I’m feeling much better now, but as a precaution, I’m going to stock up on cough suppressant, cough drops, and antibacterial hand gel so I’ll be ready for the Memoir Festival this weekend. As a mother of a former preemie, I know as much about hand hygiene as anyone. I will douse myself in antibacterial gel before I shake even one hand. I promise.
My fear, however, is that I will begin coughing loudly during Bernard Cooper’s reading tonight, and I’ll have to leave the auditorium. That would really suck. I have been waiting for this too long to have to banish myself into the hallway. Keep your fingers crossed for me. (And if you want to attend the memoir festival, there’s still time. You can register online today or in person tomorrow morning. Cooper’s reading is open to the public, as well! For more information, click here.)
I’ll report on the festival next week (and maybe even this weekend if I can squeeze in a post), but until then, I want to mention a wonderful thing I read last night.
I have had the anthology Love You To Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs on my shelf for a few months. (If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that this is, sadly, my habit. I just don’t have very much time to read non-teaching writing right now.) But last night, I was drawn to this book. I had just posted a lecture for my online Mother Words class about structure and Penny Wolfson’s wonderful “Moonrise”—which I’ve posted about here and here—and I was thinking of the ways that so many of the mother-writers I know write about their children with special needs. So I opened Love You to Pieces. This is what Suzanne Kamata writes in the introduction:
I’m the kind of person who looks to literature to make sense of life, so when I learned that my daughter was deaf and had cerebral palsy, I sobbed for a while and then logged onto Amazon.com. I was looking for deep and sustaining stories to guide me on the long path ahead, and while I found many cheery volumes offering hope and inspiration, that wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I needed to know that others had felt the same kind of pain, fear, and anger that I was feeling, and I wanted a better idea of how my daughter’s disability would affect my marriage, my son, my work, and other aspects of our lives. The best novels, short stories, and memoirs can pull us into the lives of their characters and provide a deeper understanding of others, while poetry can distill and illuminate moments that longer essays gloss over.
She ends the introduction with this: “…literature eases loneliness and helps us understand and empathize with those unlike ourselves.”
In my online class, we have been talking about this very thing—the way stories, as one of my wonderful students said, “can humanize us.” Reading a wide variety of voices—those of mothers and non-mothers alike—makes me a better person, helps keep life in perspective, helps, as I said on Sunday, not take my life or my family for granted.
I read the first few pieces in Love You to Pieces—Vicki Forman’s amazing “Coming to Samsara” about the birth of her twins at 23 weeks gestation; Hannah Holborn’s “Without Strings,” the heart-wrenching story of a mother dealing with her daughter’s diagnosis of Angelman’s; Ellen Bihler’s poem about the mother of a baby with spinal muscular atrophy falling into hopelessness; and Marcy Sheiner’s “A Homecoming,” the story of a mother isolated from her friends because of her son’s brain damage. This was all I could manage. My heart felt too heavy to continue. But underneath this heaviness was something else: gratitude. The words of these writers are brave and necessary and life-changing, and I want to send out a shout of thanks to these wonderful writers and to Suzanne, who pulled this book together.
I also want to make sure everyone knows that Vicki Forman’s memoir, This Lovely Life, will be released this summer. And also this exciting news: Vicki has agreed to come to Minnesota this fall to be part of the 3rd Annual Mother Words Reading, which will also feature the wonderful local writer Kate St. Vincent Vogl, author of Lost and Found: A Memoir of Mothers. I will be bombarding you with details as the date approaches, but I want you to put it on your calendars now: September 24th, 7 p.m. at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Everyone is welcome!!