Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Oaktown

It's 6 a.m. and I'm wide awake. I'm in Oakland, but my body clock is back in New York, which means I'm functioning as if it's 9 a.m. and way past time to be at my desk.

Yesterday was a long but really good day with my subject, a 97-year-old doctor whose book I am ghostwriting. She is whip sharp, her eyes dancing and assessing at the same time. Her brain isn't what it used to be, she says, but give her time and she'll find that telling detail in the caves of memory. I adore her. I suppose that's okay, to fall in love with your subject, to find inspiration and grit and wonder in the details of her life.

I have written 10 chapters so far, including a foreword in my voice setting up the book, and an introduction in her voice, and we have decided that I will read the chapters to her, and she will interrupt me to offer corrections if anything is inaccurate, and fill in specifics where needed. Yesterday we got through five of the ten chapters. Today, we will continue. She is a great sport, indulging me in all the tiny facts I seek, understanding that a book-length piece of writing requires such details as the smell of the air as an oil-soaked burlap wrapped cross burned in the yard. There is so much history here. At every turn, this extraordinary woman's life brushed up against the story of this nation. But she didn't just witness history, she went out there and made some of her own.

To my relief, she seems happy with what is on the page so far. She closed her eyes and tears spilled from their corners, and she said, "I am just overcome." She said I had given her a feeling a great accomplishment, that finally she had done something with her life (an overstatement, given how much she has already done with her life!), and I rushed to say, "No, no, no, not yet, you're not done yet. You have to hold your book in your hands so don't start feeling too accomplished yet!" We laughed then, because she knew exactly what I was getting at. And she promised she wasn't going anywhere yet, so don't worry about that.

We got through one of the hardest parts of her story, the thing she had not shared with anyone before she started writing her book, the thing she wasn't sure whether to include. When she told it to me before, she said, "You have a problem on your hands now. How will you write that? I don't know what words you will use." Yesterday, when I read her that chapter, she kept her eyes steady on me, her slender tomboyish body perfectly still, and when I was done she said, "The crisis is past. You did it."

She is prone to superlatives; it's one of her very endearing qualities. She is grateful for everything, but she's canny and suspicious, too. She said, "I cannot ever repay you for what you are doing for me," and I said, "But you don't understand, this is a great gift to me, too. A privilege and a learning. It is I who should be thanking you." It went like that. The two of us, grateful, laughing, crying, being.

I am so glad I didn't miss this, or her, in this life.


25 comments:

  1. Oh my god, you've made me cry.
    Oh, Angella. Oh my dear.

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    1. Ms. Moon, some tears are good tears. xo

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  2. Such an honour has been bestowed upon you. And to have you write her book, as honour for her as well.

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    1. Birdie, it is indeed an honor to be trusted with her story!

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  3. Good god. This sounds perfect. I want to read it.

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    1. Denise, I hope I do her story justice! The book might be kind of historically dense...

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  4. How cool that you are doing this - and in Oakland - wow that book sounds fascinating.
    that's oakland in California right.
    Drop us a line if you have the time and we can get together for coffee!!!

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    1. Jody, you are so sweet to offer. This trip is going to be tight but maybe on the next one. Besides, I know you're still in the midst of the end of high school whirlwind. But are you in Oakland??

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  5. Angella, you wonderful person, I only know your blog but, oh my, I am so proud of you right now. I know it sounds strange and please don't think it patronizing.

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    1. Sabine, I am touched by your comment. I take it in the loving spirit in which it is given. And it doesn't sound strange to me at all. I am always moved by the way souls connect in this place. xo

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  6. My, I want to read this when you are done...Two beautiful and talented women, and such a moving account of that...

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  7. She sounds amazing and I am so proud that you were chosen to write her words.

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  8. Oh my gosh, this sounds so interesting! I know there are certain rules for ghostwriting, but will we learn the name of the book when it's published?

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    1. Elizabeth, i will let you know when it's published. She wants to self publish. At 97 she doesn't want to wait the nine months for a traditional publisher. We shall see.

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  9. I am so glad you are in this moment.

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    1. Candice, me too! This was worth leaving the magazine for!

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  10. Can you give a hint re the type of life this lady has had? I hope the book will be available in UK when it it published.

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    1. Frances, she is an African American woman born in humble circumstances at a time when Blacks were expected to achieve very little. And yet she dreamed of medicine. She went on to open many doors in her life for the generations that came after her.

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  11. I just love you and that is all. I wish I knew you in real life. You are are the very best of everything good.

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    1. Joanne, thank you for that kind estimation, but you give me way too much credit. I do hope we can meet one day.

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  12. That sounds like it's going to be a terrific book!

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    1. Steve, I hope so! Wherever it falls short, it's all on me, because she surely did her part!

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  13. Angella, I think the work you do is downright holy. Many people express the wish to tell their stories in eloquent words, and you give them that.

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    1. Dear Vesuvius, truthfully, it does feel like holy work, as if we were brought together by divine energies to do this. I really hope that means my pen (or rather keyboard) will be similarly guided. I'm doing my best!

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