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.


Laura Benedict said...

I'm sad for you and your mother, Patry. But how wonderful that you have her so close to you now. I hope you sing to her, too. xoxo

Patry Francis said...

Thanks so much, Laura. I do feel incredibly fortunate to have my mother with me, and yes, I sing to her, too!
In fact, I do a pretty good version of Frank Sinatra's
"All of Me"--one of her favorites. Love to you.

Lisa said...

So happy to see a post from you. xo

Patry Francis said...

Thanks, Lisa. It always feels good to connect here.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Patry,
Always good to see new words here when I check in, and I always find inspiration in your thoughts and actions. I recently returned from a mountain trip, and for some reason had the Van Morrison song Bright side of the Road playing over and over in my head. Not a bad one to sing along to though! Kia kaha Patry!

Kay Cooke said...

Kia kaha from me too Patry. Lovely to hear from you again. Aren't grandchildren a gift? How about, 'Sugar in the Morning, Sugar in the Evening' for a song?

paris parfait said...

Patry, it's always a treat to read one of your pieces. It must be an incredibly difficult situation for you and your mother. But no doubt being surrounded by family and lots of love helps make the path a little less rocky. As for singing, that's a wonderful thing! The song my daughter and I always sang to each other when she was a child is "You are my sunshine." I still love that song. And hooray for your new grandchild - bliss! xo

Crockhead said...

Hi, Patry, so good to see you writing again, and to hear that you're working on another novel. May you keep singing. My mother used to say, "Sometimes I have to sing to keep from crying."

robin andrea said...

I am so glad to see a post here, Patry, and then so sad to read about your mom. Still, there is this beautiful balance in reading about Sebastian who loves to hear you sing. I wonder what your mother's favorite songs are, and how wonderful it would be if you would sing them to her.

Lately, I've been listening to music without lyrics, because all of the words of the world have been breaking my heart.

Sustenance Scout said...

Once again, you amaze and inspire me, Patry. I joined twitter to experiment and the first thing it does is lead me back here.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow. My mom used to sing that while washing dishes. Hugs to you, your mom and sweet Sebastian! And have a piece of pie (ok, and some lobstah!) for me! Hugs, K.

marja-leena said...

So good to see you here again. In fact, a post of your from a year ago popped up in the feed reader and I posted a comment there. Only moments later I noticed the date! No wonder it sounded familiar, yet the message still powerful. Now this, "an ode to simple good will, the best and truest religion of all", says it simply and well. So sorry about your mother, it's good that you are together now! Take care of each other, love and hugs!

Oh, as for songs, a lot of opera does it for me, but I can't sing it, or anything else :-)

Gary Boyd said...

I find myself singing (more humming than singing) to my grandson on a daily basis.

The song my kids grew up on was "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog" sung badly, off key and loudly...I am now starting another generation on this song...

Joy to the World

Patry Francis said...

Kia ora, Robb, I love Van Morrison. Going to google Bright Sounds like the place I want to be walking.

Kay: Oh yes, I remember that song--though I only know three lines. I can't tell you how much fun it is to dig up and old song you haven't heard since childhood and finally learn all the words.

Tara: It is difficult--especially because it forces me to face things about myself I don't want to see--my impatience, and desire to have things MY WAY, ie. peaceful and uninterrupted by the messiness of life. But of course, seeing the truth about myself is also a great gift.

Crockhead: Your mother was a wise woman. I'm not surprised.

More later. Family arriving for lobster and pie party...

musingwoman said...

To sing in the midst of such pain...that is truly a rare gift.

Becca said...

Patry, you have been through so much in these past years. Your strenght encourages me :) And I'm so pleased and excited about a new book in the works!

I also know the pain of watching a parent deal with the kinds of losses you describe, so my heart goes out you and your mom as you walk this path together.

Music is my lifeline...I'm glad you're singing!

Kathryn said...

I always love to read your posts. So life-affirming. You have met the challenges of the past couple of years with a grace and gratitude that I hope I can muster when the time comes. You are beautiful.

Deirdre said...

My heart goes out to you and your mother as you walk this sad path.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Patry,
Any day is better for me, no matter what my life is like at the moment, when I see something new from you. You are truly a harbinger of grace for me.
It seems that there is always something to learn from life's vagaries and the loved ones in our hearts. The balance we can gain from making it through these times is a gift that we don't often recognize. I should have known that you would feel the balance.
God bless you and yours, both old and young. Failing mother and newly born grandson are helping you in this season of your life, as you are helping them.

