Monday, January 31, 2011

Remembering Nig

My current novel in progress is set during the building of the Hoover Dam.  As much as I would like to say that my fascination with the dam and its construction was the inspiration for the book, the truth is, the project evolved from a short story I was writing about dog named Nig.      
During the construction, a small black dog, abandoned by his mother, became the “mascot” of the dam.  He was loved by the workers and the townspeople and was known as “everyone’s dog and nobody’s dog.”  His name was Nig.
When Nig died, he was buried at the site (contrary to rumors, the only body buried there), and the workers hung a plaque over his gravesite to honor their friend.  In the early 1970’s, a visitor to the dam was offended by the dog’s name and made it his mission to have the plaque removed.  The Bureau of Reclamation did just that, replacing it with another plaque that does not include his name. 
Nig was an important character in the dam’s history.  His name, while it may not be considered “politically correct” today, was the name that was given to him by the workers who loved him.  It is also a reminder of the times and should be viewed in its historical context.   Offensive?
History is offensive.  But it is our history, the good and the bad.  And the more we try to filter historical accuracies to be better aligned with current day beliefs, the more we dilute the richness of our past and the challenges we have overcome. 
Read more about Nig:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Good For the Soul

I am currently working on a Master of Fine Arts in the Southern New Hampshire University low residency program.  Yesterday, our amazing graduate assistant, Tim Deal, posted an entry on the Writing in the SNHU-MFA blog titled “Dirty Little Secrets,” which encourages all of us to “share and discuss (our) work whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

I understand the vulnerability of the writer he describes and her unwillingness to share her work.  I know it helps me grow as a writer, I know it is good reading practice, I know, I know, I know.  Yet, I still don’t “share and discuss (my) work whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

This morning, I took Tim’s words as a call to action.  

Like a lot of aspiring writers, I have a “day job.”  I am a Home Health Nurse and I travel from door to door.  I have some patients that I have seen daily for several years.  One particular woman lives in an Assisted Living facility and every morning, she and three other women sit down to breakfast as I’m leaving their home.  They all know me by name, know I’m a student and know that I write.  They have asked several times to hear one of my “stories,” but I have begged off, making excuse after excuse.

Several years ago, I had a story published in Chicken Soup for the Bride’s Soul titled “Until Death Do Us Part.”  It is an essay about an elderly woman I met in an assisted living facility and how her outlook on the passing of her husband had a great affect on me personally.  I thought the story would be appropriate for my small fan base, and armed with a copy of Chicken Soup, I left the house early this morning for an impromptu breakfast reading.

 This particular story tends to make me cry, but every elderly woman I have ever known to read it or hear it has had a different response.  They smile.  It brings back happy memories of the men they spent their lives with.  After the reading, I sat and I listened to these four widows reminisce about their lives with their own husbands.  I found it difficult to pull myself away from their stories: all different, all inspiring, all told with an affection that continues long after the death of their spouses.  Stories that they rarely get a chance to share.  It made me remember how powerful the original meeting that inspired the story was for me.  It reminded me how precious life is and it forced me to remember to live in the present and enjoy every day. 

Yes, sharing our work as writers does help us grow in our craft.  It does give us much needed experience in reading and it does help us to affirm the fact that we are writers.  But sometimes, reading to others simply brings joy to their lives, no matter how small or for how short of time that may be.  Sometimes, reading to others helps us grow as individuals.  Sometimes, it is just good for the soul. 

Chicken Soup for the Bride’s Soul:

Read the SNHU-MFA blog at:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Crazy Mother

Like most writers, I have a list of authors and books that I find inspirational.  My favorite author is Marguerite Duras, and my favorite book is The Lover, and if you are not familiar with it, you should be.  It is a beautiful story and an excellent example of the craft of writing.

As a teenager, Marguerite Duras lived with her mother and two siblings in French Indochina.  It was the 1930’s and young Marguerite was trying to identify herself with the world around her.  Her family was poor, and although political and racial tensions existed on extreme levels, she had an affair with a wealthy Chinese man.  This affair was later written about several times during her lifetime.

At the age of seventy she wrote The Lover, and tells the story one last time.  Why?  Because she never felt she told it right.  She never felt she gave the story the depth, the love, the hate, the spectrum of emotions it deserved.
And I like that.  To know that someone as accomplished as Marguerite Duras continued to perfect her craft, her story, throughout her life is inspirational to me as a writer.
So why Crazy Mother?  Marguerite Duras had a tense relationship with her own mother as I had with my own.  Although our mother-daughter relationships were quite different, I believe that for our own reasons, most of us can appreciate the range of emotions that are represented in the following quote:

I believe that always, or almost always, in all childhoods and in all the lives that follow them, the mother represents madness. Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we've ever met. –Marguerite Duras

I am a mother.  Do my children feel the same way about me?  I read this to my oldest son, who laughed and said, “Yes, that sounds about right.”  I then read it to my youngest who said, “Of course we think you’re crazy, but we love you just the way you are.”  That was all I needed to hear.
Throughout our lives we are assigned many titles: Mother, Daughter, Student, Professor, Author, and many more.  However, we don’t always choose to own or perfect each title, often, we only choose to identify ourselves with the ones that we consider positive attributes.  I’m not sure I agree with that.  I am much more than just the good, the accomplished, the positive.  I hope when I am seventy years old, I have the courage to look back and redefine, redescribe, rewrite the stories of my life that have been most influential, whether they be good, bad or ugly.  Because yes, I am a little crazy, and I’m okay with that.