For 20 years my father wrote a daily newspaper column. He wrote human interest, local travel, humor, exaggerated family exploits and whatever caught his attention. Through his column - and being considered the regional expert on matters alien and unexplained - he built friendships with readers whose passions took them way outside the lines of our 1950s suburban ordinariness.
What finally floated to consciousness is the fact that he sat down and wrote what today would be the equivalent of a substantial, meaningful, entertaining blog posting five days a week. In addition, he covered news stories, wrote reviews, first-person adventure tales for magazines, juvenile fiction, adult non-fiction, history and travel for publications and one tv script.
The writing he did at home kept him separate from our family parts of most days. His, as he called it, den was off the laundry room at the back of our house, too near the rear patio or side yard for us kids to play (translate: make noise) while he was working. His freelance projects led to other assignments and gave our family resources that his daily job couldn't provide. When his agent (whom we came to call Uncle Hy) sent a juicy check, my brother, sister and I each had a payday as well.
On vacation at our favorite Pismo Beach motel, he sat in the room typing while we watched the ocean or played shuffleboard. His usual arrangement was to leave sufficient columns to cover his absence; occasionally there would be a "reprinted by popular demand" notation as they ran a piece from the past. This trip, he needed to get his copy back to Pasadena for the next day's paper and, while I no longer know the exact details, it involved meeting the south-bound train as it stopped in a nearby hamlet called Edna. A wrong turn took us away from the station, then had us on the opposite side of tracks as he roared along dirt roads to post his columns. We arrived in time and the business of being a newsman's children, for half an hour or so, became urgent and adrenalin-filled.
I just read Dodie Bellamy's recounting of her mother's death, called "Phone Home" from Life As We Show It, and the ways in which she connects it to the movie E.T. I took from it realizations about how difficult it is, as a child or a grown-up, to have even a speck of an idea what a parent is about. When I started to write fiction, I was conscious of wanting not to sequester myself from my son and husband as I worked, yet without focus and quiet was unable to hold my thoughts together.
The volume of work my father produced, the hours he worked at something which clearly mattered to him but which also added to our quality of life, are aspects of him I neither recognized nor appreciated in childhood. It was, and is, my belief that his writing gave him an escape from family life, from immersion in the doings of his children; he was able to maintain distance through virtuous pursuit. Whereas I, after more than a year of short-story writing and another year beyond that of working with a partner creating original animation projects, knew that I was not willing to trade what the writing might bring for being closer to my family. That was not my path.
When I became aware of blogs, and was encouraged by two artist friends to jump in and see...my focus differing from theirs for I wanted it only to be about writing...it took me months to begin. It took me longer than that to commit myself to an acceptable minimum output. There are days when I am without words or thoughts, or without a way to bring them together that won't make me cringe.
Though I have been near it or part of it all my life, writing is still a mystery. Each time I am able to tell a story as I wish to I experience wonder. Though I am considerably older than my father was during his most productive years, I am awed by the focus, consistency and, I imagine, necessity which allowed his work to happen. We pay a price for our gifts, the creative demons or angels that we choose to heed. The extent of his legacy is one I will not possibly match. I do trust, though, that I am a competent steward of what I've been given.