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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

The Channel

Passage East
Passage East, just outside Waterford, Ireland.

Even—and perhaps especially—if you don't read this post, please scroll to the postscript at the bottom for a question I have for you.—k.

I had an email from a good friend of mine who saw the film about the Irish literary tour we both participated in last winter.

He said some very kind and reassuring things about my appearance in it, and added that I made some very good points.

I've been ever since trying to recollect what those points might have been. It was a long interview, and what I remember most about it is that it was freaking windy out and my hair kept whipping across my mouth. I expect I look like I am sporting a fake moustache throughout. Trying to stay incognito.

I do remember pausing for a long breath while I decided how much I wanted to go on the record about what Wikipedia tactfully refers to as my father's "lengthy illness." I wanted to be honest and direct, but I was also sensitive to the fact that my mother and sister (and my young niece and nephew) have to live, work, and go to school in the very small town where my father lived and died. I have the buffer of geographical distance to serve as a privacy screen. They don't. And I'm a writer, which means I've willingly signed on for a certain amount of transparency and risk. They haven't (although the adults in my family are pretty well innoculated with it by now).

Thinking back on that deep breath, I realize I was inhaling for more than that one soundbyte. I was getting ready to dive into the memoir. The tension between my need to tell a story and my desire to protect the people I love is going to be ratcheted up for a while.

I often joke that I have an artistic license, that lets me get away with stuff. To some extent, I really believe this is true. Years ago, a friend and I had an argument about the obligation of artists to "give back." My position was that artists turn their whole lives into a vessel that serves society. To borrow the title of a work by a favorite painter, "we are free, we owe nothing to no one."

I do allow gifted people a small handicap in the social skills department. Many don't need it. But if you are a brilliant composer, I do not expect you to be preoccupied with timely handwritten thank you notes and matching your socks. And when your child or spouse comes out with a book about what a terrible person you were to live with, I am going to feel sad for them, but still grateful for the beauty you were able to channel into the world through your music.

Paradoxically, I also believe that to whom much is given, much shall be required. I think if there was a point I was trying to get across about my father's legacy on that windy Waterford day, it was that he understood and respected his position in society; the privilege of a gifted person. I once heard the poet Gary Snyder saying that those who are called to be the storytellers for their own community, however it is defined, must never underestimate the power and worth of that role. My father got that, and he instilled it in me. Everybody—everybody—has a story that needs to be told, wants to be heard.

If an artist is obligated in any one regard, it is in this holy charge: to hear those stories, to recieve them, and let them become part of you. And consequently, part of what you pour back out.

This morning as I was dropping my son off at preschool, an older woman stopped me and said, "I hear you are a writer." There was a tone of urgency and need in her voice.

I told her that I am, and she told me that her family home is about to be torn down for development, and she wants someone to know what is being demolished; the building, her memories, a community, or an era—I'm not sure she knows herself. But she needed to tell her story to someone, could I find the time to hear it?

I answered her as my father taught me.

"Of course."

I go through phases of wanting to talk about creative process, like right now, and I don't really know if it belongs here, or on my other blog. What do you think? Do your eyes glaze over when my "writing life" label pops up, and you wish I'd get back to slice-of-life stories? Or is too big a part of my identity to keep tucked away on the side? Not that my content is up for a vote, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Blogger Katie said...

Newbie here. I vote to keep all entries together.

Regarding RING OF FIRE entry: you captured the dynamic between my husband and me, but we faced infertility (still do...guess once infertile, always infertile).

"We loved each other, but we were not at the top of our game. Facing /infertility/ was more than we could do gracefully. And so we blundered our way through it, pelting each other with resentment and blame. In and of themselves, our grievances were unexceptional."

Guess whether it's the inability to conceive, or the great ability to conceive, the fallout is long term.

2:35 PM  
Blogger witchypoo said...

I think it belongs wherever you wish to put it.
Those who don't care for it can always get their money back ;)
Truly? What you are moved to write IS part of your slice of life, your experience, your voice.
I feel priveleged to share in it.
Wish I had seen the interview. Was it on CBC? If so, there should be a reprise.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Just keep writing. We want to read it all.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Misbehaving said...

For me, I come here to read your stories and find out more about the person behind the stories. Most of the time I can do both at the same time. Providing us a peak "under the hood" is just icing on the cake from my perspective.

Stealing shamelessly from Dickens...."More, please".

4:07 PM  
Blogger Maddie said...

