Monday, May 21, 2012

Endings. Beginnings. For nonfiction writers, it's always note-taking season.

         I am approaching a season of endings. Or rather, the endings have already begun, mostly in the area of my parenting life. In less than a month, my elder son will graduate from high school and his younger brother will finish middle school. Instead of a summer filled with camp, Boy Scout projects and events, and a family vacation, there will be summer jobs, and an orientation visit, and me working more hours than I usually do in the "off-season" (tuition bills take no holiday!)  
          In August, the first one starts college in another state, and the second heads to an out-of-town high school, boarding a train each morning as his brother did. And I'll begin…worrying, making adjustments, crying a little, praying a lot, planning, and feeling as if the earth has tilted. 
         But first, and all along the way, I am taking notes. 
         Now you know why I am talking about this on my writing site.  
         Taking notes.
         Isn't that what all personal essayists and memoir writers do when life shifts, when things end, when things begin?  In between the adjusting, crying, worrying, changing, shifting, praying, feeling nostalgic and maybe regretful and certainly grateful and hopeful?  
         We take notes. 
         We observe – ourselves and others. We listen. 
         And we sneak off and write it down. You know, in all those little notebooks we squirrel away – in purses, briefcases, backpacks, cars, laundry rooms, kitchens, bedside tables, gym bags, desk drawers.  
         You do stash tiny notebooks everywhere, don't you?  
         Or we send ourselves a text, an email, a voice message if no notebook is available. Or we scribble on receipts, soccer schedules, pizza menus, deposit slips, coupons, junk mail envelopes. 
         I do, anyway.
        We write it down.  Or, we forget. Nonfiction writers don't want to forget, because when we forget, if we forget, we are sunk. 
        We write nonfiction, after all, because we don't forget, and because it's in the not forgetting that we find meaning. Or at least, we try to.
         And so, as I begin to stockpile dorm room necessities in big plastic storage tubs, I'll be taking notes. When I have a moment in between the graduation ceremony and the family lunch, I'll be taking notes. If either or both sons sit at the kitchen counter and leaf through their yearbooks with me, I'll disappear right after and take notes. After my husband and I drive away from the college campus, and after we wave goodbye to a departing train, I'll be taking notes. 
         Better get a new pen with ink that doesn't run.

Update:  I wrote this last week and scheduled it to automatically post this morning.  Yesterday I got the ultimate call about endings:  My mother passed away at age 86. In the last four years, she had four heart attacks, a stroke, and was suffering from kidney disease and congestive heart failure. I wasn't there at the end. Not long after I got the news, I immediately thought of a writer who once wrote about sitting at her dying mother's bedside, and her mother, knowing how much her daughter was comforted and sustained by writing about life's seminal moments, told her daughter, kindly, "take notes."  I can't remember right now who wrote that - it may have been Patricia Hampl or perhaps Ann Hulbert or maybe another writer altogether (if someone knows, I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me) It was Nora Ephron-- but I do know this:  late last night, I reached for my notebook. 


kristen spina said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Lisa. Wishing peace for you and your family. And joy in your sons' new beginnings. My guess is they will both do extremely well.

Lisa Carter said...

My sincerest condolences, Lisa. Having lost my mother just last fall, I know what it's like to immediately put pen to paper to try and sort through the emotions. Wishing you and your family peace and support.

Lisa Romeo said...

I was just reminded that it was Nora Ephron's mother who, on her deathbed, advised, "Take notes."

Lisa Romeo said...

Thanks to a friend, for passing this on:
The quote below is from an interview with Nora Ephron in Time Magazine:
Did you ever think you'd be able to write about a subject as serious as your mother's alcoholism?
I've written about my mother's death before. This is a different look at it. In the way I grew up, we knew that you might write about almost anything if you could just find a way to tell the story — that was what we believed in our house, that was religion in our house. Everything was copy. I've written this in an old piece, but when my mother was dying in the hospital, she looked at me and said, "You're a reporter, Nora, take notes."
Read more:,8599,2031421,00.html#ixzz1vX0rTlcr

Barbara McDowell Whitt said...

Lisa, your postscript about your mother's dying took my breath away. I had recorded in my notebook a quote from your post, "We write nonfiction, after all, because we don't forget, and because it's in the not forgetting that we find meaning.

You are in my thoughts and prayers as you and your sons adjust to life without your mother's and their grandmother's presence in your lives.

kario said...

We do take notes. And I love that feature on my iPhone that allows me to do voice recordings because often I'm driving and I can't scribble something down.

I am so sorry to hear about your mother. It is such a strange time in life to be at the convergence of children gaining independence and parents becoming more dependent - it is often difficult to know where to look and how to feel. I'm picturing you in the eye of this storm where it is calm and you can watch, reflect on, and take notes about all that is swirling around you.

Love and light.