Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

New Website and Blogs – please visit!

January 28, 2013

DSC_0292-Eleanor_ppSwimming with Maya is now available as an eBook and paperback. To learn more, visit my new website, www.eleanorvincent.com where you will find both of my blogs. I’m renaming this blog “That’s The Way Life Lives,” a saying of Maya’s when she was five years old. The focus will be on how grief and other life challenges make us stronger. My other blog, “The Cat Came Back,” humorous true tales of my two orange tabby cats, will be hosted on my new site as well.

Please visit, comment and follow the blogs, give my author page on Facebook a thumbs up, or otherwise get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the “That’s the Way Life Lives” blog:

http://www.eleanorvincent.com/category/thats_the_way_life_lives/

Ten Quotes

January 2, 2013

My publisher asked me to identify ten quotes from Swimming with Maya for promotional blurbs. OK, I thought to myself, how hard can that be?

But I delayed, blaming it on the demands of the holidays. Finally, on New Year’s Day, I sat down with a hardback copy of my book and began reading.Maya Book Cover

Swimming with Maya is a crisis memoir that plumbs deeply the intense shock, grief, and anger that followed in the wake of my daughter’s accidental death. What I wrote in those pages about events now twenty-years-old continues to move and amaze me.

I read page after page, tears streaming down my cheeks, putting colored paperclips on passages so raw they take me right back to the afternoon Maya died and I made the decision to donate her organs and tissues to people in need.

The last third of the book is about how I healed my grief. Those stories – how I wrote my way, slowly and haltingly, to acceptance, worked out long buried family patterns in therapy, sought out people who inspired me, including the man who received my daughter’s heart – are the light that draws me as a reader.  Of course, I know how the story turns out.  Yet there are moments I’ve forgotten and reading about them makes the experiences alive and fresh again.

Here’s one from Chapter 3: “Maya’s chest rises and falls. The ventilator hisses, the computers beep, fiber optic cable snakes into her skull. I never knew love could be so big, that it could expand to allow even this. I have a premonition of lifelong grief rolling toward me, but I know that, once again, I am being asked to give my daughter her freedom.”

maya-19-bday-004

That was the moment I realized I had no right, nor any power, to hold my daughter here. I had to let her go. I gave in to her coma and ultimate death because they were hers not mine, a destiny I could never have imagined. That moment of surrender marked me for life.

This was not an easy book to write, nor is it easy to read.

So why read it? Is there something to be learned in these pages that is valuable enough to offset the pain?

I believe we read to experience life vividly. Good writing puts us inside the mind and heart of the writer, creating a world we can inhabit, a safe space to vicariously experience another’s life.

Swimming with Maya is vital testimony about how losses can be healed. It was worth writing.  I hope you find it worth reading. A paperback and eBook version will be available early in February from Dream of Things press at http://dreamofthings.com or you can visit the  Amazon website today at http://www.amazon.com/Swimming-With-Maya-Mothers-Discovery/dp/1931868344 for the hardback version.

Post Christmas

December 26, 2012
christmas paint

christmas paint (Photo credit: cassie_bedfordgolf)

Just as I vow no more sugar shall pass my lips, I realize I have Harry and David pears that are ripening and will soon turn to mush.  Fruit sugar is okay, right? Well, plus a little red wine, lemon zest, and cinnamon. Voila! Poached pears.

Once the pressure of organizing the celebration passes, there is a lovely “time out of time” in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Just the right time to make poached pears and do a little writing.

Jeffrey Eugenides has a great piece in the New Yorker’s Page-Turner column called “Posthumous” in which he recounts the great South African writer Nadine Gordimer advising a young writer to “write posthumously,” in other words without concern for what people think, the latest literary fashion, or money. Pretend you’re dead so you can free yourself to say what you really think.

So this is my week to play possum, hole up by the Christmas tree, and return to the world of words. Being quiet and apart from the real world is essential to the craft of writing. Yet, it’s the very thing I often find most difficult to do. If being a hermit – or a writer – were easy, everyone would do it.

The fine balance I keep aiming for is to be in the world but not of it. In it, but not excessively. In it, but still available to my own thoughts and wish for poached pears. As my publisher, Dream of Things press in the person of writer Mike O’Mary, prepares to relaunch my memoir Swimming with Maya as an eBook and paperback, the balance I’m talking about will be challenged.

