At The Funeral

In January, a time before the corona virus, I sat with three friends from my writing group. Our other group member was up front, a part of the funeral party. Her mother had passed away.

We had done this before, sat together for a funeral. Then it was one of our own group members who had passed on. This time, it wasn’t a sense of déjà vu as much as it was a strong sense of community, of being with your tribe, your writing family. These people who read and commented on your stories, knew your family and your journey through life. We’ve been together for over fifteen years.

I had Kleenex scrunched up in my palm. Tears would come from who knows where, but they would come.

It touched me that we were supporting our friend and supporting each other. Several of us had taken the day off from work. Being present for one another was important. Sacred circles show up for each other.

The church was full of people of all ages and races to honor this woman of 89 who had passed away. A testament to her and the family she raised.

My shoulder brushed my writing friend sitting next to me. I dabbed at the corner of my eye. Being at funerals often connects me to other griefs and in that moment, I keenly felt my estrangement from my siblings. My bond to my sacred circle of writing friends made me feel the distance from my siblings even more. My Kleenex became soggier. I pushed my glasses up.

How Great Thou Art, chorused through the congregation. I imagined my feet reaching to the earth’s center.

While in prayer, I let myself grieve the alienation from my siblings. I was doing what I believed.  I was honoring myself, my partner, my children and my beliefs. I was honoring the essence of who I am. I stayed in this revered place with the universe. Wrapped myself in love. Cloaked myself in love. I was in a blessed place in this church, in this pew, and with these people. I felt love all around me.

While in communion with the Universe, I added a prayer, Universe, please help me find my memory stick. I had been putting blog posts on the stick and had yet to back it up. I knew that I should. Every writer knows that. The memory stick had blog posts on that I might publish after more revision. I’ve learned that the best time to write a blog post is when I have the greatest feeling. The memory stick was holding a lot of me. I had been looking for the stick for days.

In The Garden filled the place of worship. When I raised my eyes I could see clearly. I felt liberated. The veil of sadness had lifted.

At the podium, our writer friend was reading a story that she had written about her mother. A story that was familiar to the sacred circle. She was full of light and joy. Her gift bringing forth laughter.

Following the recessional, we said goodbye to our friend and decided the rest of us would gather for lunch. We needed to be together a little longer before we re-entered our daily lives.

Opening my car door, I moved pieces in the basket in the back seat that held loose items in the car. There was my memory stick. Thank you, Universe, I breathed. I am loved.

Recipient of a Jerome Travel and Study Grant

Jerome_foundation newJody met me at the end of the driveway. In her hand she held a yellow envelope addressed to me.

Notifications on two prior occasions from the Jerome Foundation came by email: We’re sorry to inform you….

This was an envelope. A large envelope. I opened it slowly and carefully which isn’t my nature. Rejections don’t come in such packaging. This could only mean one thing.

As I pulled out the contents I realized that I’ve been a beneficiary of much goodness: wonderful teachers, mentors, my writing group, peers, friends, and family.

In November of 2012, participating in Mary Carroll Moore’s weekend workshop, “How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book,” at the Loft Literary Center, I understood for the first time what my book was about: A Woman’s Search to Be Seen. Using her W-shaped Storyboard and Three-Act Structure, I left her workshop with an outline and edited structure for my near completed manuscript. That weekend, I revised several chapters and was able to reach a new depth in my writing.

More importantly, I was excited about my writing and my book, HOUSE OF FIRE. I had been working for ten years on finding the right structure to tell my story.

guatemala-map[1]After applying and receiving a Next Step Grant funded by the McKnight Foundation, I attended a one-week writing retreat with Mary Carroll Moore at the Madeline Island School of Arts, September 2013 and participated in two twelve-week online classes – “Your Book Starts Here: Part 3.

Since winning the Loft mentorship, I have been working closely with mentor, Mark Anthony Rolo.

Under his tutelage, I enhanced the structure of my book to weave in my present story with back story. For example, on our flight to adopt Antonio and Crystel the sun is setting when the plane descends into the airspace above Guatemala City. Three large volcanoes dominate the horizon and I ruminate how both me and the Guatemalans were literally running from fire in 1974 when I was 15-years old.

And now, receiving a Jerome Travel and Study Grant allows me to travel to Guatemala to research indigenous Mayans and Mayan heritage to inform my memoir. I’m truly blessed. This trip is critical to finishing my book.

The trip is detailed field research on the traditions and history of Antonio’s and Crystel’s homeland. Besides the powerful emotional content intended for the last chapters, my visit will also provide insights that will enrich the whole manuscript.

Pacaya Volcano

Pacaya Volcano

Following Antonio and Crystel visit with their birthmothers we will travel by van to Panajachel and board a lancha to take us to Santa Cruz la Laguna, a small pueblo located on the northern coast of Lake Atitlan in Solola, Guatemala.

Situated half a mile above the shore on the mountainside it is home to indigenous Mayans.

Accessible only by rocky footpaths and lanchas, Santa Cruz is a virtual island on the mountainside.

Because of its isolated nature and small size, Santa Cruz is a great home base for our stay. We will be employing indigenous Mayan guides to explore small, traditional Mayan villages around the lake. The guides will be much more than guides as Antonio and Crystel will daily be seeing their own rich café au lait skin.

Santa Cruz la Laguna

Santa Cruz la Laguna

During our travel I will create a record of the voices, landscapes, and villages of the indigenous Mayans. Following my return home I will be able to create prose that truly draws its inspiration from the specific natural setting.

I’m lucky and grateful to have won a Next Step, Loft Mentorship, and Jerome Travel and Study Grant. Receiving these grants will help me complete HOUSE OF FIRE.

Antonio and Crystel, of course, understood the nuances of winning the Jerome Travel and Study Grant but it was Jody and I who were doing the HAPPY THANKFUL DANCE in the driveway.