Thursday, July 27, 2006

Keep Steppin'

I get the "urban word of the day" emailed from the Urban Dictionary and recently "keep steppin" arrived in my in-box. Its timing was pitch perfect. The term is defined as, "to move on from something bad" or, as used in their sentence, "Yo homie, don't worry '‘bout her, keep steppin!" It has become my new mantra as it helped provide clarity to a recent event and will now be my reaction to things that bother.

In July we went to a large family reunion in the Midwest. As my husband likes to say, "we drove almost 1,300 hundred miles for dinner," because the next day we turned around and came home. No sooner had we arrived when we discovered that our daughter, left back home with a friend so she could work at her summer job, got into a car accident and totaled her car. Speed and a cell phone were the cause. Fortunately the car did its job, the airbags deployed, and she only suffered a broken wrist. It could have been much worse as she just missed a large pine tree and had she gone over on the other side of the road she would have been airborne and launched into a pile of granite rocks—and more trees. The car was totaled but it was just a car and we are grateful to it. Our daughter is fine and her wrist will heal. (And I should have insisted that she come to the reunion with us.)

But the "push out the door" happened because, before the reunion had even begun, we were snubbed by a certain relation. We were to discover that this person had been informed about something to do with the other side of my family, not directly their own—a faction of the one back in New England. Ironically, this simple gesture from a person not even involved, and for whom I've always held in the highest regard, brought closure for me on a difficult few years. We realized that our family issues had morphed into more than the sum of their parts and that we were powerless to change that. "Keep steppin!"

A week after the reunion I attended a writing workshop sponsored by the New Hampshire Writer's Project. Its topic—Writing about Family—was as timely as that relevant word-of-the-day in my in-box. I learned that when one writes "creative non-fiction", or a memoir, that it shouldn't be motivated by revenge or self-serving purposes. Not that I have such intentions but I can imagine that nasty little "R" word all too easily creeping in if not left checked in the cloak room.

Annie Dillard wrote that "while literature is an art, it is not a martial art: no place to defend yourself from an attack, real or imagined, and no place to launch an attack." Contentious family issues are a simmering broth of emotion, upset, envy, and misunderstanding. To place all the blame on one person or event would be wrong. In our case, the unresolved issues from several generations, marriages, and unspoken expectations or wants all fell down in our laps. Did we contribute to the dysfunction of what likely can not be resolved or overcome? Of course we did—but that does not make us solely responsible.

It is not an easy thing to learn: to write with objectivity, perhaps with humor, but also personal experience and insight. All families are nuts in their own way and we all share our joys, our sorrows, and our battle scars. Perhaps that is why non-fiction out sells fiction now: people are fascinated by real lives. Memoirs by ordinary people are the literary equivalent to the "reality" television genre.

So now I'll just try to "keep steppin" over and around the stuff of life that tends to get in the way of really living it. And one day maybe I'll write about it: not dwelling on the bad but the good, the best of what resonates: what is clear, what is muddy, what was and what might have been.


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Catherine said...
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