A fragment of Michelle

My head is full of so many moments I am not ready to write about. All the things that make the best stories. And isn’t that like life? I am never ready for the first snow. Never ready for the big new job, never ready for a child, never ready for death, never ready for love. It hits and I blink, take a big breath, and plunge in. Rarely do I shut my eyes and wait for it to pass me by.

I had a dream last night that I was walking along a frozen river and I heard the crack and plunged down down down underneath the icy ceiling, pulled by a current forward away from the break and into the chilling blue deep. And I swept into the water so willingly because of the underworld’s great undulating beauty. It was only when I started to think of my daughter needing me that I noticed I could not breathe. These are the kinds of things I dream. Vividly. I dreamt this because of how I am feeling about writing lately.20068_292603241487_2318787_n

Does Ann Lamott have friends? Madeleine L’engle was estranged from her children who resented their life being fictionalized. How is it being that divorced husband or for that matter, the new one, in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love? I think of these things as I embark on a novel. I’m not that concerned about my primary muses: Anita and the girls and our trip to Italy…because they’re all extremely gracious. But I get concerned about the stories around them that I must tell. Their career, their circle, their family. Why was this trip important to each of them? Why did they need a holy day holiday? How can I possibly tell a good story without conflict? I can’t. I need to show how they bleed. I need to guess at their need. So I either stir up a whole lot of shit and hope in the end love prevails as I tell a memoir….or…I create a fictional story and risk people feeling like their image has been warped into a fun house mirror for entertainment…or…I let this wonderful amazing story go untold.

Or…some other solution will present itself. As it always does, when I allow the Muse to unfold.

Story is endless and each woman on that trip is so fascinating. I could get swallowed. I could write a novel for each of them. They deserve many words. And here comes marching in the artist’s conceit. I must immortalize because I’m the only one who can do it. I must capture this person on the page or they risk not being celebrated. They deserve to be seen. And who am I to say that? Surely every one of them is seen – as sure as every sparrow that falls – and there unravels my theology into questions of, “Is this compulsion to capture them a holy impulse? Is that the God in me seeing the sparrow? Or is that the arrogant human in me feeling like I must play God because nobody else is going to do it? And is the rise of the memoir and autobiography a product of our individualistic society? Do I want to join in that? Why don’t I write a book about Polar Bears, who are actually drowning while I’m dreaming?

And this line of thinking shuts me down completely.

So let’s go back to a fragment. Let me offer you a fragment tonight, because I am still compelled to write. Today I am going to share with you a fragment of Michelle. I just went to visit her on Vancouver island while her husband Dave is away, playing fabulous jazz piano somewhere in London, England.

Her house is snuggled in amongst the trees right next to a pub and a weed smoking fellow who loves monster trucks. Odds and ends of pots and hanging baskets overflow with petunias and poppies and anything that will grow. Chickens are squawking in the backyard and airborne birds are chirping away, happily stealing the cherries in the tree. Michelle bursts through the patio door to passionately yell, “Thief! Thief!” Then calmly toodles back inside to attend to the eggs benny. She is humming over a 1940’s stove, swishing around in something diaphanous, turquoise, white and flowy. Her long blonde hair is a golden fan and she’s wearing jewels – a sashaying Klimt painting. gustav-klimt-painting2-300x279I tease her, “Michelle, you look like you should be the figurehead of a ship” there is something marine and goddess-like with the blues and truth be told, the magnificent amble bosom. She laughs and plops me down in the chair.

“Do you drink your espresso black?”

“Of course! Can I do anything to help?” I ask.

She winks, “Does it make you ansty to just be served?”

“No, not at all. I could do this all day.” I chuckle.

She slides a plate of perfect eggs in front of me, along with the five children and three other adults around me. How does she work out the timing? It’s a wonder. The ham is crispy, the spinach is beautifully sautéed, the yolks are set and perfectly creamy. Her hollandaise is homemade and smooth as silk. We all munch away with many moans and groans and offer up thanksgiving. Michelle is a morning person AND a breakfast person and I thank the heavens profusely. She blinks her long lashes at me, “Well, I hate making lunch. I cook up a big breakfast so I can skip it.”

Her home is full of whimsy: a jug full of strawberry water, a vintage sewing machine. A gold trimmed tea cup with carp painted on the sides…inexplicably. A tiger costume: adult sized. A clock turned fifteen minutes early. A nude painting. A careful small stack of receipts. A violin. The largest cat I’ve ever seen dominating the sofa, purring “Love me, love me, love me.”

While I do the dishes, she creates three glorious hair-dos for her girls and mine: Nora’s circle braid worthy of a Russian ice skater. We bustle out the door with Anita to hit the Chemainus market. Nora chews down the senior’s table and pays only five bucks for a hand crocheted teddy bear. She comes bounding back very pleased with herself. Anita and Emma are oohing over the vintage earrings at the United Church, Hanna and Madeleine and Emma are later busking on their violins and piano…and…Michelle is with Rebecca, pushing her in a chair, stopping to chat with a local, stopping to run a silk scarf through her fingers, stopping to nip a bag of mini donuts to share. And this is the first time I remember all day that her daughter has cerebral palsy. I forget because it doesn’t seem to slow Rebecca or Michelle down a bit. But of course it must. Of course it does. Of course there is constant fear and frustration and sacrifice and so many things I can’t even dream of for that sweet little girl. For her family. I watch her. I watch her for hours. A little sparrow always at risk of falling. I watch Michelle adjust. I watch her make Rebecca’s time her time. I watch her make it the exactly right terrific thing to be doing. I watch her make it fun.

This strength – this stretch – this muscular love. She’s a wonder. A wonder I simply must behold. What a bird.

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  1. Diana Stevan

    Oh, Lucia, this is so beautifully written. Some of the questions you’ve asked regarding what we write about, are ones I’ve pondered. I’ve been working on my grandmother’s story, full of my mother’s anecdotes, and I wonder what my cousins will think when they read about how I’ve depicted their parents. Letting my imagination go – fiction inspired by reality – have I done them justice? As for your dream, it reminds me of some of mine. Vivid and startling. And your lovely depiction of Michelle, her life, her child with cerebral palsy. Yeah, big questions. Thanks for such a great article.

    I so enjoyed Espresso. Brilliant. The writing and your performance. Looking forward to reading more.

  2. Shawna Berry

    Dearest Lucia,

    Oh thank you for that beautiful reminder of our amazing friend Michelle!
    I am missing everyone and everything right now as I try to make a life in Alberta and your story took me right there beside you all. It would have been lovely in every way!!!!!!!
    Take care beautiful lady and thank you!!!!!
    Love, shawna

  3. Lucia Frangione

    thank you so much Diana – the best to you and your Grandmother’s story. If you discover a way to do it that makes everyone happy – haha – please tell me the secret!

    Shawna – Michelle told me you just moved to Alberta. I am so happy to share this virtual eggs benny with you. Good luck with your new home. May it be blessed. xoxo

    1. Diana Stevan

      I’m thinking of either getting it published as creative non-fiction or historical fiction. Either way, I can emphasize that the essence of my stories are true as told to me by my mother, but that I’ve had to make us some stuff to dramatize what took place. How’s that? Wonder if that will work to appease anyone whose feelings might get hurt. Yikes.

      1. Lucia Frangione

        I see things written as “inspired by real events” or “based on real events” – gives a bit of room for invention. Good luck!

  4. Diana Stevan

    oops. essence is true.

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