Lucy Farewell and Kim Stafford’s Memoir

23 Oct

Lucy at Walker Lake

Two weeks ago we had to say goodbye to a dear friend, our dog Lucy.  She was with us for fourteen years and was a champion soccer player and wonderful hiking companion.  Yellow labs have to be the best; she never stopped trying to please us, never stopped loving us.  She’s featured in Second-Chance Summer, my latest book for kids, which gives me another good reason to get that book out into the world.  This photo is of a quilted wall hanging made for me in 2004 by writer Bett Kearl.  She kept asking for a photo of Lucy, and this beautiful piece was the result.

What am I reading?

I’m excited to share a new book — memoir — written by Kim Stafford, Director of the NW Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.  I’ve loved his writing for years.

100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared is Stafford’s attempt to make sense of his brother’s suicide at age 40.   Beautifully written in short memory bursts, he shows us the closeness of two brothers, only a year apart in age, as they grow up in the fifties.  They are there for each other until, imperceptibly, the disappearing begins.  A kind of unknowing, a not paying enough attention,  Seeing changes that are at first overlooked and then denied. 

I learned about this book from the Grassroots Bookstore newsletter and, best of all,  the fine people at the store added a link to Stafford’s blog about writing the book.  He called it “How a Book Can Set You Free.”

From that essay, we learn that Stafford “built” this book using techniques that my former students will recognize, going back into memory to reconstruct little pictures — vignettes.  For example, he writes a short piece about their night-time ritual when they were small boys.  Another piece is about the time he had no gift for his brother.  There was a camping trip to the foot of Broken Top, and so on.  The book is made up of these short pieces, not necessarily in chronological order, but making sense, adding up to a whole.  In his post, he tells us how he sat down with the newly published book for the first time in his hands and began to read a story that might have been written by someone else.

I followed him through the 1960s—a puritan in the summer of love, a pacifist in the era of the Draft. I followed him through the drama of early love, first jobs, wandering, then marriage. Working the fire crew in high peaks, as lightning played over the mountains chanting with his buddies, “Strike! Strike!” Eager for fire . . . his music . . . his reticence . . . I leaned closer. What was about to happen?

I cried for him as I read. He caught me. But his story was no longer a stone harnessed to my heart. My heart was not carrying him any more. I had been released from this lonesome duty, for his story was in a book in my hands. And the story had a resolution that consoled me, as by a voice beyond myself. 

As you write your own story, I hope this wondrous thing -this sense of resolution — will happen to you.  During the writing, we worry about what people will think –especially family members.  We recoil from going back to face the demons, relive the horrors.  But as we keep writing, we rise above our fears and regrets; we make a kind of sense of them.  And maybe, (I hope) we even forgive ourselves.  It’s this powerful, supremely satisfying sense of resolution that makes me want to read (and write) memoir.

I respect those of you who dare to write memoir.   I give you my deepest sympathy for the pain you may have to relive.  But I also send my hearty congratulations!  You are strong.  Keep rowing that boat.  We’re there rowing with you, all of us together in this life.

Do You Need a Prompt?

Probably not, after reading what’s above.  Get going on those vignettes.  Little paragraphs, filled with as many sensory details as you can manage.  Toss these into a shoebox for safe keeping.  Who knows?  One of these days, the little pieces will add up to a book.


12 Responses to “Lucy Farewell and Kim Stafford’s Memoir”

  1. mfrances stilwell October 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Anne, I missed that link from GrassRoots, “How a Book Can Set you Free.” Do you still have it and could you post it? YOur piece abut finishing teh sweater for…Sierra?…Sierra’s daughter? (I hopenot) was encouraging.Hope you enjoyed the porcess. My mother often reminded me what Henry (or William?) james said, “There’s nothing more tiring than a job not done.”


    • annewarrensmith October 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

      Hi Frances. I wanted to put in the link that was in the Grass Roots newsletter, but this morning it no longer worked. Perhaps you can get to it by Googling Kim Stafford and the title, or go to GR and see if you can download the old newsletter. I quoted much of it, but the whole thing is very nice.

  2. Ellen Todras October 24, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    I am so sorry to hear about Lucy. I often wonder if dogs are a higher order of beings than humans–at least some dogs (and Lucy is in this category).
    I just requested that Eugene Public Library order the Stafford memoir. I am looking forward to reading it.

  3. Mar October 24, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    I am so sorry to hear about Lucy. Thank you for sharing the quilt made from her picture. It’s so special. Once again, quilting softens the edges of our world.

  4. Mike Kinch October 25, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Must be heartbreaking to lose Lucy. She was such a sweet dog. 14 years of love.

  5. Robin Koontz October 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    Hi Anne – thanks for posting on Toadhall about the memoir, it’s on my list! I’m so sorry about Lucy, dammit they should live to be 90! Happily, there is another one out there who wants to love you too. But you know that, having loved many.

    • Robin Koontz October 26, 2012 at 10:03 am #

      And I’ll say the same thing I told my 80+ year old mom when she balked at getting another dog. You have love to share. His or her life will be better for the time you spend together and yours will too.

    • annewarrensmith October 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

      Lucy was with us for fourteen years — a long time for a yellow lab to live. We were blessed.

  6. Lynn October 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Lucy was a sweetheart – so friendly and fun-loving. Quite a beautiful quilt your friend made you!
    I’m looking forward to reading the Stafford book. I agree that writing memoir can be a complicated journey. Hard enough when the story is merely “interesting” or historical…harder still when pain is involved. (But then how many people, who have lived life, have NOT experienced pain and loss?) I know for myself, it seems like it will take many years to feel ready to write about a tragic loss in my own life. But the loss is always there, wanting expression. I admire people who can write honestly about their grief.

  7. Sheila Smith October 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    So sorry to hear that Lucy died. She had a good life. I always liked to see her in the neighborhood.


  8. Jason Kilgore November 5, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I’m sorry for your loss, Anne. She was blessed to have you guys.

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