This is my 40th blog post. I never imagined what started as a “parking lot” for homework assignments from an on-line writing course would morph into a growing collection of reflections of my occasionally interesting, yet generally irrelevant, life.
My skilfulness as a story-teller, quite frankly, has always been suspect. My buddy Paul Mucciarone has been yawning in the middle of my stories since we met Plebe Summer in 1977; Chris and Caity perfected the “tilted-head, bulging eyed look of silent despair” before they even reached Middle School; and my friend Marcy once commented, “Your poor wife! She has to listen to these same stories over and over?”
And yet, I trudge on. Part of my dilemma is my own self delusion. Between my own ears, I am funny, kind, clever, and compassionate; yet something quite often happens by the time it reaches the universe. I’m just misunderstood! In the process of writing each story I always discover something new and deeper about myself; in sharing each story, I discover new and deeper connections with someone else. This is the encouragement I thrive on; the discovery of common connections through uncommon experiences.
I got a taste of this very early on. In my first on-line course (Creative Writing I), one assignment was to describe a “moment in time” around a significant world event. I wrote about a military funeral I had participated in 1987. It was my recollection of the unforgettable interaction I had with the mother of a sailor killed in a missile attack on the USS Stark. A tinge of guilt still gives me the chills now as I think of my tears falling onto her flag.
I submitted the piece for critique; this is where I got hooked. While the comments on the writing seemed fair and helpful, the emotional responses were overwhelming. In particular, one classmate sent me an email: Her husband had been in the Navy. She remembered how resentful and jealous she was because a friend of theirs had received orders to a ship home ported in Mayport, FL, while her husband had been assigned to a base in Puerto Rico. This friend, who had been assigned to the USS Stark, had been killed in that same attack. She has never forgiven herself for the resentment and jealousy she felt as she later realized had she got her wish, her husband could have been killed on that ship.
This specific experience spurred me to take a second on-line course (Memoir Writing I). Again I had an opportunity to submit this story for additional scrutiny. Again, the range of emotional responses from my classmates was strong and varied. And again, another private note: “My husband was on the ship that relieved the USS Stark. I remember standing on the pier in Mayport as his ship got underway, thinking that I would never see him again.”
Ultimately, the military funeral piece (“3 Minutes in Osceola Mills”) was published in a 2010 Memorial Day feature in the Harrisburg Patriot News. Again, I was overwhelmed and humbled by the responses.
Leigh and the kids are also prime motivators for my writing. Specifically, I took the ‘Parents Oath’ which requires me to periodically embarrass my children throughout the rest of my life. Blogging provides an exceptional forum for this. While Chris would prefer never to have his name in print, Caity has specifically voiced a very strong aversion to her parents being mentioned in the same article with the words, “death, sex and viagra”. Needless to say, my book report on 50 Shades of Grey made her stomach turn. Mission Accomplished!
Leigh is perhaps my most loyal fan, and relishes in her role as my Editor-in-Chief. Although I suspect this is driven more out of fear of what an “un-checked Pat” will put out into the blogosphere, she is as truthful and trusted a critic a writer could hope for. The reality of writing memoirs is that family members are either upset because you write about them, or are upset because you don’t write about them. That’s the life of a writer.
While Leigh has always been supportive of, “Pat writing his stories down”, she does have a rather peculiar obsession with making sure they are “backed up” on the computer. Last year, we went to a formal dinner-dance with friends we’ve known since 1991. An hour into the event I leaned over to Leigh, nodded towards the couple, and asked, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but what’s her name?” She looked at me quizzically, not sure if I was joking or not. It was a genuinely frightening moment for me. I am not aware of Alzheimer’s or dementia in my family tree, but as I have had multiple concussions over the years, it is not a far stretch to think that I may end up out-of-my mind in a nursing home. While this collection of reflections may be of some interest to my grand-children, I suspect the real value to Leigh and the kids is “payback time”, by requiring the Alzheimer nurse read me my own stories.
Despite the tilted-head, bulging eyed looks of silent despair, I persist. For at some point in every story, a surge of electricity courses through my being and takes me to someplace unexpected. Sometimes, the story just seems to write itself. A memory, a feeling, a setting, a story somehow unfolds, connecting the paradoxes and ironies of my life in a way that makes sense today. Whether crawling into bed to have my last conversation with mom, carrying my dying dog off the Appalachian Trail, or reminiscing Caity’s life as she prepares to walk down the aisle – there is always something new in something old; if I have the courage to remain open.
This blog is not for Mooch (who would never read this far); or for Marcy (stories about the fire pit and the big salami are yet to be told). This one is not even for my family.
If you’re the duty Alzheimer’s nurse who’s reading this to me – this one’s for you. I hope you get a giggle or two along the way.