Behind the Book: My Peripatetic Writing Life

A while ago when I turned fifty, with my comedic bent of mind, I launched an hysterical reaction to my new age. And so my memoir, The Shelf Life of Ashes, began. Humor was a fine place to start, but over time I felt the tug to connect with the phenomenon of aging in a visceral way--to study it, to comprehend that aging, dying, death--was going to happen to me.


I got a job working as a companion to the elderly, and around that time, weekly phone calls from my mother started raining in, importuning me to “come home,” to help and comfort her in her decline. The myriad treks between the coasts offered a feast of zesty writing challenges -- the contentious, sad relationship with my adoptive parents; adoption itself; Christian Science and the whirl that such a religion sets in motion; the arbitrary nature of identity; the challenge of finding one’s work. The backbone of the memoir, though, became the stories of the elderly clients for whom I worked, and the stumbling toward rapprochement with my ailing mother.


Mine has been a peripatetic life, and my writing life has followed. I think about the relationship between these two--my life and my art, and how each has shaped the other. Starting in my twenties, I moved around a lot, and even when I settled down, over thirty years ago, in Seattle, WA, I moved a lot there, too, sampling many neighborhoods, with here and there lengthy interims in rural havens – Gold Bar, WA; Lopez Island. Recalling this makes me think about my travels among literary forms. In Philadelphia, I wrote and studied poetry (C. K. Williams, Jerald Stern), and published and taught and gave readings. There, I also started a theatre with a friend (The Wilma Project), and inflicted long and unperformable musicals on our bemused fan base. I did requisite time in the crucible of The Writers’ Conference, encountering such practitioners of the craft as Patricia Hampl, Rosellen Brown and Peter Matthiessen.


I framed my book’s exploration of aging as “the Quest to find The Map of Aging Well.” Was there one? Not an elixir, but a guide? Does the set-up--a comic quest, destined to fail – offend the sincerity of spiritual exploration? I feel undeserving to call my memoir a spiritual journey, and to attempt to illustrate aspects of the Buddhist Dharma, albeit in stories; thus, obliquely. I’m neither a Dharma teacher, nor a Buddhist scholar, and so I do not have credentials in that regard. Nonetheless, that is what interests me most in my writing – the deep-as-can-go explorations of life’s tough spots in the context of spirituality.


I am a pilgrim forever setting out, a naïf, but with robust curiosity.


Of course, as I think about it now, the map is the perfect image for one who professes to wander. The map momentarily grounds my flights of fancy; flags me down to the level of city-dots, park-icons, highways, bodies of water, to chart a course through them. My map through the landscape of aging was crude. Inaccuracies abounded; failures of imagination, too. But that didn’t negate the value of the quest, or the questions unearthed. The quest, destined to fail given the players, was no less rich for that.

Views: 201

Comment

You need to be a member of She Writes to add comments!

Join She Writes

Comment by Hollis Giammatteo on January 10, 2017 at 5:56pm

Marta -- please do read my book, and let me know what you think, especially if you still find me interesting!!  Thanks very much!

Comment by Marta C. Weeks on January 10, 2017 at 4:46pm

I would like to read your book and find you very interesting.

Comment by Hollis Giammatteo on January 6, 2017 at 1:17pm

Thanks so much for you comment, Nancy. It's so heartening to know that one's thoughts and words land! And thanks for planning to read my memoir.

Comment by Nancy Chadwick-Burke on January 6, 2017 at 12:51pm

you had me at . . . "when I turned 50"! I also saw similarities shared in our 20's and 30's. And love, love the "deep-as-can-go explorations of life's tough spots in the context of spirituality." Looking forward to reading your explorative, inspirational book, Hollis.

OUR LEADERS

Latest Activity

juanita Kirton updated their profile
6 hours ago
Sheila Grinell and Katrina Shawver are now friends
6 hours ago
Sana Sheikh posted a blog post

A Brief Overview Of The Banking Services And Products Offered By The Wells Fargo Financial National Bank

The Wells Fargo Financial National Bank has been around for many years. Established in 1988 this bank has been providing its products and services throughout the United States. The Headquarters of the Wells Fargo Financial National Bank are based in…See More
7 hours ago
Thelma Rea left a comment for Katrina Shawver
"Hi Katrina, I joined She Writes because of Sheila Grinell. I heard her speak several months ago at a book club.  I saw her yesterday at the Local Authors' event and she told me you invited her to speak at the PWC. Thelma "
7 hours ago

Members

Badge

Loading…

© 2017   Created by Kamy Wicoff.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service