Keep singing, sweetie!
Ancient Reader

Kevin Watson said...

"Here Comes the Sun," one of my Beatles' favorites. And there is a new song I discovered as a free download on iTunes: "Fireflies" by a young solo artist who calls himself Owl City. The whole family loves it. Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," and "Sugar Mountain." "I'm Alive," by The Hooters."Sultans of Swing," by Dire Straits. "We've Got a Good Fire Goin'" by Don Williams. Do you use iTunes, Patry? If so, I want to gift you a song.

Dale said...

Hugs, Patry. Lovely post.

It all comes sliding down the mountain at once sometimes, doesn't it?


LitPark said...

This is just beautiful. Love to you, and your mom, too.

Marilyn said...

What a powerful, moving post...full of so much LIFE in all of its beautiful complexity. I think of you often, especially every time I walk or bike by 'your' motel here. I've been through some life changes since we saw each other, too, but nothing on the scale of yours. That's just to say, the winds of life toss us about...yet we're still here. Much love to you. xo

Susan M said...

Thanks for the post and for mentioning by book, and for keeping up the blueberry pie tradition in the midst of everything. I can hardly wait to hear about the result.

Anyway, my mother used to sing "Stardust" when she was cooking dinner. Her voice and this song and an image of her working at the sink, looking out the window, sometimes at her reflection, are all seriously etched in my memory. "The melody haunts my reverie, and I am once again with you."

i beati said...

And I thought I was the only one not buying this highly publicized film ??hmnn

Patry Francis said...

Robin: I know what you mean about being tired of words. The other day at our annual family lobster and pie party, my son, Jake, played his acoustic guitar for us. I can't describe the calm that came over the group.

K: I thought of you as we made short work of 14 lobsters! I love Somewhere Over the Rainbow--though those high notes really challenge voices like mine.

Marja;leena: Thanks for returning to read that old post and for your lovely comment. As for opera, the older I get the more I appreciate it.

Gary: I love it when a song becomes a family tradition. We have a nursery rhyme in our family which my grandmother brought from Ireland, but the babies still love them. Meanwhile, thanks for the Joy. I'll definitely be passing it along.

Jeanette: Where would this world be without music?

Becca: It's a circle. I've drawn strength from reading about how you've dealt with your losses, too. Thanks for being here.

Okay, going to cook dinner (white chili) and YES, all I do is eat.

Lorna said...

The Great Wind has its effect on your mother too, and bending to it is the most graceful thing you can do.

My kids loved all the old music hall songs that my grandpa sang to us---Bird in a Gilded Cage, Daisy, Daisy, Give me your Answer Do and especially Hello, my Honey, hello my baby, hello my ragtime gal....

After my dad had his stroke, and needed care 24-7, my mother always sang to him at night, Golden Slumbers fill your eyes...a wonderful Beatles song.

Sing for yourself too. I like music by Ron Sexsmith--it's beautiful and every word counts.

Take good care of yourself. We need you.

rdl said...

Great post! love the song and is that Lexi in the pic? great pic! and best blueberry pie i ever had!!

S L Cunningham said...

". . .our lives are all about moving, leaving, changing."

Love how you use this as a segue to the rest of your essay.

Like you, I was somewhat confused at times as to what point the movie was trying to make. But then I realized that "Doubt" is about the paradoxical nature of life, of how we can be so close but so far from people and things we hold especially dear.

Patry Francis said...

Kathryn: Believe me, every minute isn't grace and gratitude. Today, for instance, was heat and grumbling and wondering if i can do this. But then the gratitude comes back. I can't imagine what would happen if it didn't. Thanks for such a lovely comment.

Dierdre: Thank you. The happiness you are now experiencing has cheered me many times. Thank you for sharing it.

Ancient Reader: I know so little about you, but your comments do the same for me. Truly. I thank you for them, and I send you love.

Kevin: Those are some great songs. There are only a couple of them I don't know, but I will soon! There's nothing like a song that the whole family loves. (Oh, and yes, I am on I-tunes!)

Dale: That it does, but since it only hits us one moment at a time, it tends to be fine anyway. Hugs to you, too.

Susan: Love back at you. xx

Marilyn: So good to see you here, friend. I think about you and Crescent City and that gorgeous sot where you were born, and Davis...all of it, a lot, too.
Someday, I hope to go back, and walk with you all over that beautiful city.

Susan: What a beautiful image of your mother standing by the sink singing Stardust. I'm imagining her as she is in that photo on your Website. The pie post is coming soon! Thanks for sharing the tradition with me--and usually prodding me along.

