Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Starting places

*At my writer's group last night,

I started thinking more about the story I'd like to tell,

about this idea of beautiful rubbish, were I to write a book.

But where do I start?

I'm not sure I know that answer yet, but here's what came out.*

I will remember the last conversation between Papa and I as forever eerily punctuating my transition to writerhood. The temperature remained solidly in the upper eighties that week in August as he and I worked together on an outdoor painting job. I painted in shorts and a bikini top, to maximize the inevitable tan, since we were mostly working secluded in a backyard. Working between free-flowing conversation and silence, we had been talking about my plans for the near future.

I was but two months out of grad school, just two and a half weeks out from packing my belongings into my Honda civic and driving cross country with my dad to Minneapolis. I had big hopes for working with an organization in the city that provided culturally creative mental health services to refugee clients who’d survived major traumatic events (what a mouthful, huh?). This is what I’d been grooming myself for in grad school these past two years, and really, what I’d been preparing for all of my twenties. And here I was, twenty-seven, finally on the brink of launching out into my field.

I stopped to give my forearm a quick break and turned to look at my dad a few feet away with a paintbrush. The sun fixed its gaze on me with beady eyes, until the sweat crept from my temples and quietly rolled down my cheeks. “Papa?”


“I know this sounds crazy and ridiculous, considering I just finished school with a Master’s in counseling, but, all I’ve wanted to do since finishing school is to write.” I studied his face, which didn’t look at all surprised by this confession, feeling a secret weight roll off my heart. I hadn’t told this to anyone.

“I don’t think that’s crazy, honey. If writing’s what you want to do, then do it. You’re an incredible writer, I’ve always thought so.”

I nodded my gratitude. I could always count on my dad to understand. After all, I’d inherited my distaste for conventionality, my hunger for adventure, my artistic bent, from him. My dad didn’t fit into a box, and I admired him for that.

“I don’t know what that means,” I continued, “Where to start, what to write, what, if anything, I’ll ever publish. I just know it’s in me, it’s what I love. Much more than counseling.”

Our conversation shifted to plans for the big move. Something in me felt that I’d just gotten the blessing from my dad, to be something more than I went to school for. To unleash more creativity in my dreams for life.

I recalled this conversation with a growing sense of displacement and detachment just a few days later. The next evening, I sat down to write. Finding a computer with internet access in the ICU waiting room at Harborview Medical Center, I posted a note on facebook requesting prayer for my dad. He fell off a ladder and hit his head on the concrete driveway while painting that morning. Now he lay in a coma in the hospital. I had no clue what sorrow the next week and months and years would bring, only this deep down rumbling, this knowledge that I would not be taking that cross country trek to Minnesota with my Papa after all.

And I was right, life had a very different turn in mind. Nine days after that conversation with my Papa, he passed away, not having woken from his coma. The past two and a half years have been my journey to uncover and accept the beautiful in a landscape of rubbish. It’s a story very much in process.

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