Red Letter Day
(look it up, you have access to wikipedia too)
Take a minute to feel your heart beat.
Isn’t that great? This crazy muscle keeping us going? We have that in common, you and I. For better or worse, we all have hearts.
Friday, I went down to Baltimore and attended my beloved English teacher’s funeral and it turns out that in addition to 39 years of teaching literature at my college, this gentle soul had loved to play Scrabble, loved sledding, learned to ski when she was 50, passionately loved swimming, and had bought yet another a new novel just days before she died…in her 90s. (Someone hoped aloud that there would be bookshelves in Heaven.) Relevant to the next bit of this newsletter—though Miss Trueschler had never had a child, she had loved to be around kids and as she called us “dear young people,” and after many reports from 60 yr old nephews and 30 yr old grand-nephews, and watching the respectful silence of the 10 yr old great-grand-nephews, it was clear they had all loved their Aunt Jo as much as I had loved her as a teacher and mentor.
(Thanks to those of you who made it possible for me to get down there, from the people who agreed to cover my job requirements, to my family, to the lovely couple who chauffeured me around Baltimore—I liked the lunchtime anti-matter conversation so much!—all the way to you, the American taxpayer who pays whatever fraction of the subsidy to allow Amtrak to exist. I love train travel, so thank you all.)
Miss Trueschler was my first real editor: she only and always graded in red pencil because “after trying all the other colors, this was the only color that effectively influenced change.” She was well known for editing down to the last grammatical detail as well as commenting on big picture items with carefully open questions. My favorite thing was when she decided a paper egregiously taking up her time, she would draw a horizontal line across the page and write in her minuscule script, “here is where I stopped” without further commentary.
Josephine Trueschler was close friends with a group of Carmelite nuns and spent a lot of time in literary discussion with them. One eulogizer (a priest who did not know her personally) quipped that all the nuns seemed to have been influenced by Miss Trueschler’s personal style choices. I pictured her perfectly groomed sweater sets, close cropped white hair and understated clip pearl earrings and chuckled, while secretly noting that Miss Trueschler’s air of gentle kindness and open delight in the small joys in life would have put a lot of these nuns to shame. (Shh, don’t tell them.)
After the ceremony, I was asked an interesting question: Why do some people choose to remain childless?” This was posed to me by a smart woman long past retirement who had enjoyed working and had also truly enjoyed raising her two kids. She was baffled that anyone wouldn’t want to have kids, male or female.
I reported some reasons friends have given (and please know that I think all choices are valid - and I am intentionally skirting a conversation on the word “choice” which has loaded implications):
the world is already too crowded
it is too hard / I’m too selfish / it’s too much responsibility
having kids is selfish / why should I / I want to end my genetic line
its not fair to the kid to saddle them with the world’s current problems
it would interfere with my enjoyment of my career / would get in the way of success
I like things the way they are
I hate kids
there is a genetic probability that they would have X and I am sparing them that diagnosis
Did I miss any? It was interesting to try to answer the question without asking myself why I chose to have kids.
But here’s what the conversation showed me. It is VERY hard to simply report on the answers that friends have given without imposing my judgement. You’ll see - I bet when you read that list you reacted with a strong impulse to judge these reasons. You were moved to either defend their right to have this choice or you wished to jump in to explain why their rationales are flawed. Or both- !
Isn’t that fascinating? You don’t know my friends and yet you have an impulse to embrace or dismiss their personal reasons for acting on a life-changing decision that affects them a lot more than it affects you. (Don’t worry. I have the same impulse. I think we all do.)
Anyway, one of the things Miss Trueschler did brilliantly was to address the WAY that students presented arguments without judging the content of the argument. I never knew whether she agreed or disagreed with the content of my persuasive essays—she was making me a better writer without imposing her own opinions on me.
We would all do so much better if we could listen to each other’s opinions on touchy subjects. Just listen. It is so, so hard to just listen.
We have a tendency to defend our opinions—even when no one is attacking them.
Speaking of listening - it’s apparently record-your-podcast month!
With award-winning novelist, Christina Chiu, I’m co-hosting the upcoming Pen Parentis Literary Salon with Mat Johnson, Leslie Gray Streeter, and Anne D LeClaire — you can attend by clicking through to RSVP here (Live on June 14 at 7pm ET, you’re all welcome! These are top authors. The RSVP link also has their bios - you’ll be amazed.)
I already mentioned that I did a podcast last week called Postpartum Production with Kaitlin Solimine, wherein I talked a lot about productivity with kids around and talked about my book.
But this week I was invited to be interviewed on another parenthood podcast: Week by Week with Celeste Busa - a weekly podcast about pregnancy and parenthood hosted by a really nice LA. actress who has a 2 yr old. We had a great time — this episode should be live in a month or so—we talked about everything from artist statements and how they make rejection feel more personal, to the wildness of childhood art and how it can be inspiring to be around little kids since everything is new to them.
In other writing news, still sending out stories - and of course preparing for the forum I am attending in Lithuania at the end of the month.
I published part one of a two-part (maybe three) series of posts about searching for the perfect immersive art experience.
Thanks, gentle readers! I love it when you guys write back or leave me hearts &/or comments — and this week Jody sent a link to the source of that super-creepy photo I led with last week remember the one? The hand-sculpture fountain thing?
Well it turns out the photo was taken in Thailand and you can go visit the place — which sounds really bizarre and intriguing — the myriad sculptures include imagery of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Hobbit! check out some travel photos here. They call it The White Temple.
Synchronicity: I just finished LeClaire’s Entering Normal last night. Really enjoyed it and looked forward to reading it every night. Childlessness: Like Laura, I wonder why not having kids is always questioned but having them isn’t. I know, it’s not the norm. But why do we have to explain/defend/discuss it?
I suppose I’d flip the question around: why do people want to have kids?
Your teacher reminds me greatly of Miss Greenwald, though she taught math. My memory of geometry is hazy, but my recollections of her description of watching a crane operator and wishing she could have that job and of her showing us the construction of a lightbulb case one day will stick with me forever.