The ferry is departing from Winslow to Seattle. It's a gorgeous, sunny Pacific Northwest day. I find a seat and stare out the window. The million dollar homes built on the rocky shoreline stare back at me. The seabirds flit and dive in the dark, green glistening waters. Mount Rainier reigns above the horizon. The commuters stare at their tech devices.
I turn my mind away from what lies at the end of this journey and reflect on how little I know about the art of writing. Tomorrow night, I am attending a class on writing memoir. Maybe I should outline a few things about my life in preparation for the class. I find my pen and notebook in my purse and place them on the table. The pen is ready and the page is blank. Where does one begin?
The years have gone by in a flash. Loves have been found and lost. Adventures have brought thrills and chills. Pets have purred and been buried. Family has been loved and interred. Schools have provided an education and skills. A career has come and gone. My reflections are not deep and heavy. My thoughts are those of the common man.
The ferry is approaching the dock in Seattle. I put away the pen and blank page. I walk out on deck, cross over the gangplank and find my way to the taxi stand.
"Hello, mam.Where can I take you?" the taxi driver says.
"Could you take me to Swedish First Hill Medical Clinic? I have an appointment in twenty minutes. How much do you charge?"
"That'll be ten dollars, mam."
He opens the back passenger door. As I crawl in, I reply, "Ten dollar ride to learn my destiny. OK. Let's go."
Eight of us, all women, are sittingi around a large, rectangular table in a room at the local community center. We are silently waiting for the instructor to introduce herself and the five lesson course on writing a "memoir".
The teacher is asking us "why" we are taking the class.
"Research says writing is good for the Senior brain and I'd like to learn about this genre."
Then, I think to myself how that statememt lacks creativity or introspection.
I'm listening and preparing myself for another embarassing moment. I'm obviously surrounded by women who actually "write". It's time to speak again. No, I think I'll just sit here and listen to the teacher explain the most difficult part of writing a memoir. She thinks "seeing oneself as the main character as the most difficult skill". Well, I see doing the actual writing as the most difficult skill.
The teacher is pointing to a shelf laden with all sorts of smelly objects. We're suppose to go over and smell them. When we smell them, they are suppose to stimulate a particular memory. I'm not sure about that. All the women are walking over to the shelf. I'm not. I'm going to check out the collection of books about writing memoir.
The other women are sitting at the table writing their associations to the smelly objects. I'm browsing the books. The book, "Journey of Memoir: The Three Stages of Memoir Writing" by Linda Joy Myers is very interesting. After glancing at the first three chapters, I formulate a question. The other ladies may know the answer and I might look stupid but I paid $89 for this class so I shouldn't hesitate to ask questions.
The group is reassembled at the table and ladies are sharing a memor triggered by an aroma. I have nothing to say. I remain silent.
The session is over and the women are leaving. I approach the teacher. As always, I have to revert to the basics when I am learning something new. So, my question is quite simple.
"Excuse me. I was glancing at this book. Next week, could you please discuss the concept of "theme" when writing a memoir."
"Of course." the teacher replies.
Find a Theme?
The teacher is discussing "how to find a theme" for a memoir. One suggestion is totally beyond me and I'm definitely not going there. Someone, somewhere suggests writing down everything and then going back to find your theme. Goodness gracious, it would take another sixty-nine years to write all that. I don't think so.
We are back at the table now. Everyone, except me, is sharing a significant photogaph and it's corresponding narrative. The stories vary in their humor, candor and detail. I don't share my photograph. I misunderstood the homework. I brought a picture of one of the cruise ships my father supervised. I was suppose to bring a picture of family members and describe the people, place and event. Hmmm. I wonder if this is some kind of Freudian slip. I'm not sure I can be a "memorist".
The teacher is very polite, insightful and perceptive. I don't say anything.
I just might play hooky next week. The teacher just announced the topic for next week. "The role of body in memoir". Huh?
The Body in Memoir?
I'm certainly glad I didn't play hooky today!
The women are chatty, laughing and sharing. I'm wondering why, out of all the subjects related to "the body", six out of eight ladies are talking about body image as teenagers. That's not true. I know why. Maybe I should join the discussion and share my "body image" issues, too.
