Archive for the ‘Wish You Were Here’ Category

Two things:

An interview I did with Dorian Speed over at the Catholic journal of the arts, Dappled Things. 

A very nice piece on the book by Ellyn von Huben over at Word on Fire.

Thanks, all.

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A forest of basil:

"amy welborn"

I don’t have many basil plants right now, but what I do have badly needed to be cut back, so tonight was the night, and it was time to make some pesto. I like pesto, but I didn’t want to do it.

I was feeling rather melancholy – rather.  Just a bit, not a lot, because I won’t allow myself that.  But yes, a bit, it being Father’s Day Eve, and me, as of eight months ago, almost to the day, having no father left living on earth to call, and then there’s them, of course.

But, I realized with a shock as evening fell, it’s the fourth Father’s Day since Mike  died.  Fourth. 

"amy welborn"

Wow. It might just be time, it came to me rather clearly as I sat there on the porch contemplating the basil that needed to be cut back and not wanting to do it, and more specifically, not wanting to chop and work it by hand (because that’s the way you’re supposed to do it)  – yes, it just might be time  to stop avoiding it, running from it for fear of the work of confronting the tears and sadness and deep, persistent awareness of absence, and to yes, celebrate it.

Because little boys should celebrate their father, and be glad for him.  Of course.

Don’t know what we’ll do. I’ll figure that out in the morning.

But tonight, around 9:30, which is really past bedtime, even in the summer,  we  tackled the basil, cut a bunch, stripped those leaves, chopped,crushed and banged.  And we made pesto.

"amy welborn"

Cooking is messy.

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…of Wish You Were Here. 

Thanks to Steve McEvoy at “Book Reviews and More.”

Another recent review from Dorian Speed

And a mention from Darwin Catholic

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Here’s the public service part of this blog, the part I toyed with putting in Wish You Were Here, but didn’t because, well, it didn’t fit.  Too practical.

But really, it’s a part of the process, the event, the experience. It was undercurrent throughout.

In short:

Do you guys have wills?

It’s on my mind because today I signed the second iteration of my will (and other pertinent docs) since Mike died, this one made necessary by the changes my father’s death brought into my life.  I took one of my older sons with me so the attorney could explain the documents to him, since he’s the executor.

So I repeat:

Do you guys have wills?

I’ll admit it to you: we didn’t.

(Or, by the way, life insurance beyond something small through work. You should have that, too.)

(And passwords.  Are you adult children of elderly parents? Do they do finances online of any kind? Do you know where their passwords are? My dad had a well-worn memo notebook next to his computer, full of his banking, credit card, investment passwords…invaluable.)

At one point in the process after Mike’s death, I expressed my embarrassment about that sad fact  – no wills – to my attorney.  Two presumably intelligent people, with five university degrees between them, and no will? Stupid.

The attorney didn’t disagree, but he did reassure me. He knew a married couple, he said, both tax attorneys.  The husband died, leaving the wife with three young children and a surprisingly complicated estate. And they didn’t have wills, either, he said.

Sometimes the shoemaker’s children go without shoes, he said.

I know, I know, but still..stupid.

Here’s the thing. Death is complicated.  It doesn’t matter how much you have, it’s a complicated process.  A will makes it just a bit less complicated – or a lot.

We held most of our property in common, and I was the designated beneficiary of all retirement accounts, but there were a couple of sticky points: minor children and book contracts.

Because of these factors, and because there was no will…things took a while. In regard to the latter, it’s because, gee, you can’t just say, “Hey, I was married to him, those contracts and royalties are mine now.”  Not the way it works, and the way it worked in this case took a surprisingly long time – nothing huge, just a slow process, for reasons I was never quite sure of.

My father had a will, of course, so there were no surprises, and the estate was fairly simple.  But we’re still working on some loose ends almost eight months later.   I can’t even imagine what it would have been like without a will.

And so today?  I signed several documents that will, I hope, result in a streamlined process when I die or if I become incapacitated.

Is it morbid?  I don’t even know what that means, do you?  Taking seriously the reality of death and the possibility of incapacitation is not “morbid” for anyone, especially for a 51-year old single mother of two minor children.  Stuff happens.  We know that, right?   I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not morbid to plan – it’s loving.  I want things to be as simple as possible for my kids when I die or if I suffer a lengthy illness or debilitating condition.  I can’t pretend it just won’t happen…because it just might.

Just a couple of days ago, we were driving in the car somewhere, and Michael asked, “Will you still be alive when I’m Joseph’s age?”

