We’re one week away from the official publication date for my new craft book, Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life, so I thought I’d post the acknowledgment page from the book along with a selection from “The Writing Life” section that pays tribute to my mother and to all she unknowingly taught me about what it takes to courageously face the blank page.
First, the acknowledgment page:
My fourth grade teacher once told me I had no imagination. I’ve never forgotten. This is a book for all those who dare to dream and to devote themselves to the craft of writing. My lifelong apprenticeship started when I first fell in love with the power of story. Along the way I’ve had the privilege of learning from those more advanced than I and passing on what I’ve learned to others. I’ve been blessed with a teaching career that now approaches its thirty-sixth year. I’m so grateful for everyone I’ve met along my journey. To try to name you all would be a fool’s game. If I sat in your classroom or you in mine—if we had the chance to talk about writing, wherever we might have been—you had a part in this book. For that I thank you, and I wish you a happy life, rich with the stories you have to tell. I’m so blessed to be a part of this family of writers. May we all keep doing the good work. Peace and love.
Then, some thoughts about what my mother taught me about courage and writing:
Running through the neighborhood this morning, I came upon a young mother playing roller hockey with her two sons at the end of their court. She wasn’t just going through the motions. She was committed, in all the way, and her kids were loving it.
My own mother was never a young mother. She was forty-five when I was born, forty-six when my father lost his hands in that farming accident. I had no siblings. My mother, then, was the one to play catch with me, hit grounders and fly balls to me, throw passes with the football. Basketball, I could play by myself. All I needed was a hoop and a ball. Baseball and football, though, were different matters. For those, I needed my mother, and she obliged.
I can’t say whether it gave her much joy. She was a woman of duty, and perhaps she considered those athletic games with me chores she had to get done the same way she had to gather eggs, feed hogs, milk cows, help my father work on machinery, teach school, clean house, cook meals, do laundry. Or maybe she found some pleasure in the release from such responsibilities those times when she threw a baseball back and forth with me, or tossed it up in the air and hit it with a bat, or threw a football to me. Maybe our “games” took her away from her own cares.
I really don’t know what to make of how my mother may or may not have felt about being pitcher, hitter, passer, nor can I say with any certainty why I’m worrying it around right now. Seeing that young mother playing roller hockey brought back all the memories of my mother, and how in her dresses and sensible shoes, she’d hit baseballs and toss wobbly spirals, because there was no one else to do it.
If this has anything at all to do with writing, it’s the fact that she taught me how to put aside fears and insecurities and to wade into territory that I might not believe myself suited for. Writing takes a measure of courage and a trust that you can make the journey simply because you must. Writing also takes a good bit of selfless love. My mother had that in abundance. She wasn’t meant to pitch and hit and pass, but she did because I was her son, and she loved me, and in the process she taught me how to love, how to give something of myself with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Each day, when I sit down at my writing desk, I practice what she taught me. I make a mark on a page. I set out on a journey. I don’t know what to expect, so I expect nothing. I keep myself open to what might happen.