Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


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A full circle

I’ve been re-writing, re-plotting, and re-drafting, the majority of a novel I wrote eight years ago. Shocking when I think it was that long ago that this project came into my thoughts and I began to write it. It took me one year to write that first draft. It was the first idea that spurred me into being a writer.

My grandmother’s death at the time was the inspiration for the premise. While that hasn’t changed at all, the story line has a lot. As have some characters. And motivations. And arcs. When I returned to this particular work last October, I thought it was an easy fix, and I thought it was basically done. Silly me. But once I’d ripped it apart, I realized I’d gone to far in to turn back or give up on it.

But, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to. Especially as I have another novel I put on hold to whip this one into perfection (ya right! lol), and as I have ideas aplenty, I often wondered why I’m trying to fix something so broken when I can just start fresh. Well, the thing is, I think I just want to prove to myself that I can do my very best with it rather than dump it, and another part of me thinks it’s a great novel, one that many people can relate to. It’s a novel about death, or rather about how the living cope with death. And it’s a novel about stories, and how we each have one, and the choices we make as we travel down the road of that story.

I’m never steady in my belief in my own work. Sometimes I think it’s terrific, other moment I think it really sucks. The last few weeks I’d been thinking, okay, I’d better give up on this novel, the premise stinks, there’s too many characters, and it’s not plausible. Normally, I push through these moments, but this time I came very close to throwing in the towel.

And then three weeks ago my family and I buried my paternal grandmother. I was very close with her, all of my childhood, and even much of my adult life was in a shared residence with her. We even shared the same house during the pregnancy and birth of my first two children. The topic of my novel became too close, not something I was able to revisit during her illness and death.

About two weeks ago I sat down to work, and still, I questioned the story. This was a first–normally distance gave perspective, it allowed me to see flaws and solutions, not just garbage as I was seeing this time.

Yesterday, we buried my maternal grandfather. It was a swift death for him, a quick service. In three weeks, my two last living grandparents died, and I saw vast reactions to death. I saw my own different reactions to their deaths. Those around me responded differently. My parents come from different backgrounds, and I witnessed traditions that were quite different in each of the services and funerals. And it made me reflect on my grandmother’s death all those years ago, and how I felt at the time, and the story my mind created to cope with it. And I thought, “here I am again.”

I’ve come full circle, and yet, I’m a different person I was then. A lot has happened in these eight years, a heck of a lot, some wonderful, some terrible, and I’ve been thinking about this novel on and off during these last forty-eight hours since my grandfather’s death. Maybe this too is a coping mechanism, an avoidance technique. But it doesn’t feel like it. Because in thinking about these deaths, I’m thinking about my emotions, and I’m thinking that I really want to finish this novel after all. Right now there’s a sureness in me I haven’t felt since its creation. A sureness that I know the story I have to tell, and that I’ll be able to do it just right. Maybe I just had to live a little more before I was able to figure it.

As a side, this blog has been a little quieter than usual, a little more down than usual. Here’s hoping for a steady gait over the next while. And I hope all is well with all of you.


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a release

When I was a little girl into to my early teens I used to write poetry, but only when the moment called for it. I sat in the dark and wrote unseen words; I’d let my pen or pencil drag crookedly across the page, or I’d write in neat lines, depending on what emotions needed to Get Out. It was always fun for me to wake up and see what I’d produced during the night. Not so much the words, but the pattern and shape that they made strung together as cord or as disconnected pieces.

I haven’t done this in years, I actually forgot that I used to write like this. Somehow, during the growing up process, I let go of this ritual.

These past days have felt like a moment for writing poetry (or what I called poetry but was only a word dump). I’ve been holding it in, not writing, not seeing the words. And then I remembered: I don’t need to see the words. I just need to open up and a shape will take form.

So here goes:

A cliché. They say it in books, in movies, on tv.

A broken heart.

A pain that lashes, that rips, that tears, and binds.

A memory.

Almond eyes.

A myriad of smells that belong solely to one person.

A voice. Loud. Always yelling. Always caring.