It is difficult – some would say impossible – to promote a book and write at the same time.  I’m taking steps to ensure that I can, including meeting with my writing group to set goals specifically for writing early in January, signing up for an Amherst method writing workshop in February and March, and rededicating myself to writing first thing in the morning several times a week. It would be great if I could do it daily, but I’m a realist, and I know there are mornings when exercising or meditating first thing will take priority.

Living takes priority. So, as Eugenides advises, we can play dead in order to advance our art, but in the end, guess what, we’re still here. Those poached pears are still calling. The cats still need food and vet visits. And you will be seeing me at the office.

Enjoy this “time out of time” and celebrate the dawn of 2013. May it be a year filled with balance, quietude, good words, and equally good food. In other words, life.

Gratitude: A Guest Post by Madeline Sharples

November 19, 2012

I first met Madeline Sharples at a writing workshop at Esalen. I was immediately drawn to her calm, empathetic manner, her beauty, and her poems. We quickly learned that we shared some important life experiences – we were both grieving mothers and both of us were writing about our children.

Madeline’s memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, first appeared in hardback in 2010. It was recently reissued as an e-book and paperback by Dream of Things, a small press based near Chicago. Madeline is a tireless online journalist and blogger, and focuses her energies on raising awareness of mental illness and speaking out to prevent suicide. She is currently on a blog tour to promote her book and I am so pleased to host her reflections on gratitude.

Gratitude

by Madeline Sharples

The holiday season has begun and once again I view it as bittersweet. The holidays bring up too many reminders of my son Paul who died just three months shy of his 28th birthday in 1999. Since Paul was born on New Year’s Eve in 1971, the holidays are difficult for our family.

I also view the holiday season with gratitude. Besides my continued good health, the love and support of so many family members and friends, and my ability to live a productive life, that I can even think in terms of being grateful is a miracle. However, as bad as life was after Paul died, and as much as I continue to miss him, I have found out that with such a tragedy come unexpected gifts.

Paul’s death has made me a stronger person, physically and emotionally. It was as if I accomplished getting stronger through brute force. I met and interacted with people who had been through similar experiences; I took writing classes and workshops; I went back to work outside my home with my usual verve to compete on the job and to excel in my work; I embarked on a daily exercise program. I was obsessively persistent in dealing with my grief and becoming a productive person again.

I have reinvented myself as a poet and a creative writer. Four months after Paul died I found that poems just came spontaneously out of my pen. Though I write prose more than poetry, poetry is my love. My poetry writing has become my companion and my savior – something I can turn to at any time, or in any place.

I also wrote my book, Leaving the Hall Light On, with the goal of helping others who have experienced a loss like mine, I have a new writing career as a web journalist, and I’m busy writing a novel. I have been able to fulfill my life-long dream to work as a writer.

My husband and I have a stronger marriage probably because of a combination of my drive to deal with the pain, suffering, and loss, and Bob’s willingness to wait until I got better. We realized early on that our grieving processes were different, so we were patient, we gave each other a lot of space, and we respected each other. We supported each other so that we could grieve in our own ways. Plus, we’ve worked hard to stay healthy so that we can still travel and enjoy many diversions such as movies, theater, and opera and long walks at the beach near our home.

I have a terrific bond with my surviving son Ben and his new wife. Yes, I’m proud to say I’m a new mother-in-law. My son and his wife live close by and we spend quite a bit of time with them. That he and Marissa wanted to have their wedding in our family home meant so much to me. That created a very special bond between us and provided a very happy memory to replace the bad memories of the past years.

I’ve also embarked on a new mission in life – to erase the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide, in hopes of saving lives through my writing and volunteer work. My next project is to offer the wonderful jazz music our son composed and performed as a CD to raise money for charities that share my mission. In this way, I’ll be able to perpetuate his memory and hopefully save the lives of people who suffer as Paul did.

With patience and hard work, I discovered I could go beyond surviving and actually thrive – and so these bittersweet holidays also fill my heart with gratitude that I have gone on to be a writer, a mother and wife, and a survivor.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0984631720/ref=sc_pgp__m_A1M6YBJMM98MZH_1?ie=UTF8&m=A1M6YBJMM98MZH&n=&s=&v=glance

The Look Challenge

October 18, 2012
A panoramic of a snow topped Mt Diablo as take...

