Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More than Publication: Writing as Gift

JOY ALERT!!! Life has gotten a little sweeter. We just noticed: today (and we don't know how much longer) you can download the eBook of Blue Hole Back Home by Joy Jordan Lake FOR FREE!  Here are the places you can get it: 
Amazon (For Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (For Nook) (For just about any e-reader)

We've nearly reached the end of Anne Lamott's writing-book wonder, Bird by Bird. If you haven't been reading along with us, don't be shy about jumping into the conversation. Lamott has a way of jumpstarting a good conversation on the craft of writing. And this is a very good chapter.

The chapter "Writing a Present" is all too timely for me. Lamott tells of writing the story of her father's life and death and about the last days of her friend, Pammy. Lamott is the consumate observer and recorder. In the midst of her family's interactions and a tsunami of emotions, she took copious notes on index cards. And then, she actually presented her father and Pammy with completed manuscripts of their stories before their deaths. She considered her manuscripts love letters, artifacts that would keep memories fresh and in a sense validate the people she loved.

When my mom discovered my modest talent for writing--long, long ago--she suggested I write her story. It's a dramatic story to be sure. At sixteen and the oldest of seven children, her parents took off in opposite directions. Mom dropped out of school to take care of her siblings, but the state stepped in and her siblings younger than 14 were adopted out. My mom made sure they remained a family, even when a lawyer wrote a threatening letter over a birthday card she'd sent to the youngest. You have a admire that kind of tenacity. And a woman with that kind of tenacity, produces lots and lots of material.

As a teenager, I wasn't interested in writing my mother's story. I set my eyes on more exotic tales--which never got written. And then babies were born. Houses were built and remodeled. Careers blossomed and faded and reignited. Directions changed. Life didn't leave much room for reminiscing. If I'm to be honest, I wasn't eager to write my mother's story as an adult either. She's been battling cancer for 23 years, and, well, the thought of reliving all that nearly flattened me. Besides cancer, there are questions nobody wants to ask their mother and answers she most definitely wouldn't want to articulate. So when she would say, "You should write about my life," I would smile and say, "We should do that."

I'm deeply regretting my hesitancy now. We admitted Mom into a hospice program this week, and the disease isn't waiting for a memoir to be written. This writer is steeped in regret. That doesn't mean we've given up on the idea. We're chatting into a digital recorder, and because she is so generous, she's okay with that. Ugh.

People do not have to die for your writing to be a gift. I heard a story on "This American Life," an NPR production, last week. A 13-year-old Columbian girl had been waiting for her kidnapped father to come home for eleven years. When the Columbian military finally formed a rescue mission, they found her father tied to a tree and executed. Among his belongings was a fat journal of letters to the daughter, letters that recounted his youth and his treasured memories of her. He left a piece of his heart for her, but I promised that writing as a gift doesn't have to be about death, didn't I?

Is someone you love having a birthday? Write out a shared memory. Is a friend moving to another city? Write a story set in that city. For your children, keep a journal! Write about your everyday lives but also write about memories from your own childhood.

Toni Morrison said, "The function of freedom is to free someone else, " and if you are no longer wracked or in bondage to a person or a way of life, tell your story. Risk freeing someone else. Not every will be glad that you did.--Lamott

There's nothing so powerful as a good testimony. Think of Moses and the children of Israel. Lots of bondage and injustice. An evil captor. A mighty Deliverer! There's a story! But maybe your story isn't very dramatic. Maybe you asked Jesus into your heart as a child, and you've been living in a state of seamless grace ever since. That's a story! The keeping love of God is a very powerful story indeed. If you haven't written down your story of redemption, this may be the sweetest gift you ever pen, and a great place to start thinking of your writing as a present to be given in love.

How do you use your writing as a present to those you love? Was everyone glad you did? Please offer other ideas for how you use your gift to connect, love, and validate.


Charmaine Clancy said...

That's so beautiful. I'm sure your mum's story will be rich and touching.

Laura S. said...

Sending prayers and good wishes to your mom, Patti. I hope her story gets written! She sounds like an amazing woman.

I've kept diaries or journals since I was a kid. It's cool to have those memories. I send out a lot of birthday cards, and that's a good idea to include a shared memory in the card. I'll have to do that from now on!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

This is something God put on my heart years ago. Not all writing will be published in the traditional way we think of it, but so much of our writing can transform others, building them up and bolstering them in ways no one or nothing else can.

It truly is a calling. And it often looks much different than we envision it.
~ Wendy

Footprints From the Bible by Cynthia Davis said...

Thanks for the encouragement to continue writing my mother's story. even though she died 14 years ago I'm understanding her more as I write than I ever did. As you say-there are regrets to waiting, but perhaps her story will inspire my daughters in their life struggles.