Ibeati: Some great performances, but I was disappointed. Thanks for stopping by!

Time for bed. More later...


Sky said...

hello, friend. so good to see you back here for a visit. i love imaginging your singing to sebastian. do you ever sing fun songs like "itsy bitsy spider" and use your hands to act it out? i love that one. in fact a friend and i just sang it recently in the car as hubby drove us away on a day trip to ports along the Sound.

it has to be so hard to face the complexity of having your mother confused about who you are. my mother had dementia during the past several years before her death, but she never progressed to that place before she died. she did, however, call herself by her maiden name shortly after 2 heart attacks, and she often could not remember exactly where we lived. her confusion changed intensity daily. aricept appeared to help with cognition. i am so sorry you and she are having to navigate those muddy waters. this caretaking seems like a great deal of responsibility for someone who has been trying to regain her own strength. it is also a magnificent gift to you, one you will treasure the rest of your life. (i can't tell you how much i miss my mother.) i hope you will be gentle with yourself as you move forward. there are so many emotions that are likely to surface as i am sure you already know. keeping you in my thoughts and prayers and sending love across these many miles to you and ted. x0x

Annie said...

I just love it when I come here and there is a new post from you.
I agree that things just are, not good or bad even though some things are sad, like what is happening to your mom. Sending hugs and lots of love. xoxo
P.S.The only song I can think of is "Don't Worry be Happy" which is my motto.

Aimee said...

I went through the exact same thing with my Grandmother a few years ago. She broke my heart when I took her to church and she grabbed a cookie for her husband...My Grandfather had passed several years earlier. When she realized what had happened she wept.
In honor of my Grandmother...anything by Elvis is usually fun! Especially if you dance while singing.

Anonymous said...

Patry, your writing never ceases to amaze me. Beautiful post and thoughts. I love In the Sun! But I'm such a fan of Michael Stipe's voice, that version's my favorite. I think the best songs (and books) appeal to me on lots of levels: romantic, spiritual, intellectual. One of my favorites along those lines is Love Abides by Tom Russell and Iris Dement. Iris has one of those unique voices (like good writing!) that says so much just with the inflections, not to mention the actual words and music. Another great one of hers is Let the Mystery Be. ("I think I'll just... let the mystery be.")

Beth said...

It's always good to see new news from you here. So glad to hear the novel is revealing itself to you, that you're feeling so much better than last August, that you love your mom and she loves you. Good luck with it all, and best wishes from here.

Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

My dear Patry. Your compassion shines through everything you write. My heart broke with your mother's as she wept, and was gladdened that she has you to love her. You just keep growing. I look forward to meeting the people in your next book and to loving them as much as you do. Blessings dear writing friend.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Patry, you have more grace in the face of the great wind than anyone I've ever known. Singing is such a primal connection - my girls are now 9 and 6, but I still sing to them almost daily. One of our favorites is Simple Gifts, the old Shaker hymn.

tinker said...

Though it's so good to find you here again, Patry, I'm sorry to hear the Great Wind has been storming around you and your family...I'm glad it has at least brought some good moments to you, as well, though, and that you're still singing (the Hokey Pokey was always a big hit with my grandgirls). Congratulations on your new grandchild! Wishing you calmer days and happy tunes. XOXO
p.s. My mom used to sing Que Sera, Sera to us, and so I sang it (badly) to the girls, who rewarded me with sleepy smiles. Grandchildren are the best audiences.
p.s.s. Have you ever seen the YouTube of 'Catch the Moon'? It's very sweet. That always makes me smile. Elizabeth Mitchell & Lisa Loeb, I think.
Take good care of you. Sending love your way. xoxo

Patry Francis said...

Lorna: Thank you for being here and for your wise words. Thanks, too, for Ron Sexsmith, who I hadn't heard before.

R: Glad you were here for the pies. You got the only photo before they completely disappeared. And yes, that is Lexi. I love the strength in her hands!

Scott: So good to see you here again. Thanks for sharing your insights about Doubt. It still doesn't work for me, but that's the wonderful thing about art. Everyone experiences it differently. P.S. Since I read the post about your daughter's graduation, I've learned to make red lentil spread! It's wonderful.

sky: Itsy Bitsy spider is my grandson Will's favorite. At only ten months, he talks with his hands a lot, and loves to act it out himself. Thanks for reminding me how precious this time with my mother is. Sometimes I forget. Love to you and K.J.

ANovelMenagerie said...

Hi, it's Sheri from the BBAW Awards Committee. I'm just dropping by to let you know that this post has been nominated for a 2009 BBAW Award for Best Post. Nothing further needs to be submitted.

