The Only Three Words You Need

Every year I go to Rosh Hashanah services with expansive hope, born out by experience, that some wisdom and truth from our tradition will land softly on my heart and I will take it with me through the next year as comfort and north star.

Reading earlier posts from this time of year, I marvel at how much has remained constant, though so much has changed. In this post from seven years ago, Christopher and I wanted to greet the new year at the ocean, while our kids refused to budge. The same was true yesterday, but now our boys are plenty old enough for us to wave goodbye without grandparents materializing at our front door to babysit, as they did years ago. In fact, so much time has passed that the rabbi’s sermon this year about ethical driving (practicing “patience, gratitude, and forgiveness” behind the wheel) arrived at the perfect moment for our 15-year-old firstborn’s ears.

For me, the wisdom and truth I longed for this year came in a brief comment by our rabbi. She mentioned that the author Anne Lamott has written there are only three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. This became my simple and complete prayer. I stood with my eyes closed and silently repeated these words instead of the pages of prayers in my hands. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

There it was, instantly. A physical transformation, a steady flow of peace. Thank you thank you thank you thank you — for this loving, brilliant man standing by my side; for the blossoming young man next to him; for the kind, curious boy at home nursing a cold while watching (inappropriate) cartoons. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And for the challenges I have to face, Help me help me help me help me.

I do love December 31st, how we light up the darkest night sky with twinkly lights and candles and fireworks. And I love our Jewish New Year’s Eve in Autumn, when there’s still enough light to see the world by, to embrace it and thank it for its beauty, its blue sky above brown California mountain ridges, its temperate Pacific waves tumbling toward me as I gather up my burdens and transfer them to a handful of bread crumbs or shells and let them fly into the ocean.

For all of this, the gratitude and the challenges, the beauty of these people and this earth, the final prayer…Wow.

Sunset 1

Writer’s Life: Meredith Maran

Meredith Maran

I’m pleased to introduce you to Meredith Maran, editor of the new collection, Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (And Others) in the Name of Literature.  I tore through this book, which (like the best memoirs) creates a personal connection between reader and writers. If you want to know more about some of your favorite writers (including Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, Kelly Corrigan…), get your hands on this gem. And now, get to know Meredith…

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer? 

The same energy that’s required when a kid is having a tantrum is required when my writer-mind is having a tantrum. Writing is a fine balance between experiencing your feelings and modulating and moderating them, so they can be turned into art. Raising kids is a similar process. You can have big emotions where your kids are concerned, but you can’t express them exactly as you feel them. You have to express them based on what’s good for your kids, not just good for your own need to vent.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

It’s very important to me where I write. As we speak, I’m outside in a garden. I built myself a writing studio and put up a hammock. I live in sunny, warm Los Angeles, and I’m outside most of the time while I’m writing. Its important to me that it’s peaceful and beautiful and also that I can’t see any chores that need doing while I’m writing.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Tell the truth. And hurt self and others as little as possible while doing it.

Who inspires you?

My first inspiration was the French memoirist Françoise Sagan. I read her memoir, Bonjour Tristesse, which means “Hello Sadness” when I was a young teenager. My parents had her book on their shelf. They told me not to read it so of course I did. It was inspiring to me because she was 17 or 18 when she wrote it, and it was so emotional and beautiful and I thought, that’s what I want to do.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

Whenever an issue comes up, you can find me demonstrating for peace, and equality. Day to day, bringing diverse voices into the book marketplace is my cause. I review a lot of books for a lot of different publications, and believe me, I don’t do it for the money. I’m in a position to be able to promote the work of writers of color, women, lesbians, gay men, overlooked writers and small presses, and doing that is my mitzvah, as we Jews say.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I just reviewed a memoir called The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky, a memoir of friendship and marriage. It’s stunning. I also reviewed the amazing novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I loved Jillian Lauren’s Everything You Ever Wanted and Claire Bidwell Smith’s The Rules of Inheritance. Thanks for asking!

Meredith Maran, a passionate reader and writer of memoirs, is the author of thirteen nonfiction books and the acclaimed 2012 novel, A Theory Of Small Earthquakes. Meredith also writes book reviews, essays, and features for newspapers and magazines including People, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Salon.com, and More. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Meredith lives in a restored historic bungalow in Los Angeles, and on Twitter at @meredithmaran. Her next memoir, about starting over in Los Angeles, will be out from Blue Rider Press in 2017.

Why We Write About Ourselves on Amazon or IndieBound

MeredithMaran

Split me down the middle; or, I need a split screen for my brain

It’s cold outside, and my laptop is (true to its name) perched on my lap, warming me as I stretch out on the white* sofa, engaging with a split screen.

It’s near midnight, and I’m watching my 10th hour of online Continuing Legal Education. I have a long way to go before next week’s deadline, and because multitasking helps me concentrate (ahem), I’m also writing to you.

Friends, my screen is split.

SplitScreen

The split screen–“Preparing for Deposition” and writing this blog–isn’t my only distraction. I also have in front of me a galley of the imminently forthcoming book, Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, edited by Meredith Maran.

MaranMemoir

Actually, it was browsing through this book while listening to the Depo Prep video, reading and nodding and underlining key passages about writing, that forced me to write.

Like this gorgeous piece:

“At its best, writing draws from the inner life, from a place deep within where we are sourced. We could call it the life of the soul. This place is filled with so much genius–an ordinary genius that’s common to us all. It’s the room where our dreams and imagination live. It’s where our wisdom lies, where memories are metabolized, images are born, and creative connections are made. I see it as an inner reservoir, I think there’s even divinity in it–something beyond our egos and our conscious selves. I’m talking about the contemplative life, of course, which is, for me, a significant part of the writing life.”

— Sue Monk Kidd, Why We Write About Ourselves

I’ve had a split personality as long as I can remember. Lawyer Me seeks fair play and justice, wants to help right wrongs in the concrete real world. Writer Me wants to listen to the small, still sounds of the soul, to unearth a nugget of truth and shine a light at it and watch it sparkle and refract, to hear the rhythm and lilt of a string of words and capture them before they are gone.

There is a tension between these sides of me–the practical and the magical, the grounded and the sky-flying, but I think they coalesce into the whole. The commute I take between my two halves connects them in a single desire: to be of use, to be of consequence, or as Sue Monk Kidd writes, “to make my small dent in the world.” And, as the writers in this lovely book do, to reach out from the page into a reader’s quiet living room late at night, to enter her mind, and nod along in mutual recognition.

 

*White sofa? Am I daft? Delusional? Optimistic? Perhaps all, but the sofa is a hand-me-down, not purchased but gratefully accepted, one of a pair that lived in my parents’ living room in pristine bliss for decades. After weathering a year of my family’s crawling and jumping and dirty shoes bumping, of our comings and goings, only some of its stuffing is coming out.