Family Tree

Lincoln Park“In such a dissolved society,” novelist Jack Remick said, “Americans are hungry for cohesive units.”

In “a nation of outsiders,” we flutter like moths toward anything that resembles family.

So true. But how did we get this way? And what can lead us out of it?

Thinking over my own life, I see I’ve had so many parents.

The ballet teachers at Cornish College’s preparatory program who taught me to never show up late to class, to always give my best effort, to welcome critiques more than compliments. Life is about improvement, they taught me. Not self-congratulation.

The women in my neighborhood who invited me into their homes and taught me to tat handmade lace, to change diapers, to clean a litter box. All the everyday common sense that I didn’t inherit from my own mother and grandmothers.

And now, Jack Remick and Robert Ray, my writing mentors, the novelists to whom I’ve apprenticed myself. During the carpool after an open mic, headlights flashing over the highway divider, brake lights illuminating our faces a dusky pink, the two men discussed the importance of breath during the reading of a piece. The fact that you can never have enough backstory. The methods for moving from concept to reality in a novel’s scenes.

But we had some fun, too.

“Yeah, that moment when you said ‘shit’, the cadence of that line–that was good.”

“Yep.”

“It really got me.”

I sat in the back, laughing that two of the most erudite people I’ve ever met were saying “shit” and “good” and “yep”–because they were the perfect words.

I don’t know the answer to our quest for family. But it seems a good place to start is with the people around us.

 

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