Good luck!


LitPark said...

Aimee, that's heartbreaking and also so beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Still catching up, which isn't entirely a bad thing. It gives me time to come back and savor each post.

Sky I've thought of you a lot. We've been on a similar road in so many ways--dealing with our own illnesses while helplessy watching our mothers decline. Wind and sun remains the only way I can describe it. Thanks for being there. And yes, I love the itsy bitsy spider. My grandson Will, who is ten months old, and a wonder at communicating with his hands acts out that one wonderfully.

--Patry (Google doesn't like me today.)

Annie: You are one of those rare people who truly seems to live their motto. Don't worry. Be happy. That covers so much, doesn't it?

Aimee: I have to agree: if you dance while singing, you compound the joy to the nth degree. You've told us a lot about your grandmother in a couple of lines--and about yourself, and the kind of granddaughter you were--sensitive, loving, ready to burst into a dance to Blue Suede Shoes. I'm glad you and your grandmother had each other.

Mary: Thanks again for sending me Love Abides. I haven't quite memorized it yet, but I'm getting there. Funny thing about Sebastian. He doesn't care how bad my voice is or what I sing, but if I don't know all the words and try to fudge it, he immediately loses trust in the song.

Natalie said...

Patry, what a joy to see your words back on this page, always wonderful and heartfelt words. I am so cheered to know that you're singing, and writing, and going out walking, and hugging your mother. Maybe you could get her to sing with you? I send my love to you both.

Annie said...

Patry, I try :-). Some days I do better than others.xoxo

Nicole McInnes said...

My goodness. It is a rare blog indeed that can make me cry. Blessings to you and your mom, and shame on my for taking so long to check in with Simply Wait. I don't know you, but I think you are a miracle writer.


Nicole McInnes said...

My goodness. It is a rare blog indeed that can make me cry. Blessings to you and your mom, and shame on my for taking so long to check in with Simply Wait. I don't know you, but I think you are a miracle writer.


Amber said...

Mmmm, yes. Wisdom and truth. And I admire you so much for it, with all you have been going through for awhile now. And now taking care of your mom...It must be hard, but you say, what else can you do? Well, I think that is beautiful.


Kelli said...

You have battled against many obstacles, but still find the strength to write hopeful and positive messages. I admire you for that. Your mother is lucky to have you to guide her through the frustrating and scary times ahead.

Anonymous said...

Coming in very late here (and from very far away) with what might be a somewhat predictable remark, coming from me, but in all seriousness, never underestimate the power of singing. For yourself or for your mother (even, or perhaps the more so, as she has more difficulty). There is something about it that goes right to the heart.

Always glad to hear from you.

Dawn Anon said...

i spent my day whining...checked here to find that you are singing... I think i'll go put some music on.

glad to find a post from you!

Patry Francis said...

I'm sorry, Mr. MIlan, but my Spanish is too poor to discern whether your post is spam or not. Since I'm not sure what you're propagating, I'm going to have to delete it.

paris parfait said...

Must be so difficult going through these things with your mom. Am glad you're surrounded by family to help weather these latest flash thunderstorms (as we say in the South). Singing is always good, in my opinion. Hard to be sad or mad when one is singing. Big hugs to you; will be thinking of you at the hospital this week and praying for the best possible outcome. xoxox

Anonymous said...

Hi Patry,

I loved this post. I've been thinking of this year as a "bad" year, but your post reminded me that this is not true. I am where I'm meant to be. Hard to remember that sometimes, so thanks!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Patry,
Hope the Music is still resonating within you. Just passing by to say Kia Ora!

Russell CJ Duffy said...

I enjoyed the film and felt the ambiguity was pretty much the point in light of the way Ms. Streep's character makes up her mind with only the slightest amount of evidence. Child abuse is vile, deplorable and needs to punished or better still removed, somehow, from society. I really don't think though that conducting witch hunts against any we think may or may not be a peadophile is the right way to do things. Anyway, that was take on the film but that aside, it is good to see you blogging again.

colleen said...

How did I miss this update? I made a blueberry pie this summer (a big deal for me) and I was so proud of myself and thought of you. I don't think I made it for the muse as much as for you, to complete my sense of summer, and to feed my friend Jayn, whose made them for me many times.

Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

Patry, you've done it again. You've touched my heart as you only know how. The image of your precious mom leaning on her walker and weeping because she didn't know who you were. How that gripped my heart. And now I see that this is a very old post and yet it's the first time I've seen it.