Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Inside Out

In 2003, I watched a Japanese animated movie called Grave of the Fireflies. Directed by Isao Takahata, it's a Studio Ghibli film about two children left to live with an aunt when their mother dies as a result of the firebombing of Tokyo. This movie affected me so deeply that once when describing it to someone I actually forgot it was animated. It's brilliant, profound, and deeply moving. And it's about loss and grief (and war and compassion and survival); I watched it on a hot summer night not long after Grace died. I still remember how I couldn't stop crying during most of the movie, how it seemed to speak directly to me and what I was feeling. 

All of this is to say that Sunday night Annabelle and I went to the drive in here in Wellfleet to see Pixar's Inside Out. It was Annabelle's fourth time seeing the movie, and even though she had explained it to me I couldn't quite understand what to expect. You see the emotions inside a girl's head. Joy, anger, sadness, etc all personified. That day the NYT ran an Op Ed by a psychiatrist about how the movie accomplished so much, which I read with great interest. 

So off we go, just an hour after arriving at our little apartment in Truro, above a print studio and the room where I teach, all thanks to the marvelous Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill. We ate burgers at The Dairy Bar. One of us had an icy Cape Cod Red beer. 

Before the movie came a short called Lava, which also made me cry. But that's another story. As soon as Inside Out started, with the birth of the protagonist, Riley, and the beginning of her core memories, I became so moved and engaged that--in the way great books and movies can do--the world melted away. I laughed a lot as I watched. But I also, well, bawled. When it reached its magnificent ending, which even though I'm about to reveal something about it believe me it won't ruin it for you, I was not only sobbing but also was moved in a deep, profound way. In it, Joy and sadness realize they must coexist, that everything--memories, experiences, and life itself--must have both. 

I've oversimplified, of course. But this idea is the very one I've been striving toward since Grace died. I remember my first step in this realization: I was buckling Annabelle into her car seat not long after we'd brought her home from China. And she touched my face with both of her small hands and looked right into my eyes and grinned. I still remember how my heart swelled, almost a real physical feeling of it opening like a flower blooming. Yet I was simultaneously acutely aware of the sharp acute grief there as well, which did not feel like something growing but more like a hole punched into my heart. In that moment I saw how these seemingly opposing feelings can live together. How not only can they, but that they must. 

Like every dreamy, bookish girl who came of age in the 1960s, I read Rod McKuen and Kahil Gibran with equal passion. (Also Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson) After watching Inside Out, I sought Gibran's poem on sorrow. I remembered lines from it, but wanted to see if he also mentioned joy in it. To my surprise, his poem on sorrow is actually titled "On Joy and Sorrow". 

I've copied it for you here, and hope it helps you as you experience both. 

On Joy and Sorrow
 Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. 

Some of you say, "Joy is greater thar sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. 

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Friday, July 3, 2015

4th of July

I'm tossing and turning here, up with a weird eye infection (on Tuesday I used the bathroom at Penn Station for the first time and can't help but think there's a connection?) that throbs like mad. It's been a weird week, so that's now keeping me awake too. First there's been all the trips to doctors with Gogo after her fall. She's on the mend, but it's hard isn't it? More on that in a bit. Then there's my beloved cousin, more like a sister, who started chemo a week ago. There aren't enough Popsicles in the world that I can bring her to ease this, and that's scary and frustrating. 

Cousins are big to me. On June 30, 1982, I lost my brother, my only sibling. Now our father, the greatest guy who ever lived, was born on the 4th of July. And every year he threw himself a huge birthday party. When I was a kid, these were in the backyard, and I'd wake to John Philips Sousa marches playing loud outside and the smell of food on the grill. All day he cooked, and people came to eat and celebrate. Later, the parties were held at the beach, in rented beach houses. But in 1982, there was no party. Just stunned grief. 

My dad died way too young, of lung cancer, in 1997. That July 4th my mom and several cousins and I went to Mexico, where there are no fireworks or BBQs. And that seemed appropriate. In the almost twenty years since, I've tried my hardest to avoid this celebration, the day when my dad would always marvel at how the entire country threw a bash for his birthday. Many years I've worked at writers conferences over the 4th, a blessed relief. But sometimes, like this year, I find myself with no alternative but to go to a cookout and watch fireworks from someone's back porch. Not the fireworks of my childhood, dangerous things that went up in a colorful crooked path of smoke and sparks, but ones that light the night sky like giant electric chrysanthemums. 

First though, the cousins and I are bringing BBQ to Gogo's. We'll sit in that quiet yard and look for the fingerprints left behind on all those long ago 4th of Julys. Maybe we'll hear the faint beat of Stars and Stripes Forever. Maybe we'll catch a whiff of Italian sausages on the grill, a taste of Narragansett beer foamy from a keg. Maybe we'll hear all those voices we miss so much, celebrating. Maybe we'll glimpse a tall blond blue eyed guy, standing at the grill, a beer in his hand, smiling his crooked smile. At least I hope we will. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Goat Hill

Wonderful fellow RI writers Taylor Polites, Hester Kaplan and I have been plotting (sorry! Couldn't help myself!) for months now to establish Goat Hill for writing workshops, seminars and sociability. Today we had a fall planning session, and let me tell you, it's going to be a wild first season for us. 

If you live in Rhode Island, southern MA or north or northwest CT, check out our Facebook page for updates and announcements of all that's coming. 

Everyone, no matter where you live, can like our page, where you'll also find daily inspirational writing quotes (my job!) and starting this fall daily writing prompts. 

And please follow us on Twitter @goathillwriters. It's Twitter! You never know what might show up there!

Founding Writers, Goat Hill!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Providence Noir events in Boston and NYC!

Sunday June 28 at Newtonville Books at 2 PM, 10 Langley Rd. Newton, MA. 

Monday June 29 at The Mysterious Bookshop with Bruce DeSilva, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Dawn Raffel, Luanne Rice, and Elizabeth Strout. 58 Warren St. NYC 6:30. 

This week

Thursday afternoon, just before a panel at Aspen Words with my fabulous cohorts (Andre Dubus III, Dani Shapiro, Richard Russo, Hannah Tinti, and Akhil Sharma), I got a call that Gogo had taken a bad fall. In typical fashion, she was hauling heavy bags of groceries when she fell. And also typically, she refused to go to the ER until I finally convinced her. The good news is there was no head injury. She looks like she's Jake LaMotta with bruises and lacerations on her face and shoulder and knee. However, increasing pain and swelling in her wrist since then has had her in agony. 

I slowly made my way home from Aspen yesterday, a day full of flight delays and mechanical problems and weather. After I fell off the plane at 1:30 AM, we were told there would be at least an hour delay for our luggage because they were short on baggage handlers. They were right! I didn't get home until 3!


Still got Gogo to the ER where we learned the wrist is broken. A splint and half a Percocet did wonders. I made her a pan of beef enchiladas and a pan of cheese ones and she ate up heartily. 

What an ending to a wonderful week in Aspen!

Below some highlights from Aspen Words. And under a seperate post details on two Providence Noir readings in Boston and NYC this week. 

Exhausted here. But relieved. Go Gogo!

My fabulous fiction workshop!

With Adrienne Brodeur and Dani Shapiro.
 And Aspen love with Andre. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Food for thought

I met Garrison Keillor!
Well. I didn't get a picture with him, but still. He was incredible! And gave an absolutely wonderful talk at Aspen Words. 

A much appreciated respite from a day of hard decisions. Hard. But I know that making hard decisions always leads to the right place. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My TED talk!