Tag Archives: story

Journal a life.

I have always had a journal– back to 4th grade (see the pink patent leather with the lock and the word PRIVATE). The early ones are about boys and best friends. The middle ones are about being afraid to die and being afraid to live and being afraid in general– mostly of myself. Oh, and also about boys. And God. And the more recent ones are all written from the hot cramped cabins of airplanes. I’m a claustrophobe who hates to fly– the one pretending she’s blithely involved in the NYT crossword puzzle, but who is in reality, sitting there begging the heavens for smooth skies and a safe landing. To the tune of: Please don’t let anything scary happen. Please don’t let anything scary happen. And I travel a lot. So if anyone ever reads my journals from the last ten or so years of my life, they will put me in the annals of crazytown. Each entry is written as if the plane’s going down and I need to say just…one…last…thing about life and what it is to be human and mortal.

I’ve kept them all. But I’ve never re-read them. I’m too afraid to see that I haven’t changed or learned anything. Or am still complaining about THAT thing which I should have figured out how to get over years ago. I’m too afraid to see the broken record that is me. Or too sad to see big dreams unrealized. Or remember all the years I spent suffering for something that actually DOES come my way– good, bad, or indifferent.

I’m not sure what purpose the journal serves. I just know that it is my lover, best friend, confidant, safe house. I can feel them in the box in my writing room closet, sitting there with all my history and hysteria; I can hear the many voices of me and feel the pulse that drives them to want to write my story in those private pages. I love them. Even when I don’t love myself.

The other day, for some reason…I missed them. So I braved it and took them out, spread them on the staircase and ran my hands over them. Each of them like long lost loved ones with whom, upon first sight, you pick up exactly where you left off. I was suddenly hungry for my earlier selves, and dared myself to dig in. A summer in Spain looked like a good place to start. I took that Asian silk wrapped journal from a head shop in my childhood town (back when there were head shops), and opened it in the middle. Read the words, “If God is so good then…” and slammed the book closed. Couldn’t do it. Italy–that was a good year. I opened that journal, covered in marbleized Italian paper. “I hate Americans. All they care about is…” Slammed that one shut too. Maybe one from sixth grade instead. “I’m in my treehouse hiding.” Nope. Instead I decided to just lay my hands on them and thank the words that I needed to spring…knowing that they somehow needed to spring and believing they helped…and took a picture.

In that moment, I have never been more certain that the past is the past, and is meant to be left behind. It was a powerful exercise. It reminded me that I have spent a lot of my life in deep thought, moving around a pen to the tune of my emotions in a little book that lives somewhere close. Until it is full. And then it goes into a box in a closet for safe keeping. I’m proud of that. That’s where all those words belong. In a box.

I think someday, if and when I’m an old woman, maybe I might be brave enough to go back and see who I’ve been all these years. Until then, I write in my journals where I am free to be exactly who I am without anyone’s judgement but my own. Maybe that nails it: when I am writing in my journal, I am not a self-critic. I am not crafting story. I can be my most despicable and dreamy self. And who wants to re-visit that? Not me. Not yet.

I invite you to do the same. Collect all your journals and spread them out. Bask in them for a bit. Read some if you must. And put them back from whence they came. Send me the photo.

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Writing Contest: Sunrise (submissions close May 1st)

Announcing the winner of this contest and the recipient of 50% off to my September Montana writing retreat:

Erika Putnam

Thanks to all who submitted.  You helped the judges see the sunrise with new eyes.

I woke early in Florida the other day and watched the sun rise.  And I decided…I have not watched enough sunrises.  I find that when I do…something always happens. Especially when they include a watery horizon.

There is a story in this photograph. That bird knows something, if only that it needs to fish. I want to live that deliberately.

To that end…write me this story in 1200 words or less. The winner gets half off to my writing retreat in Montana this September 26-29th.

I look forward to your entries…  And I hope you look forward to your sunrise.

yrs. Laura

Send entries to laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Submissions close May 1st.  I will announce the winner on May 2nd here and will send you a personal email.

