Thursday, August 06, 2009


the gift, originally uploaded by patryfrancis.

The other night we watched DOUBT, a movie that was far too ambiguous for my taste. Not that ambiguity doesn't have an important place in serious art, but when you're talking about the sexual abuse of a child, there's not much grey area. It either happened or it didn't. In this film, I didn't know who to believe; and worse, I didn't think the writers or the director knew either. Maybe that was the point, but if so, I wasn't buying.

Still, I found some of the sermons delivered by Philip Seymour Hoffman's character interesting--especially the one in which he resigns his position. Though life often feels static, though we imagine our world as solid and reliable, he says, there is a great wind behind us invisibly pushing us forward. Whether we know it or not, whether we like it not, our lives are all about moving, leaving, changing.

The great wind has propelled me into many startling places in the last couple of years--some that I call good, and some that I label bad. But unlike the moral quesions in Doubt, most of them are neither. They just are; and they must be met accordingly. After my sixth major surgery last August, I found recovery elusive. Cleaning the kitchen, taking a short walk exhausted me or left me in pain. My surgeon recently told me this was normal. The disease and the treatment I had were a full out assault on my body. I needed to be patient with myself and with the Great Wind. (Okay, she didn't say that exactly, but that was what I heard.)

Meanwhile, the Great Wind brought other changes, too. Babies arrived and stretched my heart in ways I never imagined. My mother experienced a precipitous mental decline and was forced to move in with us. Children came home and left and came home again. I fell in love with a group of characters in my new novel, and wept over the fates that I held in my hand, but could not change. Not if I were to tell the kind of truth that's so important in fiction.

The other day my beautiful, strong, intelligent mother leaned a fragile frame on her walker, and wept because for the first time ever, she was confused about who I was. What could I do but hug her, and cry with her, and tell her that it was okay? That we had no choice but to go with it, wherever it was leading us. So far that's what we're doing. It's a ragged journey, a hidden path, but we're trying to follow it as best we can.

And meanwhile I continue to sing badly and often. I sing in the morning, and I sing in the dark when I have insomnia (which is often.) I sing to my year-old grandson, Sebastian, who seems to regard my much maligned voice and the many melodies I've collected as some kind of miracle. In the past month, I've looked up and sung ALL the songs that you suggested--from The Log Roller's Waltz to Amazing Grace. Sebastian loves them all, but his favorite is still "The Hokey Pokey."

This week I started singing In the Sun which Chris Martin from Coldplay and Michael Stipe from R.E.M recorded for Hurricane Katrina Relief. But I prefer the original version, performed by the the man who wrote it, Joseph Arthur. "It's too religious," my kids say when they hear me belting it out as I clean the kitchen or come in from a walk (both of which I now do on a regular basis.) But to me, it's an ode to simple good will, the best and truest religion of all.

In Friend News:

Susan Hendersonn of LitPark, one of the most generous writers and human beings I've ever met, proved the power of good karma, not to mention incredible talent and tenacity, when she sold her first novel, The Ruby Cup, to Harper Perennial.

Jessica Keener recently started a fabulous and insightful blog about the meaning and power of home: Confessions of a Hermit Crab.

And last month my blueberry pie baking partner, Susan Messer, published Grand River and Joy, a powerful and timely debut novel that takes on race relations, the Detroit riots, and the landscape of the human hearth. Visit her Web site to learn more about the novel, and maybe even see a photo of this year's pie. (I'm baking mine for the family lobster bake tomorrow. More on that soon...)

Meanwhile, if anyone has any more song suggestions, Sebastian and I are listening.