Good afternoon, everybody! Today, we are excited to announce that past contributor Mary Sojourner, featured in the Fiction section of both our 3rd and 10th issue, will be teaching a women’s writing circle at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe this Sunday, April 2, from 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm. Details can be found here. This wonderful opportunity coincides with a reading/book signing of Mary’s new book “The Talker,” out now from Torrey House Press. The price of admission is just purchasing a copy of “The Talker,” so if you’re at the reading and want your copy signed, joining the writing circle is a breeze! Come through, hear selections from “The Talker,” and come together as part of our wonderful writing community!
“The Forbidden is a chimera, a shape-shifter. A woman writing during the seven hundred years of the Inquisition could be killed simply for writing anything. Books were once banned for sexual content. Sexual content now sells everything.
Our family, ethnic group, gender and culture impose sanctions against the forbidden. But the deepest rules about what we may or may not write lie within us. We have been and are forbidden to write about our sexuality, our fear, the realities of our aging, our loneliness, our secret delight.
You know what you have longed to write and feared to write. For six hours, we will work with writing exercises and support to bring out The Forbidden. We will work in strict confidentiality. I am a writer who works always from Place – within and outside. I know what I have felt when I have broken the rule: You can’t write about that.”
For more information or to register, click here.
Can’t make the workshop? Mary Sojourner also provides weekly writing tips, challenges, prompts, and exercises through her website.
The little girl in the picture is a serious child – and already a woman. By the time the picture is taken, her mother has suffered her first psychotic break and survived her first suicide attempt. These days her mom would have been diagnosed with postpartum depression, barbiturate addiction and bi-polar psychosis. In 1945, the psychiatrists named her a hysteric and depressive, and told her she liked her depression because it got her attention. They prescribed electric shock treatments (a terrifying and brutal regime in those days) – and the family doctor prescribed sleeping pills.
I grew up with three mothers: the bright-eyed mom who played jazz piano, drew abstract designs for me to color, learned to stencil the folk-art of her Pennsyvania-Dutch origins, hand-painted Easter eggs and turned our home into a candle-lit shrine during the winter holidays; the sallow mother who grew more and more silent, who took to the living-room couch on long winter afternoons, who burned our dinners and closed the cover over the piano keys; the thing that looked like my mother but contained a howling void.
All three mothers were the perfect teachers for what I do best, for that which seems to be the only act that fills my soul, for what I do in this perfectly imperfect moment – writing. My bright-eyed mom read, not just to me and my brother, but for herself. She took me to the library when I was six and introduced me to the librarians. She told me they held the keys to magic – and since she had introduced me to Scheherezade, the women who told stories to save her life, I knew the librarians were guardians of an endlessly replenished treasure chest. When I begged off washing dishes or doing chores because I had a book to read, my mother shrugged, laughed and said to my father, “You know Liz. She always has her nose in a book.” And when I began to write my own stories, she read them. She never pushed me to write them or snooped in my diary. But when I brought her my writing, she read it carefully and told me what she liked.
My silent mother gave me more than she could have ever guessed. When she came home from the hospital, she, my father and I must have believed that it – the “nervous breakdown” – would never happen again. We were wrong. Two years later, the color began to leave her face. There was strained quiet at our dinner table. I came home from school to find my mom stretched out on the couch. And then, I was waked in the middle of the night to the sound of her retching. I pulled the pillow around my ears and struggled back into sleep. In the morning, my mother was gone. My father told me she was back in the hospital. Then, for reasons I can’t fathom to this day, he said, “She took too many sleeping pills. She wanted to die. I made her drink a quart of milk so she would throw up.”
In that instant, I became a radar screen. I learned to pay scrupulous attention, to monitor people and surroundings as accurately as any creature who relies on external information to survive. And I learned to store away what I learned. It would be years before I would hear the political slogan: To Understand the Present, Study the Past. At eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen and eighteen, I became an encyclopedia that contained every nuance of my mother’s face, moods, laughter and silences.
The mother skin bag that contained a black hole gave me the third great gift. I was five. I’d been kept home from kindergarten. I sat in my parents’ big bed with a coloring book in my lap. I didn’t read yet. My mother was in the kitchen. Someone was singing, a tuneless, wordless high-pitched croon. Then there were footsteps coming toward me. I knew my mother was the only other person in the apartment. I tightened my hands on the coloring book and stared down at the page. There was a tree, a little house, smoke coming out of the chimney. I began to tell myself the story of whoever was in the house. That’s the last thing I remember of that morning.
My mother and I made peace when I was fifty-five and she was eighty-three. We were brought to a sisterly ease with each other through miracles, hard work and, as we would have told you, “Who Knows What.” For the next two years of her life, we talked openly and with love about our time together as mother and daughter. She died at eighty-five. I was with her a few weeks before her death when she gave me the second most valuable thing she has given me.
She was drifting in and out of consciousness. I held her hand. She came wide awake, looked into my eyes and smiled. Her eyes were wet with tears. “Oh Liz,” she said, “I don’t have many regrets, but the one I have is so big.” I waited. “It breaks my heart,” she said, “that the god-damned depression robbed me of being able to be the mother I longed to be.” We were quiet. Her hand was warm in mine; mine warm in hers. “I know,” I said. “Thank you.”
