Monday, June 22, 2015

Word of the Week - 68

Director John Ford.
Monument Valley from "The Searchers."
Word of the Week:  LEGACY

John Ford is the only director who has won four Best Director Academy Awards.  His legacy,  in which he is called variously one of the top three directors ever or, by Orson Welles, the best, is enviable, defies challenge and endures.  It is said that regardless of where his westerns were set, he filmed them in Monument Valley.  It is land that I will always associate with him, as though he gave it voice.

Any of us who make things - poems, stories, movies, art, meals - must secretly harbor at least a faint wish that some of our efforts live after us.  My maternal grandmother was not an artist in a professional sense, yet it was her recipes for tamale pie and rice pudding that I wanted served at my wedding. My late cousin and I learned as girls to make her Cornish pasties.  If my son can be lured away from his Mexican and Asian dishes, perhaps he can be the next pasty generation.

As I write this on Father's Day, I think of the body of work my father created and how it still breathes.    A younger writer with whom he became friends has taken on the task, to which he seems most dedicated, of compiling Dad's biography, including decades of newspaper columns, magazine articles, children's books and, especially, books about car travel throughout California.  The author has shared facts with me that I never knew.  I can't say it is immortality, for who knows how long any of our species will be here on this warming planet (Werner Herzog is not optimistic), yet the words Dad wrote, the immeasurable time spent in research and interview,  contributed to material with lasting value.  He has become, in his way, part of California history, recounting and, by doing so, preserving.

He also left his three children with a model of caring deeply about California's ancient trees and desert lands, native people, about the precision of words.  We lived and watched as he practiced his craft, utilized his gifts, established solid professional footing.  It was not a democracy, our childhood home, and the wide shadow he cast likely left indelible marks.  Still, we became soft in ways we had not witnessed, soft meaning willing to adapt, to surrender to what could not be changed.  We learned to find and revere what spoke to our hearts, to do our best to see that certain values were honored, elevated.  We know that unnameable parts of us, parts of which we have become fond, would not exist had our raising been different.  Legacy is a shape-shifter, coyote one moment, spirit guide the next, variable as fog off the rocky coast of Big Sur.  Through intention or chance, we leave our mark.  Legacy means we remain.


Kass said...

What a thoughtfully beautiful tribute to your dad. I'm wondering about the legacy you will leave. I know you have had quite an impact on MY life.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Kass - Thank you so much. What a generous comment, one that will require time to process, to take in. I think we can only hope the best of us continues while the less appealing aspects grow dimmer. It was reading about John Ford and discussing his work with my son that brought the word legacy to mind. To me it feels that life is about doing what we do with as much passion and honesty as we can find. I wish I had known this much sooner. I'm happy that I've gotten to know it at all. xo

Melissa Green said...

How beautifully you said this, Marylinn. Your paragraphs are full of phrases and bon mots strung together in thoughtful, memorable sentences that always have your voice prints/finger prints on them, like the watermarks I loved to look for and find on the best linen stationary--"Legacy is a shape-shifter, coyote one moment, spirit guide the next, variable as fog off the rocky coast of Big Sur."

We never know where we have left our best selves in other lives, as I'm sure your father did not--and yet because he wrote with passion, attention, honesty of heart about the things he loved, someone wants to pen his biography which strangers will read, who will be given the gift of his words but more, the gift of HIS California, the inviolable, beautiful country which in a way can never be spoiled (though we are ruining it on a daily basis as fast and as carelessly as we can). But because his road trips and travels up mountains and down trails and through gulches to the sea were captured in his particular and honorable prose, that California will always be alive somewhere, and maybe in only one sacred space, his writings.

Kass, because she kindly told you, has validated for you that your words have mattered a great deal. I am absolutely certain she is far from alone. Most writers rarely know that their choice of language, their presence in the world, the specific and distinct way in which their minds inhabit their bodies and their souls dwell in our shared era have moved people, have changed their lives, their thinking, their notion of happiness. All we can do is keep throwing our pebbles into the communal pond, watching without expectation the rings of water as they grow wider and wider away, hoping that our words will by remarkable kismet find our intended readers, days or months or decades after we've written them.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - Thank you. Watermarks, I love and look for them, too. Sometimes I am not sure what my best self is, so there is no way at all to think where I may have left bits of it. I liked your summation of my father's work, HIS California still being alive and intact somewhere. I believe that of all things, especially those we intentionally preserve. I suspect we are encouraged by great thinkers to become our most authentic selves for it is only through that way of living our truths that we have them to share, if others wish to put a slice in their lunchboxes. In authenticity is abundance, enough to go around, ripple by ripple. So lovely to have your words here. xoxo

Radish King said...

Lovely and thank you. Big Sur must be invoked. I am certain the most holy place I've ever been. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rebecca - Thank you so much for leaving the message. Thank you so much, period. Big Sur is that place for me, giving us the power to know unknowable things. xo