A touch. Fleeting, rare. Hands kept tight, working, not soft, not gentle, not idle.

Reserved.

A memory.

Of love. Always, of love.

Of life.

A life.

A whole. A unit.

A goodbye.

And the bindings begin to unwind. Letting in breath and wind and light.

And then a smile. Of what’s remembered. Of what’s to come.

Blah. So there, it’s out. For now. Not sure why I wanted to do this on the blogosphere, maybe it’s about moving forward, moving on. Maybe it’s about release and connection. I wonder if my words would have been the same if I was writing them for no other eyes, instead of here, when I knew others would read them. Maybe later when I come back and read these words, I’ll see a pattern, a shape, of what I produced, in the light this time. Not in the dark.

This was written in loving memory of grandma, who passed August 16th, at the age of 88.


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A memory

When I began writing I had no idea how to find other writers. None of my friends or family wrote, and I had studied science in school. I went on-line and I looked up writing groups in my area. I found one that met once a month in a library close to my home.

I was the youngest person there, by far. They were retired men and women who gathered to write and read to each other. I remember feeling so awkward, so out-of-place. I was young, in my twenties, what had I lived through to tell to these people? But, I returned again and again for almost a good year.

There was one older lady in her late seventies or early eighties that I remember in particular who always patted the seat next to hers if there was one, or gestured me into the room with a big wave of the arm. I think of her periodically, her effort to make me feel welcome. And how the little interaction I had with her inspired me not only in writing but in life.

Her name was Susan Romvary. The first time I entered the large conference room in the library, she sat near the doorway in a large cushioned chair separated from the group. She didn’t look up when I came in the room, in fact for a time I thought maybe she slept, or was incoherent; her head dangled forward and I was never able to see her face. People were reading, and I thought didn’t she heard them.

“Susan, will you read?” the organizer said.

She looked up, and I was shocked. She was stunning, her eyes dancing, her expression one that inhaled and released energy in a profound way. I could tell in an instant that she loved life and she lived it fully.

Some time after I met her a short story came to me, a sort of vignette that brought three people into one person’s life. It is fiction, but it is inspired by her and the words she spoke that night. She passed away in late December, and when I received the news I immediately thought that our little planet lost one terrific person, even though I hadn’t seen her in years, and only knew her through a few meetings. I remembered this story I wrote, and found it on a stick drive. Here is a portion of it, just the way it was written, because to edit it now would change it to who I am now, and not what I saw then. Perhaps you’ll see a little of her in it.

Vera sat across from me. Her name was scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting on a name tag stuck just above her left breast. Her vest was red, vivid in the dim room. Her head was bowed; she had not raised it, not even when I entered. Her hair was thinning, and dyed auburn. I wondered at her presence. Had she heard the others speak? Was she coherent? Suddenly, she lifted her head, and I realized it was her turn to read. Her eyes dazzled, and met each of ours in turn.

“I love humour,” Vera said. Her voice was inflected with life, and thickly accented. “I grew up in Hungary, escaped to France when I was a girl, and now, I live in a nursing home. Humour has saved me. I have had one published novel. It is, of course, humoresque. It was featured on CBC radio. Nothing more. I’m writing my second. It’s about my new residence.”

 I realized I was part of something. Would I be accepted, or would I be judged for my youth, as I had judged them for their age?

“I write in English,” Vera said. “But, it is not my first language. Nor is it my second. French is. I came to Canada as an adult, so naturally, I chose Quebec. I write in English because it is a simple language. If I can teach myself to speak it, I can teach myself to write it.”

 I listened to Vera, as I had not to the others. I had been too self-absorbed, worried about how my own work would be received. It was my first time in a writing circle.

“I had a husband, two children. My husband is gone. My children are gone. I tell you this not so that you will feel sad, or pity me, but so that you will know humour is healing. I have survived the holocaust, I have survived famine. I have lived alone in foreign countries, not understanding a word of the people around me. I struggle to retain the images of my family. Yet, I am glad to have gone through it. Otherwise, I would not be alive. I will read you an excerpt. I hope you will laugh. I expect you will laugh.”

And we did laugh.


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