet person who attracted us to her because of her lack of pretension, her open heart, and her sense of humor which at one time had us sorority sisters rolling across the sorority living room she played EbbTide on the piano. We danced vertically until we had to lay back breathless with laughter. 

Her real life name was Pat.  The other three friends in a novel that had several titles and ended up published as Her Last Words are also eighty-two.  We are saddened and yet realizing that we are walking, or shuffling, me with my three canes and bum knee, the same path that Pat has meandered..

The end of a long-term friendship like mine with Pat has forced me to again to accept that I too will come to the end of the trail I’ve been following since college, a trail with gorgeous views, difficult ascents, quiet shadows, and surprises, like the trilliums Pat introduced me to fifty years ago and the sweet salmon berries my sons handed to me along the way.  I’m hoping that there will be a few trilliums and salmon berries left as I poke forward, my cane leading the way.  But I also know  that I’ll be leaving a few items along the trail, like the pioneers lightening their loads on their ways to Oregon

The most painful items are friends like Pat.  Not really left behind, just tucked into memories that arise at quiet moments at night like the yellow evening primroses that have delighted me on this journey. As I try to find sleep, I can still see her cross and re-cross her skinny legs as she drags on a cigarette, her elbow on a knee, in the Solarium, making us laugh. “You were saying,” she whispers through a cloud of smoke.

Also painful to drop along this trail, but inevitable, is my dream of writing a break-out novel, of scratching some sort of meaningful mark on the literary world, one that would make the days crouched here in front of my computer, the hopeless investment of  my retirement funds on advice and editing, the dismal dreams of a sale at book sign-ins and readings, worth the effort.  For a while it was.  No longer.

So, I join a small group of writers I admire, in saying, I’m done.  It all was worth it, the dreams, the disappointments, the email tension, but it isn’t any more.  Alice Munro and Philip Roth announced their retirements recently. Others have just gone silent.  I knew it was my time to move along with a lightened load when I realized that I can no longer type one line of words without three or more typos.  The two books I have written in the past two years have been clear examples of how slow that makes writing a couple hundred pages and are evidence of the wisdom of knowing when to quit.  I’ve decided to  pause  and enjoy the scenery along this part of the trail.

Thanks for reading these thoughts for the past years.  I’ve enjoyed writing them.  I'll think of you
 always as friends.   JO

Jo Barney Writes

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

What A Difference a Word Makes

Well, I’ve just frozen my credit accounts, directed a check to the Red Cross, called a person whom I don’t know to ask why she sent a letter that indicated my mother, age 102, has an insurance policy. (Turns out she does, protecting her cremation plan from Medicaid) and then I delivered to a bank the monthly Mom/Nana checks from her children and grandchildren to cover the fees in her adult foster home. After that I sat for an hour waiting for Medicare or Medicaid or anyone to answer the phone and tell me if she is eligible for funds to help her family pay her bills. I finally gave up. I electronically deposited a small check from my publisher before I was tempted to say What the hell and get a pedicure with it.  All that this morning.  Business.  No writing, only a little reading during the long phone wait. No walk around the park to get my legs moving in a normal, not alarming, way.

 At noon I called a friend, a very good friend who is not feeling good these days, and wished her well. Talking to her was the best part of my To Do list. The second-best part, an hour later, was a self-reward glass of wine on the terrace and the realization that this was the first time I’ve seen blue sky in two weeks. The wind has sifted; the smoke from Eagle Creek is headed in another direction.

The business part of this day had accumulated during the previous week as I plowed through the hundreds of red lines on the manuscript to my editor sent back, not with accolades but with notes: “This character’s name was different on page 30;” “Did you really mean to skip what happened after he hit her?” “The little I know about gonorhea doesn’t include bed care, and it’s spelled differently,” and so on. I finished, depressed and exhausted by the eradication of red lines, and spent this morning trying to distract my depression by frantic busy-ness.

 After giving silent thanks for the return of the blue sky and my glass of wine, I went to my computer. My publisher had emailed: “Jo, we love your writing; send the next one and we’ll be glad to look at it.”

No promises, of course, but the words, We love your writing, wiped out of any remnants of my despair. I celebrated with another glass of wine and understood how words can change a day if not a life. I hope I am able say something that powerful to someone else tomorrow. I’ll start with, I love how you. . .”

Jo Barney Writes