the topics we avoid

I mentioned to my evening class that I needed ideas for blog postings. One student asked me, “Have you written about your mother lately?”

I responded in a nano-second. “Ah, yes. I could write about topics we avoid writing about.”

Yes. Of course I would make that connection. I don’t write a lot about my mom. Dementia has proven to be a helluva topic to write about. OK. Let me rephrase that. My mom’s dementia–not just dementia as a medical brochure–that topic flits away from me. Maybe that’s why I’m always on the lookout for good writing on dementia. I treasure writing that puts into words what remains unspeakable, wordless, language-mangled.

Some topics demand their own schedule. My friend, Ana, a poet who died of ovarian cancer in January, 2009, only began writing about her cancer towards the end of her three-year struggle. She wasn’t ready to write before then. I remember giving her the prompt “green” over the phone, and I remember listening to Ana read me her freewriting based on that one word. I remember her writing about a plant in the waiting room before she went in for chemotherapy.

I don’t write much about my mom’s dementia because I don’t like a lot of my thoughts and feelings. I don’t like that sometimes I worry more about getting dementia than I worry about how my mom feels when her tongue reaches for a word and trips over a new-born nonsense word. I don’t like our throwaway culture of our elders, and as much as I am happy about the place my mom now lives, no place offers full dignity for the aged. I don’t like that I sometimes fidget during visits with Mom instead of being still, being there, accepting the vastly different reality that is my mom’s brain on dementia.

There’s no wrapping my own brain around the brain-twisting, funny-house mirror that is dementia. I can’t pin this experience down, this being a daughter to a mother whom I often do not recognize. I can’t fix my own feelings with a straight pin to a cork board and dissect what refuses to coalesce into language.

The topics we avoid hold creative and healing power. Those topics demand respect, patience, and courage. Treat them as the sacred vessels they are; honor their language and their timetable.


taking risks

Some students have asked me if writing about going to jail is a valid topic for a personal narrative essay. I think I know what they’re really asking: Will you judge me if I write about this experience?

Writing honestly about one’s life takes guts. These students have the courage. I know they do. They also know–somehow they know in their cells–that sharing their writing will heal some part of themselves and their readers. I can see in their eyes that they want to write about this experience. But they want my blessing. I can give that. I can, however, give them no guarantee–that they won’t be judged by some readers, that their writing will give them peace.

I can guarantee that if they write to the best of their abilities, and if they write honestly, they will be moved–their readers will be moved. Somebody’s going to learn something. Shift will happen. Tiny blessings will spark, like those June fireflies that pinpoint nano-seconds of brightness in the dusk of summer.