Patti Hill said...

Charmaine: Mom has lived fully and been an amazing example of what it means to love with ferocity.

Laura: Thanks so much! I started journaling relatively late, so I envy you a bit. My favorite research tools are primary sources, like journals, diaries, oral histories, and letters. Someone may find your journals someday and write a Pulitzer prize-winning novel.

Wendy: I so agree with you. Not all of our writing is meant for publication. I look for ways to tithe my writing. Always blessed.

Cynthia: I guarantee your mother's story will be a blessing to your daughters. What a lovely gift you're creating.

Marcia said...

Patti, your post was exactly what I needed to encourage me to continue the project I'm working on--the story of my dad's life. I'm composing a digital scrapbook for him, scanning pictures and writing the stories of his life. It's been a big project, taking more time and energy than I thought it would. I've got about 25 pages completed so far, others in the works. One of my favorite pages is where I had him write out his favorite scripture passage-- Prov. 3:5-6. To have that in his handwriting is priceless.

Dad is 87 and his health is failing. I so want to get this done before he goes to meet the Lord. When I finish it I'll be able to get it printed and bound for a very reasonable price at They've had terrific specials every so often on Photobooks, so I plan to take advantage of one of those.

Thanks for the "shot in the arm"!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Sometimes my fear is that what I write will be too revealing to others in my family (which is one reason I write fiction). I've run into this as I write my essay for the Novel Matters contest.

Now, I don't know if anyone other than the 6 of you will read it. However, in the writing of it, I've recalled so much of my past. So many things that I can avoid with my own daughter and sons. And maybe I'll pack it away for my kids to read later on.

Hmm...thank you Patti. You've given me a lot to consider.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I wrote a letter to my youngest brother when he had a little scrape with the Law. My Mum framed it and it hangs in her work room. One day I hope it will hang in his workshop.
My parents have kept many letters to Santa and every once in a while they read one to us and ask us to guess who wrote it. There are also reams of letters from my grandparents written before the internet removed time and space.
My Dad treasures the notes he gets with gifts almost more than the gift itself. He says it validates and fixes the gift in history.

Joy Jordan-Lake said...

Patti, this is so insightful. I adore Bird By Bird, and need to re-read it often to bolster my courage. You write and think so well about the whole writing life, and how that integrates with a passionate faith.

Thanks for this--and for the Joy Alert :)

Megan Sayer said...

This is such a lovely thought. I need to do it more.
Once, a few years ago I wrote a story for a good friend for her 30th birthday. She's an animated movie buff, so I made up a story set in a world where everyone had an outline, like in the Flintstones cartoons, and the people there were visited by a mysterious stranger with no outline...
It took me about an hour, but it blessed her so much that I'd tailor-make a story just for her. Now I'm inspired. I should do it more often. Not only do they bless people, but they're great fun!

Oh, and THANKYOU! Just downloaded Blue Hole Back Home too (V.v.v. excited).

Megan Sayer said...

Oh, and thanks for sharing that Toni Morrison quote. So powerful. So true. Printing that one out for the wall.

Patti Hill said...

Marcia: I'm so glad you mentioned the print on demand options out there. Even Walmart will print a book, hardcover or soft. I plan on writing stories for my grandchildren...when my sons marry and procreate. Hurry!

Susie: I'm so glad you're entering the contest. I should warn you that the winner will be posted on our blog. And I so understand your fears. For me, it's getting the family details wrong and hearing about it all my live-long days.

Henrietta: "It validates and fixes the gift in history." I will always include a note from now on. Your dad is very wise.

Joy: Thanks for your kind words. The Joy alert is courtesy of our ever-mindful Katy. She doesn't miss anything in cyberland. Just one of the many reasons we love her.

Megan: What a clever story! How do I get on your gift list?

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Patti, thanks for reminding me that the winner would be on the blog. I've actually done a good deal of editing. I wrote WAY too much. So, it's less scary.

I also wanted to say that I write little children's stories for my kids and niece and nephews. Custom made for what they're struggling with. It's fun...and they get something special that was made just for them.

Nikole Hahn said...

My husband's grandfather is 90. He's a World War II vet. My husband and I have decided to put his story down on paper and maybe self-publish it just for the family and any extra copies have the money go to either the cost of putting out the book or to Wounded Warriors project. You are so right on this. Memoirs don't wait.

Josey Bozzo said...

Once when my husband was away on a missions trip. I wrote him a letter everyday while he was away. When he came home he had a weeks worth of letters filling him in on everything that went on while he was away.
I also journal. And specifically when I am on trips away from my family I make sure to journal everyday.