Sunday, December 18, 2011

Booksigning at The Avid Reader

I've not been writing a blog for some time - I've been writing and publishing two memoirs: ...Invisible to the Eye: The First Forty Years and It's an Ill Wind, Indeeed - That Blows No Good. Last night I read from both of them at a book signing at The Avid Reader in Davis.

Some books are written to make you laugh, some to make you cry. Some are written to make you think, many to make you ask the question, "why". Writing through your grief makes you do all of these things...PLUS I found it makes you sort our your feelings and fine a certain release. Both of my memoirs did that for me.

It's an Ill Wind, Indeed... maps my hard fought journey through grief from the very first day of a fire in our home and after the tragic loss of both my husband and son during the next week. The first part of the story is intense, not Pollyanna, but leaves its readers with important lessons to be learned. It is a candid story of the reclamation of my life and that of my four teenaged children, while I hope honoring the deceased.

It's an Ill Wind, Indeed... is easily related to by anyone struggling with bereavement, but may also be instructive to friends and counselors, as well.

Grief changes you. As I wrote in the book, my children lost not only a father and a brother, but a mother, too, as they had always known her.

When I began to write, almost ten years ago, I didn't imagine the journey. To write a memoir means wrestling with the truth. It means you travel back in time, search out your feelings, divulge deep secrets and long buried thoughts, and bring them and events to the light of day. It is to expose your deeply hidden truths, your pain, your anger, as well as all your joys.

From It's an Ill Wind, Indeed...

It is ironic that when all is going smoothly and our love, families, and/or
land are secure, we tend to focus on insignificant problems that divide us; when
we are threatened, we come together to look at the bigger picture - the promise,
the possibilities, our true purpose in life. It is at the time of crisis
that we have an opportunity to renew passions that have been kept slumbering as
if in suspended animation. It is at these critical times we are able to risk, to
go forward in the face of overwhelming odds, to search out the possibilities
and the promise. It is out of crisis that we get the chance to be reborn,
to choose the kind of change that will help us grow, to enable us to fulfill
ourselves more completely - as individuals - or as a country.

It is the unending paradox that we learn best from crisis - from loss,
pain, and suffering. It is through our grief that we are able to disengage
ourselves from the day-to-day status quo and bring ourselves to fully examine
our purpose - what is really imporant in life.

Perhaps crisis can be seen as our homework, given not to oppress us, to
beat us down, but to help us grow - to help us move on to the next stage of our
life. It was important for me to find a new definition for who I was - something
besides a survivor, a bereaved widow and mother. I feel lucky to have been able
to turn tragedy into triumph - to feel worthy again - through helping

In ...Invisible to the Eye, I wrote stories about my birth, my mother and father's lives, as well as those of forebears - and my first forty years. Those forty years included many changes - the McCarthy hearings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, civil rights, the integration of Touro Infirmary in New Orlenas, and the beginning of the University of California Medical School - all of which we had a part. I wrote that memoir for my children and grandchildren, but then when people who had read It's an Ill Wind, Indeed... asked "Are you going to write about the first forty years?" I decided to make it more public.

As I began to write parts of that book, I discovered there were some emotional scores to work through and settle or which I hadn't even been aware. For instance this one about my mother:

I wanted my mother to be at the Mother-Daughter teas; I wanted her to ge at
the performances at school; I wanted more than the "What Every Girl Should Know"
booklet left with a box of "necessities" on my dresser. I wanted her to be home
more than on weekends at which time I would even then have to share her with the
friends and family who regularly gathered. Instead, she brought me gifts; she
brought clothes; she set me up with charge accounts at local stores at a very
young age with which I could buy even more things. I resented the things; I
wanted her presence - not her presents.

Looking back on it now, I can see that I was a little brat sometimes.
Mother would come home after a long week on the road, give me a hug and tell me
there were packages for me out in the car. I'd say, "Oh, do I have to...? doing
my best to ignore her as I perceived she had neglected me.

I tried to make these things not matter. I tried to avoid the wounds of
deep disappointment when whe would promise to try to make it to the
Mother-Daughter Tea in May, but wouldn't; when she would hope to be home in
time to help me get ready for the prom, but couldn't. My brother came in her
stead to my 9th grade graduation. I know that my mother loved me; but as a
teenager I suffered keen disappointment time after time. It seemed to me
that she had plenty of time in her life for the "Aunts" and even for
complete strangers, the "Bring Home a Serviceman for Dinner" fellows, who
often stayed on for a weekend and returned time and again,bringing gifts of
butter and other scarce items. The quality of time my mother and I share was
shallow by comparison, more than likely because of my pent-up resentment,
which snowballed into planned indifference.

As you can see, I dug deep for those feelings of the teenaged Joni. Our stories shape us...our families shape our stories...and I especially thank my family for allowing me to tell our stories. We are each a product of our own bubbling stew - culture, neighborhood, ancestry, DNA - and, in our case, Davis. How remarkable our years in Davis have been. As I finished It's an Ill Wind, Indeed... and read it through from start to finish, I realized that it is, indeed, a love story to Davis, to all those who stood by our family during our darkest hours and for years beyond. But it was a town that fostered my need to find a reason for having survived. It allowed me to make a difference in my community - to feel worthy again.