Several ladies are sharing their memories of high school P.E. class. One lady is telling her story about changing into gym clothes, being required to walk naked to the showers and comparing her body to others. But, the lady next to me says she loved P.E.. When she was in school, she couldn't understand why some girls purposely forgot their uniforms. I should tell her that in my day the uniforms didn't come in "plus" sizes. Mine was always tight, uncomfortable and I hated the color. I hated P.E.
Next week, we are talking about "place". Oh, my, I've lived in England, Australia, Algeria, New Mexico, Nevada, Hawaii, California and Washington State. Where would I start?
The teacher is sharing her published, short memoir passage with the class. It is beautifully written with imagery, references to the senses and loaded with emotional content. It is a level of writing I will never achieve. Perhaps, if reincarnation is true, I'll figure it out in my next lifetime.
The ladies are sitting at separate tables in the room. Everyone is feverishly writing about something to do with "place". I need a drink of water. I wander to the drinking fountain in the hallway. I peek in the classroom door. The ladies are still writing. I wander to the front desk and pick up a calendar of events for April. I peek in the door again. The ladies are still writing. I go back to the front desk. Wow, there's a raffle for a gorgeous quilt. I tiptoe through the quiet scene of ladies writing their stories, find a dollar in my purse and slink back out of the room. I buy a raffle ticket.
I'm back at my seat. The ladies are still writing. I stare out the window. What do I write? This is obviously procrastination and venturing into some weird mental state. So, I just sit and don't write. Weird.
The ladies are talking about their grandmother's house. They are sharing thoughts about furniture, food, events and aromas.
My thoughts wander to my one and only grandparent, Nana. She owned a "greasy spoon" on Geary Street in San Francisco. She lived in a one bedroom apartment near Coit Tower. When we visited we always dressed up in patent leather shoes, city dresses and gloves. She had a Bohemian style personality. She emigrated from Vienna in the early 1900's. She had a third grade education. There were no essences of chocolate chip cookies, no sewing room with quilts in progress, no backyard with swings and toys. But, there was an upright piano, a mysterious "nude" painting from the old country and a stunning view of the Bay Bridge framed by the potted geraniums resting on the patio handrails.
I don't have the writing skills to describe the places where I've lived. I've toured every continent except the Antarctic. Too much to share, too much to write and not enough skill to write it all down. So, I'll just leave it.
Next week, we will be talking about "memorable events". My, my which one?
This is the last class.
There is a small bowl of assorted candy in the middle of the circular table. There are five of us sitting around the table discussing the writing prompts for today. The teacher has given us a list of suggested prompts on "Spring Celebrations". The ladies are thinking. I grab a candy out of the bowl, unwrap it and pop it in my mouth.
The ladies stop and stare at me. Oh, brother, now what did I do?
Apparently, the teacher was going to give us an option. If you didn't want to write about a "Spring Celebration", you could use a candy as a prompt.
My next thought, "When will this class ever be over? I'll never be a writer. I eat prompts. Do I have food issues or what?"
This class has done nothing for my self-esteem or self-confidence. But, I have enjoyed learning about the genre.
It's been a few months since my last trip on the ferry to Seattle from Winslow.
The view from my seat is stunning. The sailboats are gliding through the water. I ponder their destinations. Mt. Rainier is visible in all its majesty. The slow moving freighter creates a shallow wave. The sky shines crystal blue.
I take out this manuscript describing my reactions to the class on memoir. I reread it for spelling errors and grammatical inconsistencies. As I reread, I can see my Senior brain needs a lot of help, especially with descriptive vocabulary. Oh, well.
The ferry has arrived at the Coleman dock. I walk out on deck, traverse the gangplank and find a taxi stand.
"Mam, do you need a taxi?"
"Yes, could you take me to Swedish First Hill Medical Clinic on Minor Street?"
"Yeah, that'll be ten dollars."
"OK. Thank you." I reply and crawl into the back seat of the taxi.
We drive past the homeless camps, the coffee shops and boutiques. Up the hill and around corners until we finally stop at the entrance to the medical building. I hand the driver ten plus a little extra for a tip. I walk into the building and take the elevator to the third floor. I approach the reception desk and check in. I sit in the waiting room and watch the underwater scene displayed on the TV screen.
The nurse calls my name. I follow her into the small, sterile room. After checking my pulse and blood pressure, the nurse says she will tell the doctor I am here.
I stare at the chart of a kidney hanging on the wall. The doctor walks in the room. He says hello and asks how I am. I respond with the only question that really matters.
"How much longer do I have to live?"