And the greatest gift? The writing. My bright-eyed mother gave me trust in what I write. My silent mother unwittingly taught me to become a gathering net. The not-mother jolted me out of the ordinary and into the world of story. Trust, curiosity, infinite possibility. And one regret – I wish she were here to read this post.
Lillie Foltz Mammosser, thank you.
Note: This piece first appeared in my former Psychology Today blog. I thought I might re-work it, but as I read it, I knew I would not change one word. All of it is even more true today than it was in 2010 when it was published. And, as I read it I found myself paraphrasing an old saying: “That which doesn’t kill us makes some of us writers.”
You can find more of my work – and weekly writing tips and exercises on my new website: http://www.breakthroughwriting.net
Kamilah Aisha Moon, Nonfiction, “Riker’s Island Writers Workshop” Issue 10 Fall 2012
John Gist, Nonfiction, “Zen on the Rez” Issue 9 Spring 2012
Mary Sojourner, Fiction, “El’s Full of Beautiful People” Issue 10 Fall 2012
Allyson Stack, Fiction, “The Front” Issue 9 Spring 2012
Suzanne Marie Hopcroft, Poetry, “Errata” Issue 9 Spring 2012
Erin Elizabeth Smith, Poetry, “Fables” Issue 10 Spring 2012
The Third Law of Motion, by Meg Files, Anaphora Literary Press, 2011 (reviewed by Mary Sojourner)
Newton’s third law states that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It is one thing to open a book and find yourself deep in a movie of the story; it is quite another to open a book and realize that you have become the character. Meg Files brings us into the mind, heart, body, longings and profound confusion of Dulcie White, a ’60s teenage girl too quickly becoming a woman.
You may have been Dulcie. I certainly was. She is a smart, curious, sensual young woman caught in a time when it was perilous to be both curious and sensual. She meets track star Lonnie Saxbe at a dancing class her friend has persuaded her to attend. The trajectory of their connection, or more accurately dis-connection, is predictable. Any woman who has gone into an abusive relationship or marriage knows the arc. Rather than describe Dulcie’s careening out of her own life, her own self, a discussion of Files’ craft in shaping Dulcie and Lonnie is more germane.
So often, the young are cursed by what they believe are their informed decisions. They are meteors propelled by desire and the longing to be desired. Files gives us in her perfect pitch renditions of conversations – both outer and inner – an exploration of the deep, intelligent and connected love between Dulcie and her college room-mate; and the hot and dissonant passion between Dulcie and Lonnie. By shifting point of view from Dulcie to Lonnie throughout the book, we are forced to know the young man’s inchoate violence and tangled driven mind.
Files brings us into intimate knowledge of two young people who most resemble the chaos of smoke. It is often easy for women to blame other women for entering and being unable to leave abusive relationships. Any of us who have found ourselves trapped in our own terror of being abandoned – “What if there is no other lover? What if I destroy my lover by leaving? I don’t want to grow old alone.” – whether we are gay or straight may know the sensation of being mired. We may know the equally energizing and terrifying rush of fresh air when we pull ourselves free. We may certainly know the descent that follows the liberation – and how old and new voices from our childhood and the society around us begin to natter in our minds, telling us to return to the mire.
To read The Third Law of Motion is to understand more than why a woman might find herself trapped by her past and present. As Dulcie and Lonnie tell their stories, the reader comes into contact with greater notions of cause and effect. We understand the degree that Second Wave Feminism – Files never preaches ideology – provides light for a dark and potentially deadly path. I imagine some of Files’ younger students reading the book and wondering why Dulcie didn’t go to a women’s shelter, to Planned Parenthood, to an empathetic woman OBGYN. Those of us who lived through the ’50s and ’60s can answer that question. There was nowhere to go. We were alone with what we believed were our choices. We didn’t yet know that there were few choices – and that all of them were part of the swamp that held us fast.
I found myself wanting The Third Law of Motion to be required reading in all academic women’s and gender programs. Meg Files has given the gift – subtle and sorrowful – of a woman’s truth.
The Jumpstart Writing Circle is “for those,” says Mary, “who have always wanted to write and haven’t, for blocked writers, and for writers who want to move to the next level of their work.” The Jump Start Circle is not designed to be a lecture, but rather an interactive opportunity for participants to write and develop their writing. Each Jump Start Circle varies. The cost is $25 and those interested can register at 480.730.0205.
Pima Community College West Campus is hosting a wide array of weekend writing workshops ranging from Memoir Crafting to Poetry Workshops. Led by authors and professional writers, these workshops offer an opportunity to get hands-on experience and explore a variety of creative writing topics.
On April 13-15, Mary Sojourner, Issue 3 contributor, will lead the in-depth writing workshop, w(Rite): A Workshop in Deep Writing and Craft. The workshop will feature exercises and activities that help writers craft and “move personal writing into publishable work.”
Mary Sojourner is the author of novels Sisters of the Dream and Going Through Ghosts, and short story collection, Delicate. Sojourner is also known for her essay collection Bonelight: ruin and grace in the New Southwest and memoirs, Solace: rituals of loss and desire and She Bets Her Life. She has appeared as a commentator on NPR and teaches writing at colleges, universities, writing conferences, and privately. You can read her blog at marysojourner.com, or the November SR interview with Sojourner here.