Monday, August 12, 2013

A Summer Full of Publication

This summer has been good to me, publication-wise.* Excerpts from my memoir manuscript have been appearing in literary journals with a bit more frequency, including the narrative piece, "Old Men Who Write," which is now part of the first online issue of Under The Sun.

It traces my experience several years ago when a writing class I offered at my local library brought me into contact with two elderly men who -- what else? -- reminded me so strongly of my father, and the confusion this caused me as I worked hard to maintain our respective roles.

Here's a bit of it, which picks up in the middle of a class, and focuses on one student, Robert, who is 90 years old:

...I begin a discussion about reaching back in our lives for stories, and I notice Robert’s brown-flecked big hand resting on a small diary, the once-black leather worn to dull brown on all edges. I ask him about it. 
“This is my diary from when I was a boy, in the 1920s. Oh, there’s a lot of stories in here, you bet,” he says.  I expect him to say more, but he quiets, nods, and taps his fingers on the book.  For a second, I want to reach across and push open the clasp (does it still lock, I wonder?), but of course I do not. 
“I hope you’re thinking of writing about some of those times?” I ask, stupidly impressed with myself. 
“Oh, I don’t know. It was all so long ago. I’m pretty old, you know,” he says, his hand stroking the book, his eyes averted to a shelf of nearby reference books. 
“Well, that’s okay,” I say, not knowing what else to say. 
Robert throws his arms up in the air and smiles. “It’s okay that I’m old? Well, thank you very much!” The lightheartedness is back in his tone, the tease returned to his watery eye.Everyone laughs. I notice he’s crossed his stilt-like legs one over the other at the knee the way my father used to and, also like my father, that on his eyeglasses a frayed Band-Aid cushions the part over the bridge of his nose. I am glad to have my notes to concentrate on, printed out, slid into plastic sheet protectors, in a neat three-ring binder, because I don’t know what will happen if I keep looking Robert’s way. As I discuss writing, I glance at each student and try to ignore Robert’s slow nods, the way he raises an index finger in the air and dips it slightly to signal his agreement. 
I can’t look, and I can’t look away.
You can read the whole thing here.

There's a bit of a full-circle moment about this. It comes just as I'm preparing to present brief, interactive writing workshops at a bunch of senior citizen centers in southern New Jersey this week. 

Life is like that sometimes.  Writing too.

*Oh, the rejections still arrive too; but when there's a good acceptance/publication run, and it coincides with an otherwise stressful couple of months, you bet I'm going to brag just a little bit!

2 comments: said...

Such a powerful piece! In some ways it reminds me of Frank McCourt's Teacher Man, only you're not teaching adolescents, but the elderly. It also reminds me of an experience I had in health class, or was it nursing school (can't remember) where we put Elmer's glue on our fingers to simulate loss of sensation, and Vaseline on our glasses and cotton in our ears, to live a little in an elderly person's shoes. It wasn't easy, even for a short time.

Your piece speaks to how difficult teaching is, period. And the father/daughter part is so poignant.

I loved it. Can't wait to read more.

Barbara McDowell Whitt said...

Lisa, I have read your essay about Robert and then Joe who were in your classes on writing. I like your present tense voice and your thought that at age 48, "Maybe age is an advantage in a teacher." Robert, age 90, and his diary from the 1920s remind me that I am posting nightly blog entries from the diaries I wrote in in the 1960s. My plan is to turn them into a memoir.