Deep Thoughts with Karen Day

Several years ago, I heard Karen Day, author of several novels for young adults, including my and my thirteen year-old daughter’s favorite No Cream Puffs, speak at an ASTAL panel at Rhode Island College. As she shared lessons learned about the craft of writing, she dropped a bit of wisdom that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

Whatever age of character you gravitate toward is likely the age or stage where you are stuck.

I’m paraphrasing here, but I gave a knowing laugh when she said this, as did she and many other audience members. This comment, equal parts profound and simple, is one of those nuggets you come across in life that make you say, holy shit and well duh at the same time. It is absolutely no surprise, when I stop and think about it, that my first YA novel concerns a young person finishing high school and struggling with familial vs personal ideas/dreams of what should come next. And that my first adult manuscript centers a woman processing loss and a spiritual/emotional crisis.

As someone with storage boxes and shelves full of no-longer-blank books, I obviously use writing to process things in my life – interior and exterior. This blog serves as a weekly/monthly/yearly example of that as well. But just as my fictional writing is coated by a thin veil from my autobiographical or personal feelings, so has this concept of Karen Day’s permeated my everyday life.

For seventeen years of my life, most of my time was governed by the academic cycle. Sept-June. Academic planners were of more use than Gregorian calendars. The new year began in fall, not New Years’ Day. Then I became a teacher. Then I became the time keeper and facilitator for four students of my own. I’ve been feeling for quite some time now that I will never graduate; that I will be forever encased within the concrete block walls of classrooms and bell schedules.

With the amount of anxiety wrapped up in my school career – pre- and post-graduation and perpetually – it’s very easy for moments in my daughters’ lives to rehash my own experiences.

Big case in point: my eldest just committed to college.

I was filled with the rosy warmth of pride and love as we toured campus with her. For what she’d done and what she’ll do. For who she is and who she’ll become. Just gratitude for this fully formed yet evolving woman before me.

And yet, I couldn’t just let myself feel it. That warmth rolled around my chest and I felt it and the smile that threatened to permanently crease my cheeks.

And I fretted over how this isn’t just cause for celebration, this is just the beginning.

I worried about how closely we’ll have to read the financial aid packet and what scholarship applications we haven’t submitted.

I questioned the new direction the honors program will be taking.

I wondered what is the proper balance between sharing what I’ve learned from my base of experience and leading her to places she’ll resent me for later.

I second-guessed my own choices and those I let others’ make. I felt the what-ifs pull at my edges. I pondered could-have beens and what the hell I’ve done since I was in her shoes, which seems like fucking yesterday.

And I thought, have I ever really left that part of my life. Am I forever stalled in that existence that I never came to terms with.

And will all the writing in the world ever let me get past my fear.

May is Mental Health Month, Mental Health, Writing

Knitting, Needling, and Never Saying Never

I’d heard Ann Hood speak at an ASTAL event at Rhode Island College and loved her humor as much as her ability to spin words.  But I still hadn’t read any of her work.  I was excited when I obtained a copy of her book, The Knitting Circle, finally able to experience her written words.  I usually try not to get too much information about a title before I read it myself, even forgoing the author bio on the book jacket until after I’ve finished, because I don’t want to form any preconceived notions.  I want a totally fresh, unexpectant perspective.  I had heard this particular title was heartbreaking, but only whispers.

Really, I figured I had been so low already, why not scratch the bottom of the barrel?  Couldn’t get any lower, right?

“When she opened [her eyes], Scarlet was standing in the center of the living room, looking around, horrified.  Yarn, empty bags of microwave popcorn, scattered mail covered the floor.  And there was Mary herself, in those overalls, wrapped in that blanket.”

This description of the culmination of depression for Mary, who lost her young daughter to a sudden illness, hit a little too close to home.  I never reached a period where I’d stayed like that for more than an afternoon or day, but would I have if I didn’t have three little sets of hands and one big set pulling at me?  Would I skip the shower one more day if I wasn’t going to actually see someone when I left the house?  Would I make dinner if there weren’t four other mouths to feed?

Isn’t everyone who suffers from depression really just a step away from this threshold?  What keeps one from crossing over?  Obligations, yes, but that doesn’t make life any more fulfilling.  Love, yes, but it still hurts even amidst it.  A flippant attitude that it can’t surely can’t get any worse?  That only goes so far; one either ends up being bitter or it does indeed get worse.

And having experienced it once does not make one immune.  I stupidly read this book with some of that flippant attitude and it knocked me back on my keister, which I’d only gotten up off recently.  I read it in the midst of an already tough, low, hormonal spot – right before upping meds.  Good times; perfect timing.

Which makes a question my aunt asked me even more pertinent.

When I floated the idea of using my postpartum experience to develop a writing program to help women suffering from it, she worried whether hearing and vicariously living through participants’ experiences would plunge me back into my own depths.  I guess there’s always that possibly, that threat, if you will.  But, alas, that is a human frailty; being attuned to the feelings and woes of those around us (or a strength – depending on the situation and one’s perspective).  And most certainly an Achilles heel for me, the ubersensitive introspective individual that I am.

But the fact that I have and would feel their suffering so acutely may make me uniquely qualified for such an endeavor.

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking for a knitting class to take.  Ann Hood was truly inspirational.


Quoted text taken from:

Hood, Ann.  The Knitting Circle.  New York:  W.W. Norton and Company, 2007.  Page 246