Editor’s note: From time to time I share my writing process with readers of the Joyous Paradox blog. Today’s post is about my literary character Emma Davies, who began showing up in my notebook when my son Edward was in elementary school. (He’s now 35.)
“Who are you, Emma Davies?” I asked her, when her name first slipped into my consciousness all those years ago. “Why do you feel so familiar?”
Back then, all I could see of Emma’s life was the title of a story, “Emma Visits the Wise Woman.” It’s a story I hope to write one day. In the meantime, I often write to Emma in my notebook. Here’s a recent sample, edited and extended for clarity. Hope you like it. — Mary Ann Barton
It’s crowded and noisy here in the First Parish parlor. Small boys bounce up and down on the antique sofa. They hop off and drop to the oriental rug on the floor.
“Let’s say goodbye to Nana,” says a mother to her son.
“Bye, Nana,” the little boy mumbles.
“Nana can’t hear you,” his mother says. “It’s very loud in here.”
“Nana!” he yells, tugging his grandmother’s sleeve. “Goodbye, Nana!”
I’m writing this letter to you while I wait for Steve to finish chatting with the ministerial intern. I’d like to go somewhere quiet and write my author bio to share with Susan and Stephanie when we meet at Dumpling Daughter tomorrow to talk about book marketing.
Essayist Mary Ann Barton has taken full advantage of the opportunities life offers for failure and rebirth. Working as a rare coin dealer, arts agency desk-jockey, lobbyist, textbook proofreader, and library fundraiser, she found her niche in her fifties as a certified nursing assistant and companion to elders. Her work in progress, a trilogy of self-help books called Rest, Renewal, and Repose, will help family caregivers of all ages get back to sleep when worrying about a loved one who is very old, very young, or facing serious illness. She blogs about caring for ourselves as we care for others at JoyousParadox.com.
Here’s what I write about, Emma: How we live with others. How we live with ourselves. I’m writing a peach of a book for family caregivers. I want you to pick up Rest in the middle of the night when your old dad or your tiny child is safe in bed. Find tips and techniques for caring for your body, mind, and soul. Read a poem about a garden, a grocery list, or a grandmother who plays the cello. Love a painting by Philippe Mercier. Write in your journal. Dance as you cook dinner. Stretch your arms wide with an Octaband.
Really, Emma, caring for a loved one can be full of surprises. As Facebook would say, it’s complicated.
For some of us, there’s so much accumulated hurt and resentment that the free flow of love and concern is jammed up behind a Hoover Dam of bad memories.
For some of us, love flows so freely that we can’t let ourselves even dip a toe in the reality that we might lose our dearest on earth.
For all of us, there are images, real or imagined. I look at the shifting family groups in the church parlor — women and men and grandparents and babies and five-year-olds and young girls who might be anything from ten to 17 — and see them as photographs in an album.
Maybe the photos have a matte finish like the slightly pebbled surface of an oldfashioned school portrait. Mrs. Ansell’s Second Grade. That First Vacation at Lake Sunapee. The Balloon Flight in Southern France. Our Last Visit with Grandma Hyde.
Maybe one day I’ll see a photo or a painting, Emma, and know that this is your likeness. I can’t wait.
Love no matter what,
Copy this text to tweet: Caring for a loved one can be full of surprises. As Facebook would say, it’s complicated. http://wp.me/p20HD7-5CY #caregivers
Image credits: Portrait of a Lady as the Magdalen by Master of the Female Half-Lengths, Netherlands (fl. circa 1500–1530), via Wikimedia Commons. Girl Writing by Franz Nölken, German, 1916, via Wikimedia Commons. Portrait of Lola Braz by Zinaida Serebriakova, Russian, 1910, via Wikimedia Commons. Writing Letter by Kusakabe Kimbei, Japanese, before 1933, via Wikimedia Commons.