the sentences don’t go to sleep when i do. they follow me to bed. romp while i flutter closed my eyes. pay no attention as i turn down the dial, try to quell their insistent chatter. they carry on merrily, words slithering here and there. one taking a bow, an exit bow, another squeezing in its place on the stage. whole sinewy chains of words, traveling en masse — some sort of compound-complex-intricate dangler, something i’m sure my third-grade teacher warned me never to try without trapeze — they migrate across the page. appear out of nowhere. demand a splot of real estate somewhere on the vast black-and-white tableau.
that’s how it is when you’re up to your neck in what are called revisions, an episodic literary state of being, from which there’s no escape.
you all but nibble tables-of-contents for breakfast. you inhale paragraphs, exhale footnotes. you slow the pumping of your heart to near stand-still (a dangerous state of affairs, to be sure) as you ponder permissions, and zap off begging sorts of notes to those whose words you’re so hoping you can borrow, set off with frilly quote marks that trumpet, “these lovely words came from minds far richer than mine.”
your days and nights are a melee of “delete,” followed frantically by “command-z,” every writer’s salvation keys, the ones that undo whatever ding-dong doozie you’ve just done. i’ve been known to “command-z” for unsightly spells, whole minutes it might seem, so grateful all the while to that unknown programmer who long ago thought to provide mere typers with escape hatch. if only sin and cruelty could so swiftly be erased, undone, made to disappear. but isn’t that why catholics have confession booths?
what i’m revising — day in and day out, and late into the nights — is my next go at this semi-livelihood i’ve taken up, the one in which you find your name spelled out in pretty letters across the front cover of a stash of pages, pages that slide in and out of bookshelves. more simply put, a book is what i’m up to. and what i’m writing — er, revising — is a book i might not have mentioned here, not by name i’m fairly certain.
it’s called motherprayer: lessons in loving, and my friends at abingdon press are once again behind it. if all goes according to plan, and believe you me, i’ll do my part, it’ll land in a big squat box on my doorstep in a mere 10 months, next march to be precise.
it’s a book i’ve been writing for years and years. it’s a book, the one book, i’ve long felt most pulled to publish. it’s the one stash of writing i want to leave behind. and by leave behind, i don’t mean dropped off at the side of a curb, or abandoned, only to crumple into so much flaky yellowed dust. i mean these are words i hope and pray might be left in the hands — or on the bookshelves — of my boys. it’s a stack of love letters, really. ones that began even before here, before the chair was the place where i turned with my truest, tenderest, unpracticed whisperings.
all my life the one thing i’ve always done is write love letters. it’s the medium i know best. it’s what turned my life from nursing to newspapering, really. it was a love letter to my papa that started it. the one they read at his funeral, the one that made the ad man say, “kid, you can write.” what he meant was: “kid, you can write a love letter. you can uncork a heart, and put words to what’s spurting out, spewing merrily and frothily.”
if i pause to think about it, and suddenly i am, it’s how i found my way to that long, lean bespectacled architecture critic with whom i spend my life. and it’s how i made so many friends in high school — my nightly mission, one that shoved aside all homework, was to sit and pen notes to friends who were aching, lost, or lonely; and sometimes simply happy. i’m pretty sure my love letters are what made me my high school’s unlikely homecoming queen.
but there has never been a love letter that mattered so much as the ones i’ve penned for my boys. the ones i’ve penned here, too, when i hold up to the light some moment, some fraction of time, some quandary or conundrum, some twist or turn in the plot that leaves me breathless, or in tears. and, so often, throwing up my arms to the heavens, turning pleas to prayers, “dear God, show me the way….” “dear God, stitch this shattered heart….” “dear Holy God, thank you…”
and for the life of me, i can’t seem to shake my sense that it’s here, in these front lines of the mother-child tangle, that so much blessed wisdom pulses. and so i keep close watch, i plumb the depths, i poke around — year after year, chapter upon chapter.
which is how i came to gather up a stash — each in the form of an essay, a chance to catch the fleeting moment, some crucible of childhood and motherhood — and why i’ve culled and tossed, boiled down the lot to the ones that just might hold a glimmer of the elusive truths we’re after.
it’s motherprayer, a love story. one i’ve been deeply writing for the last quarter century.
what’s your best medium, the one in which your heart and soul most deeply feel the muse?
I am always moved to comment and acknowledge your beautiful posts.
Congratulations on the book; I look forward to it so I can more easily “share the love” with others. I do hope you are able to continue in this present medium though. It feels like a surprise present when I open my email and discover my seat at the table has arrived!
oh, bless your heart. this old table is here to stay, i fear. we’ve carved out a place that, week after week, gathers some of my favorite hearts on the planet. may you ever find a seat here. we will ever save it, i promise. xoxoxo
You are my mom hero
Andrea Lavin Solow
you are my hero hero! xoxox
Mother prayer , I love it!! Can’t wait!! Looooved this mornings read!! Oh that first paragraph!!! xoxo Such Exciting news!!! Sent from my iPhone
thanks, dear mar, big sister of my dreams. xoxoxox
There is no force more powerful than a heartfelt prayer, no shelter sturdier than a true friend’s heart…
I cannot wait for Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving – your magnum opus! Sending love and encouragement as you perfect a perfectly gorgeous new book, one I already treasure, ten months before its arrival. Blessings~ xoxox
Ohhhh, dear amy, bless you and bless you — for your sheltering heart, for your faith, and most of all your deep shared pulse…. Xox
I cannot WAIT, and I know others who will be punching the “pre-order” button as soon as it’s available! Can’t wait to stand in a long line to have you sign a big stack of them. Pray my very favorite is included, the one printed in the Trib that brought me into this wonderful circle as we pull up a chair. Keep breathing, dear heart … it’s a marathon, not a sprint. xoxoxoxoxoxo
i swear to goodness i included it JUST FOR YOU!!!!!! it’s there. xoxox
Such a beautiful tribute and something tangible to leave behind. I think ww all long to remembered for something special and I’ve no doubt your memory and presence will live on in the hearts and souls of all those recipients of love letters. Thank you for sharing … Linda
dear linda, thank YOU for wandering by the table. leaving behind a trace of the heart seems the most essential thing i can imagine….letters, those found dusty in an attic, or stashed inside the pages of a book not opened in decades, they have the power to pull us straight into the tenderness of the moment — even the long-ago moment…
Love letters. Poetry and ponderings to feed hearts hungry and longing to be touched with lessons in loving.
The table expands exponentially next March!
Blessings on this worthy work of your heart, Barbara.
dear elaine, bless your beautiful heart. thank you. xoxo
“i’m pretty sure my love letters are what made me my high school’s unlikely homecoming queen.”
I’m pretty sure the love that you radiated in the halls is what made you homecoming queen.
you just made me cry. early on a friday morning. bless you. i’ve missed you. hope all is well. xoxox
BAM. Thrilled for the book that is your soul’s deepest song. Your words in the Tribune, on this site, Facebook and Family Ministry is a web spin into all of us. Can not wait to read and to hear you read it !
dear dear tom, you are so so sweet. a writer girl needs a reader fellow like you, through stormy weather and under cloudless skies. bless your heart. ever, bam