My first instinct was, as it would be for most of you, I’m sure, to laugh a bit and say, “Of course!” And to wonder where that came from.

But then I realized where it came from – when Joseph was Joseph’s age – right now  – he’d had a parent die.

The boy had done the math.

So what did I say? I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure I said, “I hope so” or “I don’t see why not.”  I mean – how could I say, “Of course?”  He’d see right through it, and who knows – he might even say something.

It’s just the truth.  You never know.

And honestly? I’m still superstitious enough (I admit) to believe or hope that if I am, indeed, super-prepared, with all the blocks in place…that’s another kind of insurance, right there.

Do you guys have wills?

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So, last week, I flew up to the Chicago area to attend and speak at RBTE – the Religious Bookseller’s Trade Exhibition.

As I mentioned before, it’s a trade show for publishers related to “liturgical” churches – in contrast to the more evangelically oriented CBA and the Catholic-only CMN.

Random observations:

  • Shrinkage.  I haven’t been to this show in perhaps five years, but boy, has it shrunk.  I’d say it’s 2/3 the size it used to be.
  • Which is not surprising.  Even the massive CBA has downsized in recent years.
  • Why? Same problems, rehashed here and elsewhere endlessly.  No one knows how to sell books anymore – everyone’s at sea – publishers and booksellers alike.  What will people pay to read anymore? Who knows? Also: a bad economy discourages booksellers from spending the money to attend a trade show when they can just browse a publisher’s web catalog and save a lot of money. It’s not the same, I know, but when you are barely making it, that’s the choice you’ve got to make.
  • Saw many old friends and acquaintances from OSV and Loyola and met folks I’d previously only met online: Patty Mitchell of Word Among Us, Barbara Baker and Mark Lombard of Franciscan, one of my Living Faith and Creative Communications editors, Paul Pennick, and, of course...Hallie Lord!
  • (Evidence!)
  • Spent some pleasant hours conversation and a meal with the good folks from Image Catholic, including my intrepid and patient editor, Gary Jansen, who introduced me at my luncheon talk. 
  • Life goes on.

Every day this week, I’ll highlight one of the books or other resources that struck me as particularly good…so come back and check that out!

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Yes, it is!

Thanks, Sarah Reinhard! It was a fun challenge.

(Another recent Q & A on the book is at Catholic Match – part 1 is here and part 2 is here.)

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I’ve not written much about the process of writing Wish You Were Here, but this post by Dave Griffith at the Image blog prompted a thought or two.

Griffith’s post is about the continual and knotty problem of truth in the memoir.  The issue comes up regularly, almost as regularly as memoirs – especially sensitive or controversial ones – are published.

I read a number of memoirs, some grief-related, others not – just some of the more popular recent entries into the genre like The Glass Castle , Chinaberry Sidewalks and Lit – before and during the time I wrote my book.  A couple were suggested to me as examples I might want to follow, in a broad sense.  Reading the memoirs was both helpful and not.  Helpful in the sense that I could see that my experience and take on that experience was, indeed, somewhat different from say Joan Didion’s or Kathleen Norris’, so I wouldn’t just be reinventing the wheel.  I could also see a legitimacy for my efforts, which I worried sometimes were self-indulgent.  was helped by reading other grief memoirs, so perhaps I could help someone else in doing my own.

Reading the memoirs was also helpful in a negative sense.  I won’t get into specifics, but there were some memoirs that might as well have come with a big

red flag on the cover for the amount of suspicion they aroused in me.  I have to say, especially with childhood memoirs that include detailed narratives of conversations and thoughts one had at the age of five.  I find it hard – no, impossible to believe that anyone, even (let’s say) in the wake of trauma, could recount the exterior and interior details of a childhood experience forty years later.  Okay – maybe one or two.  But anything more, just based on memory alone, seems improbable.

Because I know that I would not have been able to write my book, which I started doing just six months after the primary events narrated, if I had not kept incredibly detailed journals both in the wake of Mike’s death and then during the trip to Sicily.  The whole journey was so fraught and singular and I was so hyper-aware, and my response to that was to sit down every night for at least ninety minutes or so to recount, in great detail what had happened and what I had felt.  Or even sooner, in some cases – there is a long scene near the end, an account of our last evening on the "Amy Welborn"beach at Cava d’Aliga – which seemed so strange and beautiful to me that I wrote down immediately, since I had my journal with me down there on the beach.  There is no way – no way –  I could have done this without those journals.