I love the writing life content! It's helping me process some stuff about my writing. So much of what you write about mirrors my life--writing, creativity, children and parenting, financial issues, etc. I wouldn't want any of it to go away. And the more I read your blog, the more I'm kicking myself for not talking to you more at the pool this summer. You were often working or reading, though, so it was probably for the best!

5:01 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

for my two cents......... you are what you are.
you write what is near and dear,
you have to be honest and brave
and we can always say there was an element of fiction in it.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

I come here first and foremost because of your writing. You could be holding forth about origami or the Razorbacks and I'd still be tuning in. When you write ABOUT writing, so much the better. Bring it on.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Charlotte said...

I'm also here because of your writing. And as a writer, on another continent, I'm always thrilled to participate in discussions about the creative process.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Who She She said...

I think it's fascinating, and you articulate the conflicts of being mother/daughter/wife/artist so well. Please, keep writing about it.

3:56 AM  
Blogger Test E said...


I check in with notes to self everyday to learn more about your "writing life" and your creative process. How you get there is as important to me as the final piece of work. Watching as you struggle to create a life that is full of family love and responsibility, but includes the interior space needed to answer your calling is a daily lesson for me in turning toward what might take the most courage and away from distractions. It is soul work and not just about fulfilling yours, but all of your readers as well. Your words connect us to to the parts of ourselves that are the most real, the tender, the forgotten. They inspire and remind me on a daily basis that a writer must be a courageous spirit to dig deeply into a life that may not be our own alone and share all that feels necessary to say. I appreciate you everyday in all the ways.

Elizabeth ( Atlanta)

6:19 AM  
Blogger Abbey said...

Your writings about writing are as intriguing as everything else you write. Don't stop! My eyes never once glazed over. :)

9:49 AM  
Blogger Ron Davison said...

People look different with their arms in one room and their legs in another. I mean, your parts go together nicely and I'm not sure how you'd manage coherence while segmenting yourself as if your psyche were an orange. But that's just me.
By the way, I've read some delightful and great stuff about creativity. One book I'd recommend that seems oddly overlooked in this category is Denise Shekerjian's Uncommon Genius. It's about MacArthur genius award winners. Fascinating, real, and helpful.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your "writing life" posts are as important as the others. I'm incredibly interested in your process. PLEASE keep writing about it.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Jonivan said...

Not to sound blunt or rude, but: Where else could it belong? Its great and it inspired me today to finish a song I had been working on.

I really love to read your writing and while Im at confession I might as well say that I only started coming here (notes to self) to hopefully establish some form of communication with Pat, But now I am here checking for new posts
everyday. I met your Father only briefly at your wedding and I wish I would have known all that I know now (from your blog) about him. Not that I dismissed him in a second after but I would have liked to talk to him quite a bit.

wow,....sorry Im rambling a bit and Sorry I cant say more at the same time.
I've gotta go get D-man off the bus.

thank you for what you do.

*I had no idea you had a blog or I would have been reading it from the begining*

3:05 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

Well, I began reading this blog because of your, content, and vunerability. I'm a "Wanna Be" writer, and so I'd love to learn from your segments on the creative process, etc.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Miss Eliza said...

I love these posts! As a fellow writer (starting out, anyway) I am so interested in process and how others handle it all. Post away!

1:43 PM  
Blogger blackbird said...

I want to hear all of it...

3:16 PM  
Blogger Fairlightday said...

I've been a regular "lurker"/reader
ever since you were a guest mom on the Design Mom blog and I'm hooked. I love reading your thoughts on being a writer because they are inspiring. You are doing what others (like myself) only dream of. Hearing someone else pursue that dream is inspiration. My eyes have never glazed over and I always find myself nodding my head in silent agreement. Please keep it right here.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Jessica @ A Bushel and a Peck said...

My eyes don't glaze over at all...I love these posts. And all the others too. Keep doing just what you are doing, and I will joyfully keep reading.

12:25 PM  
Blogger littlepurplecow said...

Too big to tuck it away. Keep it coming.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Juliet said...

I am just glad to see I am not the only mom, wife, writer, etc. who can't balance all the hats at the same time, well balance them effectively anyway...and still be able to comb my hair without drooling-keep writing about whatever makes you tick.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Lisette said...

Ah, the writing life. Being an aspiring writer, my eyes completely enjoy reading about your writing as well as those posts of your everyday life. In my opinion, those posts are sometimes the ones that hit me the most. They are truly inspiring to me.

Hell, this is YOUR blog. You can rant and rave about anything you want!

You do it beautifully either way.

Love, Lisette

7:38 AM  

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