Every year that goes by since I first wrote this, I am more certain that the quotation that opens this post is increasingly important to remember.
August 23, 2012
That is not the only quotation from my mother indelibly enscribed onto my brain but it is most pertinent today and not just for writers. I almost missed my appointed blog date and with only a few hours to spare, I have found a topic worth writing about. (One of my cardinal rules – not from my mother: Write for yourself but don’t expect anyone to read it unless there is something of value for them.) So, until noon today, I had no topic. Therefore, no post ready for the midnight launch.
But at noon, I saw one of the scariest and most amazing things. I work in the financial district, many tall buildings, a few that qualify for skyscrapers status. I chose to have lunch on the roof of my building (small in stature compared to others in the area) and take time to work on my current work-in-progress. At a blurry juncture when my brain needed to sort through images and words to find the next step, I looked up and to the south.
On the ledge of a building twenty floors taller than mine, I saw a man washing the windows. He was balanced on his toes, his left hand gripping the top of the window while he scrubbed the panes of glass and wiped them dry with a cloth on his belt. I could see no visible sign of support and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. One, for fear he would fall. Two, in abject fascination that he could do this. (I have difficulty walking over grates in the sidewalk, along the pedestrian area of bridges, looking down the 13 floors in the stairwell of my building to the ground floor.) Yet, here was a man hanging on the vertical wall of a 24-story construction with seemingly no way to stop himself from falling.
This is earthquake country. Anything can happen at any time. At last, he went into the room and after a while I saw that he was attached to a webbed belt locked into an eye-hook in the ceiling of the room. Still! Not anything I could do.
I looked around the area and saw two men in a gondola hanging from another building, on two wires that lowered the gondola as they finished one window and moved down to the next. And, on the ornate frontage of another building, another gondola suspended on wires, two men swinging in the air. Whether these two pairs of workers were tethered to their equipment I wasn’t able to see. Brave? Foolhardy?
They trusted themselves, their ability and their equipment to keep them safe. (You may have seen photographs of skyscraper construction with men sitting on eye-beams and no visible sign of support – these photos make me weak in the knees!) All they had to trust were themselves and their co-workers. Were there safety nets out of sight of the camera lens?
And here we are, as writers, out on our own individual ledges, trusting ourselves, our ability and equipment to keep us from falling. My mother’s edict is even truer today than when I was confined to notebooks and scraps of paper. At least then, someone had to find the notebook, steal it and read it in secret. In today’s connected world, every word I put on the screen and upload to the cloud or the social media page, is available to hundreds of thousands of people. If I send my work in an email, I have no control over where that email will end its journey.
Some of us believe this is a grand thing. My mother would disagree. And I, for once, have to agree with her. There are some thoughts that are best kept in notebooks, locked away in drawers for which the keys have been lost. However, we also have to trust the recipients to respect our ownership as well as our freedom to write with honesty and integrity, according to our own beliefs and understanding.
I love the quote and the story you used in this post. I love and cringe at the idea that anything we write may have an impact on someone or something. Wow! Where do you find your inspiration to write?
Thank you for commenting, Jessica. My mother was wise beyond her experience. She read well and often, taking away from her reading the wisdom that all writers hope to impart. She was also a great storyteller but had never trusted her stories to her dyslexic scribble until I encouraged her to commit them to paper. My previous post, Dreams & Aspirations, speaks to the notion of inspiration. Some of us are inspired to make images, my ideas come in words and many of my stories are collisions of circumstance. A person here, a bouquet there, a song on the radio triggers a scenario that grows into a story. Thanks for writing to me.
Thank you! I love that. I read the previous post and I think it is amazing that you where able to record your mother’s stories. I don’t know if you are religious or not, but I am a Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The family is central to everything we do and part of that is collecting family history so I admire the fact that you recorded some of your mom’s stories. I am currently on a mission, so I have put school, work, ect. on hold for a couple of years, I will go home in February and I can’t wait to spend more time collecting family history.
What tips do you have for gathering family stories?
Even though my mother was loathe to write anything down (as per her admonition to me as a young writer and her propensity to misspell), she loved to tell her experiences during WWII, some of them tragic and others hysterically funny. When I had the opportunity to edit Parachutes & Petticoats, I urged her to write the stories that I’ve included in Following the Troops: Life of an Army Wife. Sometimes her dyslexic spellings foxed me! Preserving these memories for my siblings and my children was so important, to me as a sometime-historian, but also to future historians and writers. Parachutes & Petticoats has already inspired and helped one of my fellow writers, Sarah Stevenson, when she was researching for her YA novel, The Truth Against the World.
Tips for Collecting Oral/Written History: Let your subject know how important you believe their stories are. Be patient. Listen. Respect their right to keep some events private.
And yes, I am a Christian.
That is so great:). Thank you for your response, I will definitely use that in the future. God needs people like you! Would you ever be interested in learning about what Mormons believe?
Hi, Jessica. Apologies for the delay in response. I had a new book release and all the ‘entrails’ of that. Thank you very much for your kind comment. I am always interested in learning more about almost everything – one of the beauties and joys of being a writer. That can also be a curse when you’re at work and get sidetracked with ‘research’!