So meaningful to me

butterfliesYou know, it’s hard to figure out what to share here, and I know self promotion is rampant and I am as tired of it as you are, but sometimes I get emails from people who have found my book, #Replacement Child, and I am so moved I want to tell you all about it. Just this morning, I got this email from a woman in Ireland who found my book referenced online. This kind of email is why I wrote the book, and why I am glad I did.

Hi judy,
I have just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it.
For some reason last night when I lay in bed, I started to get upset about childhood issues. I decided to look up a child that comes after death of a sibling. Wow! One click on google and I realise something at the age of 36! I was a replacement child. I always knew my position in the family in that I came after death of a brother. But now suddenly I have an actual position that is recognised! I felt huge relief is all I can say but also amazement at how I did not realise that’s what I was , a replacement child! Feel a bit stupid too. I ordered your book and I am looking forward to reading it. I don’t feel so alone now.   I am married with kids but have always felt alone and different. Why am I telling you this?! Why email you?! I don’t know. You are a stranger who knows what I am feeling somewhat and after last night revelation I had to tell someone 🙂! Thank you,
B. in Ireland

I wrote back and asked her if I could share this, and she wrote:

Thanks for your reply. Yes of course you may use my mail for your blog. I actually feel found judy. It’s actually the single most exciting thing I feel to have happened for me. Struggling all my life with guilt of being on this earth in place of my brother. I don’t blame anyone, I always said, it’s just life , no ones fault. But the pain and unworthy feeling all my life has been crushing. Grateful to you and others for being there on Google , thank you from the bottom of my heart. When others verbalise another’s secret pain it is so liberating. Happy beyond words. Excited for a new chapter in life . Bless you X 

Read my new story in 34th Parallel Magazine

Read my new story, Legacy, at 34th Parallel Magazine’s site. You can also order the print copy on the their website. It’s a pretty cool pub with some outstanding writers. This is my first published piece of fiction, so I am pretty pumped! Thanks 34th Parallel!

Thanks for reading!

 

Reaction to the 3-year-old girl in Miss., asked to leave restaurant because of scars

Lin Garden Drive010The story this morning about the three-year-old girl who was asked to leave a KFC restaurant in Jackson, Miss. by an employee there who said her scars were disturbing customers, gave me a chill and brought back sharp memories of my sister.

Her grandmother had stopped there, on the way home from the hospital, to get her mashed potatoes because she had trouble swallowing after surviving an attack by three pit bulls. Even though that incident is horrendous, and my heart goes out to this little girl for her physical suffering, it is the action of the restaurant employee that is most disturbing to me.

We could file it under “what is wrong with people?” And, maybe we should feel equally sorry for the employee who was insensitive enough to inflict unnecessary harm, undoubtedly adding psychological scars to the visible ones.

I can’t help thinking back to my sister, Linda, who was badly scarred from a fire that resulted from a plane crash when she was just two. Like this little girl today, Linda was often stared at, avoided, and ostracized for the way she looked. As her sister, I was witness through the years to how cruel people can be when presented with someone different than themselves. I wrote about many of those instances in my book, Replacement Child, when I would stare down other children who stared at her. But, it wasn’t only children. They can be forgiven for their curiosity, until an adult explains that the object of their curiosity is a child just like themselves, and instills understanding and empathy.

My mother was the one who took on the role of educating teachers and parents at the first school my sister attended. She knew what Linda would face, because she had seen it on bus rides, department stores and walks through town. The PTA allowed her to make presentations at meetings, so that by the time my sister entered kindergarten, the teachers were poised to prepare her class.

My parents assured her that inside beauty counted most of all, and that she was indeed beautiful.

I’m hoping that parents who read about this most recent incident in Miss., use it as a teachable moment for their children. Kindness is not inherent, it needs to be taught and modeled time after time by sensitive, caring parents.

You can read the story I am referring to here.

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Writers! I am leading a workshop at the Write Your Memoir Now workshop retreat, sponsored by the National Association of Memoir Writers, in October. Sign up now for discounts and special bonus!

What is Your Memoir “Voice” — and How Do You Find It?


When I began photowriting my memoir, Replacement Child, I struggled to find the right voice for the story. I experimented with a child’s voice; then explored it through my mother’s eyes, my sister’s and most revealing to me, my father’s viewpoint. At the time, I felt like I was spinning my wheels and wasting precious time. But, looking back, none of that writing was wasted, even though most never found its way into the final version of the book. All of it was necessary to help me discover the style that I felt best relayed my story.

