Sunday, July 4, 2010

We write

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 focus differing from theirs for I wanted it only to be about 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.


Sultan said...

I have always admired the old fashioned columnists who cranked out things people wanted to read day after day. It is a rare person that can tap the zeitgeist of people for any length of time.

Penny said...

Maybe your father didn't choose to distance himself by "virtuous pursuit" but was driven by his need to write and also to provide for his family and that was his price - he may not have paid it willingly. We tend to judge our parents without as you say, having "even a speck of an idea of what a parent is about."

I look forward to reading your posts here, and am thankful you decided to blog.

Radish King said...

Harder than it looks.

wv: fumbs as in all fumbs

Donna B. said...

Fascinating about your Dad being a columnist. I agree with Penny, our parents did the best they could do with what they had to work with at the time. How wonderful you inherited his gift of writing.

It IS a tight rope walk between our responsibilities and desire to be a "good" parent and following our dreams of creative pursuit. I totally agree.

I have no doubt, your Father is very proud of you.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - it was, as you say, something of an old fashioned skill, an uncommon ability to hold readers' interest, year after year...I admire it, too. Thanks.

Penny - it could well be as you describe, the distance being the result of choices, not the reason. And thank you, I am glad to have this place of expression.

Rebecca - harder than it looks, indeed, and sometimes it even looks almost crushingly hard

Donna - I think he might be surprised to see that writing became such a significant part of my life. And I thank you.

Shelley Sly said...

Hi Marylinn! I removed your name from the list as you requested. No problem that you can't make it, but thanks for letting me know. I'll see you around!

Robert the Skeptic said...

I must confess that I am somewhat intimidated by all the very skilled writers out here such as you. I skirt through it by admitting that I am not a "writer" in any true sense and don't expect to be. My media is film and if I can exhibit some level of quality in that medium I am happy.

Still, this stuff rolls around in my head and comes out in my blog. If for no other purpose it helps me get it out of my mind so I can sleep at night.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Shelley - I will stay in touch to see what else you're planning.

Robert - Thank you so much. I take your words as high praise. I consider you one of the writers I discovered in June as I followed from one blog link to another. This evening I visited your website, fascinated by Mr. Andrus (a lifelong friend is a Magic Castle member who has taken me there many times) and completely charmed - and convinced - by Lydia in her search for proof of fairies.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Expletive expletive...comments - poof! - gone. My son would say, Vortex of suckage.

Replied to all your welcome comments, plus others that had been left.

Not pleased.

Robert the Skeptic said...

A bunch of comments on my blog disappeared as well. I hope Blogger doesn't branch out into any sort of financial management any time soon.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Probably the final attempt at THIS, which has now vanished twice.

Shelley - I will check back to see what's new and perhaps be ready for the next Blogfest.

Robert - Third try...Thank you so much. I arrived at your blog as I followed links and consider you to be among the writers I discovered in the process. In visiting your website, I was introduced to the amazing Mr. Andrus, and was charmed and convinced by the scientific exploration into the existence of fairies

TC said...

A lovely and moving piece on a subject of some interest. The acknowledgment is sweet and sounds well earned.

Reading this put me in mind of a different sort of report on the same subject. After Charles Olson's death his daughter spoke with me about the effect his being a writer had had upon their relationship. She showed me an unsent letter to her which she had discovered in one of his books (tellingly the book was Otto Fenichel's magisterial summation and continuation of Freud's analytical work on psychological disorders).

In the note Olson confessed his devotion to his work had always so driven and absorbed him that he had never had time for his daughter.

Touching and quite sad. Very unlike your piece, in the latter respect.

Marylinn Kelly said...

TC - How fine to see you here. And thank you for your words. My stepmother recently found and sent poems my father had written, beginning in his teens. One of them was for my brother, who moved to Australia at 19, an intensely felt yet unsentimental piece, the existence of which my brother had never known. (There is an earlier post, April 18, about this called "The animals have something to tell us.")