Thursday, July 5, 2018

Down draft

That's my cousin (who is really my sister) and me at a Simon & Garfunkel concert in Central Park in the eighties. If I recall, I'd recently graduated with my masters in journalism and had just begun working as a reporter at LIFE magazine. My cousin, four years younger, was still in college. Today she's a government lawyer representing students with special needs, while I sit here, alone in my house, wrestling with getting down a new opening chapter for the book I'm writing for a woman with her fist perpetually in the air, a woman we need more than ever right now. I'm having a crisis of confidence. I don't know if what I'm writing is any good. I just can't tell. 

Today, I'm falling back on advice from Anne Lamott's writing manifesto Bird by Bird, in which she offers guidance like this:

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it's loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy."

Our July Fourth was quiet this year. We entertained my 94-year-old aunt and her daughter, not blood relatives, but still family. Our kids had lively engagements all over the map, but we just took it slow. My aunt was my mother's best friend, one of them, and she reflected that all her contemporaries are gone now. She is in marvelous shape, mind crystal clear, walks every day, looks wonderful. She walks more strongly than I do if you want to know the truth. And my husband thinks she's one of the most elegant women he's ever seen. She won the genetic jackpot, but she's lonely. I'm glad we spent the day with her and into the evening, watching fireworks together on TV. She calls me her other daughter. 


  1. You are so lucky to have such matriarchs in your life.
    I realize that I have no older women to look up to who might be able to counsel me sometimes, should I really need it.
    I know you respect and honor these women, all family, blood not a prerequisite to bond. And in this, you do yourself and them good too.
    I am having a little moment of jealousy or perhaps, just realization and that's good.
    Speaking of good- I am quite certain your writing is too. You are a pro, woman! You are bonafied, certified, sanctified and proven.
    Also- love that picture.

  2. I love that -- "down draft" and "up draft." I read "Bird by Bird" years ago. I should probably look at it again.

    It must be so strange to outlive all your contemporaries. I can't imagine.

  3. I appreciate that there are always women in our lives who can teach us something we need to learn.
    Your aunt is one of them it seems.

    You look gorgeous BTW!

  4. Oh, Angella. You always struggle wondering whether your writing is good enough. It is! It’s actually more than good enough. When I was reading Overcome I was in awe of how easy it was to read and yet it was so incredibly deep and thought-provoking. You are so gifted. I say, do what Anne Lamott says. I wish you could see in yourself what I see. xo

  5. Ditto Birdie. Plus you are so lovely. As is your whole universe of people surrounding you. Ditto Mary.

  6. Have confidence that your writing is good. I haven't read any of your published works, but hope to read the book about Ellamae Simmons at some point......the fact that you have publishers prepared to get you out there says to me that you are a very accomplished writer. Your posts here say that as well! Lovely photo of 2 beautiful women. x

  7. We all compare ourselves to others and we always seem to find ourselves less than. Or at least most of us do this I think, perhaps not the Donald.

    You worked at a reporter for freakin' LIFE magazine woman. You are obviously an excellent writer. You write books. You are published. You are a professional writer.

    I doubt myself at work too, on a daily basis. Two days ago I was an advocate for a seven year old boy and wondered if I did the right thing. I tend to piss people off it would seem. But I am a good nurse because I always put my patient first and if I don't know something, I find someone who does.

    As for your Aunt, it is difficult getting old, even if you are healthy and mentally sharp. We lose so much as we age. We lose family and friends, we lose purpose, we lose independence. It is a life of incremental losses until we die and we have to find a way to be okay with that. She sounds like an amazing woman but yes, aging is lonely.

  8. all the older women in my life are gone now too so I see these older women (and by older, I mean older than me by at least 2 decades) around town who are still strong and doing for themselves and I think of them as my role models...just keep doing. when my mother was the age I am now she was 'old' and already incapable of doing a lot of things but some of that was by choice. I'm not a very sociable person, don't mind being alone but I know that loneliness is a big problem for the elderly and I do think about that when I think about my own future. anyway, I know what you mean about the writing trying to get started. it was similar when I had to do a new design for a customer. it was always hard to get started so I usually didn't put much effort into the first sketch, considered it just a warm up. the second or third were generally pretty good.

  9. You and your cousin are both so beautiful. I would love to see a photo of your 94 year old aunt. I am envious of her clear thinking. Mine seems to be diminishing by the hour. When I read your words here, I always think how easily they flow and paint a picture of all that you have to say ... and always with compassion and eloquence.

    1. robin, i have a picture of her in this post:
      It was her 90th birthday. She doesn't much like having her picture taken these days, but she looks much the same!

    2. 37paddington-- Thank you for that. She is so beautiful.

  10. I think the creative process -- producing something where there was nothing before -- is equally as hard as understanding and remembering reams of facts. I'm thankful there are both kinds of folks in the world.

    It is almost incomprehensible to me that you doubt your writing! At all! Ever!