If you think of voice as it pertains to other art forms, it’s what sets the artist apart from others. So that, for example, you can identify a Monet from a Picasso, even if the subject matter may be the same. Likewise, you can read the first page of The Glass Castle and hear that Jeannette Wall’s voice is completely different than Mary Karr’s in The Liar’s Club. Both books are about tragic childhoods, but each has a completely different personality of its own. It may take you some experiments with your writing to find the voice that works best to unify the structural elements of your story.

Voice is difficult to describe, and I remember being befuddled by references to “finding my voice” as a new writer. An author’s voice is her style of writing that is made up of the patterns and cadences of sentences, her habits in punctuation and the kind of language used. It should make the book unique and interesting, and be integral to the story without distracting the reader. Especially in memoir, voice should be a tool to convey the emotion around the events.

I firmly believe that everyone has their own unique writing voice that can be unearthed through practice and dogged re-writing. Laraine Herring says in her book, Writing Begins with the Breath, that we are all schooled not to write authentically, but to mimic others, to hide our authentic voice because we are afraid of being vulnerable. To the question, how do you know “when you are, well, you?” she says:

“You practice your writing. You allow yourself to move deeper      and deeper into the heart of your pieces. You stand beside yourself, detached yet present, as you journey deep inside. You test yourself, as you bring forth poem after poem and story after story from within you. You honestly assess your work. Ask yourself these questions:

    • Is this the truth? (Not the literal truth, but the truth of that work).
    • What have I left out?
    • Why have I left that out?
    • What would happen if I added that which I left out back in?
    • Where have I written around the story?
    • Have I addressed the question of the story, or have I avoided it?”

If you are working on a memoir, I hope you will join me for my online course in June, Finding Your Voice in Memoir, sponsored by the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW). NAMW is also offering the Write Your Memoir Now workshop retreat weekend in October at The Water’s Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook, Connecticut with workshop intensives led by myself, Linda Joy Myers and Jerry Waxler. Space is limited, so sign up soon!

 

Finding Your Voice in Memoir

Write Your Memoir Now retreat

 

Discovering Your Mother Through Writing #Memoir

Recently, I had a discussion with my friend Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers, about how writing our memoirs had given us both new perspectives on our relationships with our mothers. Ours were very different journeys, but what resonated in our discussion was how the writing brought clarity, understanding and forgiveness. We thought we would try to capture that conversation here in honor of Mother’s Day.

 

OR LINK to the video

My Sister’s Voice

The following is the text of my essay that recently appeared in The Southampton Review. You can order this fantastic literary journal at thesouthamptonreview.com. It looks much prettier in the publication!

My Sister’s Voice

     In the end I only wanted to hear my sister’s voice one more time.

They’d found a cancerous tumor lodged in her airway. I was grateful I had spoken to her on the phone just before they intubated her; the tube down her throat bringing life saving air to her lungs but not allowing her to speak. Linda was in Florida and I in Connecticut, but the fear in her voice cut across the miles. “If I get through this one, I swear I will stop smoking,” she told me in gasps of breath. It was something I had begged her to do for many years. She was never ready to give up “one of my few pleasures.” Now, she was ready and I was afraid it was too late.

I was at a concert with my son when I got the news that she had been intubated and was in intensive care. Bob Dylan was playing at a baseball stadium in a neighboring town. The place was packed with fans who knew all his lyrics, serving up a continuous background chorus to Dylan’s rasping “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Shelter from the Storm”. It was a sweltering summer evening in Connecticut with no wind and stick-to-the skin humidity. The kind of night that demanded cold beer. I had just headed to the concession stand as my cell phone rang. Stopped short on the concrete steps as people pushed past me to get their fries and hot dogs. The noise around me forced me into a corner to hear, covering my exposed ear and pushing the cell phone squarely against the other. Still, the information didn’t seem to make the leap. Some kind of insurmountable chasm from phone to ear to brain.

When Linda’s daughter had called me the day before from Florida, we thought her trouble breathing was a reaction to a new medication. I was not greatly alarmed, thinking this was just another chapter in my sister’s long history of health issues. All my life I had watched in awe as she overcame each one, and I was certain she would come through this one too. My mother had once proclaimed her our “little soldier” and Linda had never forfeited a battle.

Linda was two, and I was not yet born, when a plane crashed into my family’s home. She survived the explosion and resulting fire that killed our older sister, Donna.

