Literary Mama December 3, 2018
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A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire…
In quiet moments, I revisit the writing of a favorite author, Eudora Welty. Her fictional Southern towns and close-knit families remind me of my own roots in upstate New York. Recently, I was re-reading The Optimist’s Daughter, and I was moved by several vivid passages. They elicited family memories, and I started to write them down.
I am a beginning writer, but not a young woman. I am a former attorney, college English instructor, and mother of two adult children. Like never before, I feel the urgency to write, even if it is just to better understand my own thoughts and experiences. This is much scarier than facing an angry judge or a classroom of sleepy students. Thank you, Eudora Welty, for giving me the courage to begin.
In The Optimist’s Daughter, I found some parallels to my own life. The fictional Laurel Hand rushes home to be with her dying father. Like Laurel, I returned to my childhood home for an extended stay. My mother suffered a stroke, and I wanted to be by her side. I spent weeks with her, as she slowly convalesced. I did not know how much mental capacity she would recover. I looked for family photos to jog her memory and spark conversations.
Laurel Hand, in the novel, searches through her father’s library. She discovers that much of his desk “had been cleaned out. Someone had, after all, been here ahead of her.” Fortunately, I found troves of family memorabilia to share with my mother. Old photos and scrapbooks became the focus of our hours together and a mutual source of comfort.
Laurel recalls her mother’s stroke and terrible death many years earlier. She “died without speaking a word, keeping everything to herself, in exile and humiliation.” This is a terrible fate. My mother’s story had a happier ending. Her strong will to laugh, chat, and reminisce brought amazing improvements. Welty conveys the horrible pain of losing speech. This is a wake-up call. I need to start writing.
In a beautiful scene, Laurel remembers standing with her mother on a riverbank. At that moment, “large and close to them appeared a gray boat with two of the boys at the oars … The boat came breasting out of the mist, and in they stepped.” The boat is a symbol of opportunity, and “[a]ll new things in life were meant to come like that.” I read these words with admiration. Welty’s message to jump on the boat and embrace “new things” speaks to me, especially as a call to begin my writing.
I have no illusions about writing like Eudora Welty. Instead, I find courage in her power and talent. Welty published her Pulitzer Prize winning novel in 1972, when she was 63, just a bit older than my current age. This comforts me. I have time to share ideas and stories. I want to be an “optimist” and go forward with the stories that I still hold tight.
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Laurie Paravati Phillips is an educator, former attorney, and mother of two delightful adult children. Originally from the East Coast, she has lived with her husband in Northern California for many years. Her work focuses on the fascinating connections between law and literature.