In his post, David cites (in disagreement)  the common arguments that “truth” is a big thing and there is such a thing as a “broader truth” and so on.  I agree with David and say this is bogus when you are writing a memoir -which, yes, is different from “autobiography” and has within the term itself, embedded the ambiguities of “memory.” And it’s hard. That’s for sure. It’s hard to present the truth of what happened in an artful and interesting way.

I thought writing this book would be (except for the emotional part) easy because I would basically be pulling together blog posts and journal entries. But it wasn’t, of course.  If all I had done was transcribe journal entries, what we would have had was an unpublished mass of self-referential stream of consciousness (which, come to think of it, was sort of what the first draft was….). It would have been “true,” but boring to anyone else, and, in the end, to me.   The experiences and emotions needed to be recounted in a way  that the truth of it is presented in an interesting, engaging and, yes, truthful way.  In the end, what I found – through my editor’s help – what that meant for me was, at every point, going out of my head and describing what was around me, and getting quite specific about landscape and the movement through that landscape.   Thank goodness I took a lot of photographs…

I want to get back to the matter of childhood memories.

Could you write a memoir of your childhood? I couldn’t.  Quite simply, I don’t know where the real memories end and stories told by my parents, images from photographs and habits of remembering begin.  I find myself unable to dig beyond the stash of memories at the front of my brain to anything deeper. So, for example, I think of the apartment we lived in in DeKalb, Illinois from 1964-67, when I would have been ages 4-7.   I have five specific memories of those years that are unattached to photographs:  eating Campbell’s chicken noodle soup when I was sick, and, a couple of days before Christmas, seeing a gift for me under the tree that was wrapped in white paper, and I could see by peaking, was contained in a white "Amy Welborn"box.  So, I decided, being, evidently, stupid, that if I unwrapped it, saw what was inside, and just left the box as is, no one would no the difference.  Away from the apartment, one memory, traumatic:  being dropped off for CCD at church on a weekend when it wasn’t scheduled, and being frightened, and then taken under someone’s wing until my parents were called and came back to get me.   Finally, I remember the Danish Modern aesthetic of one of my parents’ friends’ homes – it was everywhere – in the furniture, most intriguingly to me in the tableware. We had nothing like that and those smooth, slightly curved, uncluttered lines made a huge impression on me.  I remember nothing of my first grade classroom, but I do remember the enormous lilac bush in our play yard.

I remember those (I think I remember them..or do I remember remembering them? What layer is this? Because really..I do feel, when I am “remembering” those events, I am really just remembering, not an event, but an idea that lives only in my mind. Which it does now, of course) but little else.  Go back to the Danish Modern house.  My mother liked to recount the story of how once at a buffet dinner party there, the hostess said at one point, “Where did all the black olives go?”  I – even at the age of five or six, an olive fiend – had claimed them all, and consumed them.  I “remember” that..but really I don’t at all. I remember my mother telling the story and the images that were reconstructed in my mind of me at this house looking at a plate of olives on sleek Danish Modern buffet.  But I really don’t remember it at all. I can say that I remember riding bikes with my friends in front of the apartment, but that “memory” is nothing more than what’s in a photograph of all of us gathered on the sidewalk.

But looking back to what I do think I remember…what are they about?  Taste. Smell. Fear. A different kind of life.

Well, okay then. I can see it.  Perhaps it is possible to recall detailed narratives from the deep past if, I suppose, those factors are present – which they often are.

Still. It’s a good thing we’re not supposed to live in the past.  Not only is it a foreign country, it’s a pretty hard place to find, period.

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Here’s a nice review of Wish You Were Here in the National Catholic Register.  

So why did she go to Sicily? I think Welborn’s answer is to be found in the fact that “home” is no longer “home.” Once a loved one dies, there’s a certain sense in which you can’t go home again. And the more you wrestle with it, the more you have more friends and relatives in the hereafter than here, the more the mansions of this world seem perhaps to be so many temporary lodgings.

Apropos, is it not?

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1) I’m going to be on Al Kresta today at 3 Eastern, talking about the book for a bit.   (UPDATE: Oh…we’re taping this!  It will air in 2 weeks..I’ll let you know)

2) I have copies left over from a talk I gave last week..so I’ll put some in the bookstore for now.  You can go here to check it out. 

3) Here’s another link to the interview I did with Kris McGregor a couple of weeks ago. 

4) And remember: related – free download of the .pdf of The Power of the Cross here. 

And…related to another book. Thanks to The Anchoress for the shoutout on Friendship With Jesus. 

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Here’s an interview I did with Kris McGregor of Discerning Hearts.  

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