Critically burned, Linda was not expected to live. Nuns at the Catholic hospital prayed at her bedside, saying she was very close to God, a notion meant to comfort my parents, but one that only frightened them. My father matched the St. Christopher medal on Linda’s pillow with a Star of David. He told me he was ready to take a miracle from any God who would listen. I believe my sister survived, however, through her sheer force of will.

As a child, I was a witness to Linda enduring surgery after surgery to put her poor body back together. Right after the accident, I knew that doctors had to enable her breathing through the burned and narrowed airway. The same compromised airway that she later fed with smoke and nicotine.

When I was six, I waited at the top of the stairs in our split-level home, wearing a white nurse’s costume, complete with a blue Florence Nightingale cape. I watched my sister’s face, her cheeks wet, as paramedics turned her, in her full body cast, trying to angle her to fit through the narrow front door. She caught my eye and we both smiled, each recognizing the other’s fear, our mutual protective instinct helping us through the moment. That winter I pulled snow off the roof outside her window to build her a snowman, complete with raisin eyes, a carrot tip for a nose, and a sock for a hat. I placed it back on the roof where she could see it from her bed; watch the raisins slip, the carrot finally drop and the sock slosh onto the wet slate as the weather warmed. The melting meant we were growing closer to the time when Linda would be freed from the prison-like cast.

At eighteen, one surgeon offered to repair her facial scars. She would squint as she looked in the mirror, imagining what she could look like—and if we might finally look like sisters. The promise of her new face captivated us both. She dreamed, and I dreamed with her. She might not need two hours each day to put on her makeup, applying the pink and green tints, the heavy foundation, the setting powder. I marveled each time at the transformation. How her Bette Davis eyes were accentuated, and the red-brown scars took a back seat to her ready smile. Linda gave me a sharp hug that day before she left for the hospital.

But it wasn’t to be. The scar tissue was too deep, and the risk of facial paralysis was too great. After that disappointment, she announced that she had had enough reconstruction—the world would have to accept her as she was.

“Take it or leave it, this is me, “ she said, always with a smile.

“Intubated” sounded so careful, like putting her in safekeeping, inserting the breathing tube as they had after the accident when she was two. This time, though, the smoke would win out.

A few days after that Dylan concert, as I sat with her in the hospital, she wrote on a pad to me:         “Did you get all the information you need? Are you okay with what is going to happen?” Still looking out for her little sister, helping me accept her imminent death and understanding what the doctors had told us; the chemo had no effect, there was nothing more to do. I shook my head, first “yes,” then “no.” My words stuck in my throat.

I was just finishing the edits on my memoir. She had helped me with the story by filling in details that only she was privy to, secrets my mother had concealed from me, as well as Linda’s own emotional journey. When I delivered the manuscript to her I told her I would take out anything she disliked. She didn’t change a word. “This is your story,” she told me. Later, I would find the beginnings of her own story on her computer.

We had joked that when the book came out, we would go on Oprah together. I had finally realized that my story, about growing up in the shadow of the sister who died, was also very much about Linda and our childhood together. In the hospital she wrote me a last note, urging me to “push” to publish the book to tell our story.

I feel her pushing me still. And I clearly hear her voice.

Are You Waiting for Someone to Die to Write Your #Memoir?

That’s my topic on my guest blog at The Memoir Project.

Thanks to Marion Roach for hosting me!

 

 

THE SPITAK QUAKE: Dr. Felix recalls delivering replacement children

The Spitak Quake: Dr. Felix recalls the dark days of delivering ArmeniaNow.com

By Gayane Mkrtchyan
ArmeniaNow reporter                                                                                           
Those women, still in reproductive age, who had no more maternity plans, bore children again to replace the ones they had lost. They were not young, still they 
 

 

San Francisco crash

My thoughts for this blog emerged in verse–for better or worse.

 

Will I ever not hear my mother’s voice

screaming for her baby girl

whenever I hear of a plane crash?

 

Now San Francisco etched in my mind

two young girls lost

just looking for an American summer.

Parents screaming for their baby girl.

 

“Why” is on our lips,

but what does that matter really?

A tough decent,

an unskilled landing.

lives tossed like dice.

 

“So many survived”

media voices eager to

put a good face on the day.

 

Safest way to travel.

Still.

 

But many shaken to their core

“critical” mumbled beside “survivors.”

Remember them too.

A mother screaming for her baby girl.

Turning Tragedy into #Memoir

Just catching up on my blog tour after being ill, and saw that Jerry Waxler had written this very insightful essay about Replacement Child on his blog. Thanks for your sensitive take on the book and structure Jerry.

Here’s the essay:

Turning Tragedy into Memoir