Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dancing with my Grandmother

First of all, Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft is out! It was #8 on the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Bestsellers list for its opening week. Hurrah and thank you! I'm giving away four copies of that book so leave a comment (including your email so I can reach you to ask for your snail mail address to send you the book) and I'll select four people at random to receive this hardcover book.

Come April, I'll do the same for my novel, A Flickering Light.

Several years ago a reader in Alaska asked for permission to use my book, A Burden Shared, as part of a conference with native American women of the Cauluka tribe called "To Dance with our Grandmothers: a gathering of women for wholeness" Of course I consented. I'd written that little book (that is now called A Simple Gift of Comfort) to bring nurture to people dealing with various kinds of challenges and grief. I loved the title of their conference. The presentors hoped to help these women see the strengths within themselves that had been handed down to them from their grandmothers but they also planned to offer strategies so that memories stirred up would heal rather than hold them hostage. The organization sent me a book bag and a sweatshirt with the title on it and a pin, a symbol of the Cauluka tribe. I treasure them all still.

During these past months of working on A Flickering Light, I've become more aware of my own grandmother and the dance I have with her. I try to gather as much history as I can when I'm researching actual historical women and then speculate about the missing events, or ask myself questions about why she was where she was when and what must she have been thinking?

That last question is especially important as I've asked, "what must my grandmother have been thinking to allow herself to become so enamored with this unavailable man?" or "What was she thinking setting aside her own passion for photography to risk a relationship that had no future?" The questions have morphed into my thinking about the kinds of decisions I've made through the years and wondering why I did what I did. I suppose that's a risk of history, or at least of personal history. I wonder how much like her I am or whether the evidence for her life she left behind is really who she was?
There are discrepancies in this dance of her life. For example, I have tapes of interviews with her and her adult children and some of what she says doesn't jibe with the facts. Did she forget or did she wish to mislead and if the latter, who was she protecting? Herself or someone else?
That led me to think about a story that theologian Deidrich Bonhoffer told, about a teacher who asked a boy if his father had been drunk the night before. The teacher knew the answer: the boy's father had been publically drunk. The boy stood before the class and said his father hadn't been drinking. He told a lie. So the question Bonhoffer posed was whether it was more moral for an honest person to tell a lie, e.g. the boy, than for a dishonest person, e.g. the teacher, to tell the truth.
Bonhoffer's conclusion was that it was more moral for an honest person to tell a lie because usually he/she does so out of love, to protect another; whereas a person who frequently lies uses the truth as power, to control another person just as the teacher had done to the boy, humiliating him before his peers as he let him know that he knew the truth of his father's state.
I've thought about that often as I dance with my grandmother. What would I lie to protect? Have I told the truth in order to control? What legacy did she mean to leave and what will I leave behind?
A Flickering Light explores some of this as I tried to answer the questions my grandmother's life raised. It is also a story I hope that encourages us to ask ourselves why we do what we do, how we sometimes sabatoge our best hopes and what we can learn from those experiences. I hope you'll look for it in April.
Meanwhile I also promised to tell you about the writing process. The galleys were sent well before Christmas; I've sent them back with my corrections and just last week added a few more. Endorsers are being asked to read the book and see if they're willing to have their names attached to it, always stressful as they may just decide it's not up to their standards or the story is so far removed from the kinds of books they write that their endorsement would mislead their readers if it appeared on my title.
We finished the maps for the book and in the process of proofing them I located a photograph of streetcar bridge across Lake Winona. That set me to wondering when that bridge was built and should I have it on my map or was it torn down by then? That discovery led me to make a little change in the text because the bridge did exist then and we also added it to the map. A detail, I know. This is the stage where I have to watch my tendency toward OC (which is not Orange County!). I have to let go and realize there may be errors or mistakes but I've done the very best I could to make it authentic and a worthy read. The best thing to do now is to keep writing the sequel, take my mind off the book that is "finished."
In a few days, I'll post more about this process. Maybe you'll stop by and share a bit of your own. Happy New Year! Don't forget to say hi and in so doing register to win an Aurora book!Jane