A panoramic of a snow topped Mt Diablo as taken from Walnut Creek (Panoramic made from a 14 image stitch) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The premise is simple: find a passage in your manuscript or book that contains the word “look,” post it on your blog, and tag five other blogging writers to do the same. Seems to me like a great way to introduce readers to other writers, so I’m all in.”

I received this invitation/challenge from my friend Madeline Sharples. Madeline’s book, Leaving the Hall Light On, is the tender and harrowing tale of her son Paul’s bipolar disorder and ultimate suicide. But more than that, it is the story of a woman’s courageous fight to not only survive but thrive after a life-shattering loss. To learn more, visit http://madeline40.blogspot.com

To meet the challenge, I randomly opened my book Swimming with Maya to page 210 and found this passage:

“Sprawling over a broad ridge, Oakmont Memorial Park has a direct view of Mt. Diablo. As I kneel above my daughter’s grave, I look at the jagged face of the mountain. It towers above the suburban valleys east of San Francisco, its saw-toothed outline a sharp, cobalt blue. Almost four thousand feet tall, and many miles around, this place was considered sacred by the native peoples who once lived at its base. I regard it with awe. To me, it is a temple of the gods, of doom, of wild horses – a mysterious place that swallowed my daughter in one sudden gulp.”

This passage leads from the narrator kneeling above her daughter’s grave at the cemetery to a fateful meeting with the man who received Maya’s donated heart, his wife, and their two children. Meeting Fernando and his family changed the course of my grief and my life. So in a way, the passage where I describe looking at Mt. Diablo leads to looking in a much larger sense. Looking at and examining the outcome of my decision to donate Maya’s organs and tissues at the moment she was declared brain dead.

I’ve written extensively about this in Swimming with Maya, and more recently in the Creative Nonfiction anthology, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die, edited by Lee Gutkind. Organ donation and transplantation are miraculous and complicated. Instinctively, I was using “look” in the descriptive passage as a metaphor for the meeting to come when I would look into the eyes of the man whose chest held my daughter’s beating heart.

When Fernando drew me into an embrace, with my head resting against his chest, I heard the strong whomp. whomp of Maya’s heart. I was looking for my daughter that day. And I found her, but not in a way I could touch directly. Maya’s 19-year-old heart was keeping Fernando alive but as I held him I realized in a new, deeper way that Maya herself was never coming back. It was searing, heartrending, and inspiring. I found what I was looking for but not quite.

Because we are visual beings, we are always looking. But do we really see? In what ways does looking and seeing inform your writing and your life? Post a comment and let me know.

It was a dark and stormy night

April 11, 2010

Standard wisdom for writers is that cliches are always bad. But I’m not so sure. If a cliche revs you up enough to start typing words on a blank screen, is that really a bad thing? I’m in favor of whatever primes the pump. Oops. Cliche. Seriously, it is a dark and stormy night in my adopted city, Oakland, and we chai-latte-sipping-sunshine-loving Northern Californians are outraged by our fickle spring weather. It has dropped below 68 degrees and that is just not supposed to happen in April. The wind is lashing the Mexican weeping bamboo on my deck, and thunderstorms are forecast. Pity the poor hummingbirds who can’t even make it to the feeder yet manage to survive the elements that send we humans cowering in abject terror to our netflix mumbling the Serenity Prayer.

Hey, nothing against netflix. Or the Serenity Prayer. Both are useful – the former for distraction, the latter to bring us face to face with the reality that we control so very little. Except for how we respond to the avalanche of stimuli bearing down upon us. And by those responses we build our worlds – hell or heaven at the flick of a neuron. “The courage to change the things I can…” It takes many hours on my meditation cushion to observe the cacaphony of my inner life. Maybe courage is built that way too, one breath at a time.

Bounded by Lakeshore, Grand, and Mandana Avenues, the neighborhood where I live is known as Grand-Lake. I am a five-minute walk from Lake Merritt, Arizmendi Pizza, Peet’s and Trader Joe’s. From my deck I can see the Oakland Hills dotted with red tile roofs and palm trees interspersed with redwoods. Just below my street is an extension of Lakeshore Avenue with a small park where little kids jump, dig in the sand, and grab toys away from each other. It’s reassuring to hear their hoots and hollers and yelps, background music while I do the dishes or check my e-mail. Life is going on out there, I think, and like my old cat who loves to sit on the deck and watch the world, I am an observer of life. It washes up against me from the vantage point of the hill where I look out, as if from a tree house.


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