Thanks for all your beautiful stories.  It’s been a true pleasure reading them.  If yours does not win, I invite you to apply to the retreat anyway.  It’s fast filling up, so if you are interested in coming regardless of the 50% off rate, email me.  The retreat is $1,800 which includes three vegan meals a day, private room, intensive small group writing workshops, private writing time, and one-on-one sessions with Laura, deep in the woods of Montana on a lake.  Email me and I can send you more info.  I am officially opening registration next week, but am making pre-registration available to writing contest applicants so let me know if you want to be put on the list regardless.  yrs. Laura

 

 

 

 

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Inheritance

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Inheritance by Laura A. Munson

When life is long, we take off our gold bracelets and put them into the back of a low drawer. When life is long, we move far away from that drawer. We curse the drawer. We curse the bondage of gold bracelets, the parents who bought them for us, the mines that produced them and the rivers they leached strychnine into to get the gold. We go to the river and look into the slither of the still-pink-bellied fish and say, “I’m sorry.”
When life is short though, we think, “Well, it might be nice to feel the fickle weight of a gold bangle on my wrist. Might be nice to look down and see my hand looking fancy and shiny. Might be nice to remember my parents in this piece of jewelry.” So we go back to the drawer and find the bracelets, and we put them on again, forgive our parents, and feel sixteen and long in life.
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This year I inherited a combined legacy of five hundred years of unbroken china, crystal and silver. And in some addendum to the throes of running from gold bracelets, I have found myself living, what looks like semi-permanently, in the northwest corner of the biggest “square state,” Montana. Montana, where the women were lucky to arrive with their lives, much less their china, crystal and silver. Montana, where pomp went out with the bath water. Montana, where a formal dining room is a new concept, or rather, one of the Bacchanalia left behind for a better life, a job on the railroad, a wanderlust-ful love for mountains, gold.
So I sit here on a snowy day and stare into my grandmother’s glass and oak dining room hutch and think, I am the one who is going to break this glass front, I just know it. It’ll be my child who slams her toy baby carriage into it and shatters it; my dog with such a brawny tail. After all, I am the first to allow a dog or toy baby carriage in the dining room. I am the first who uses her dining room to wrap presents for Christmas and to write novels, and not for nightly dinners and Sunday afternoon suppers. I am the first not to use the china. I am the first to merely behold it.
I found out last night that there is a woman in my town who has met me once and now feels the need to state in public places that she does not like me. She is quoted as saying something to the effect that I am a lady of leisure—that I sit around all day and have tea parties with all my fancy china. I guess she’s heard about my formal dining room with the five hundred years of china stacked into its hutch. It’s no secret. But in Montana, it is an anomaly. I like to think of this woman when I am on my third load of laundry, second batch of dishes, fourth leg of kid-school-transport, third reincarnation of this week’s beef—from roast to stew to cold sandwiches. I like to think about how my Montana includes her, but how hers does not include me. And make my peace.
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Other times, particularly when I’m on my fourth leg of kid taxi service, I day dream about teaching this woman a little lesson: I want to invite her to lunch and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Limoges Haviland that came with my great grandmother in a covered wagon from Manchester, Vermont to southern Illinois in the mid 1800’s when she and her husband realized that they couldn’t support their eight children on the income from their farm and that there was cheap farm land “out west.”
And then we’ll drink milk from Steuben goblets that I’ll blow the dust out of and I’ll read the accompanying note in the slanted elegance of looping letters: “Given to me by Chester Wright Munson on our wedding day. Good. Save for the girls.” And I’ll hold up a claret red shot glass and read that accompanying note in the same script: “Brought back from Chicago by my parents when they attended the World’s Fair– 1893.”
And we’ll stab at carrot sticks (it’s not a fancy meal, this one) with pre-Civil-War Towle forks not taken by the Yankees who camped in my great great grandmother’s yard, and I’ll tell her about my great great grandmother and how she hid her babies under her bed and her silver in the ground behind the smokehouse while her husband was losing an eye at the Battle of Shiloh, the same battle where William Elliott Aldrich also fought, only for his Northern cause. And I’ll tell her how he lived to have a son and that son was my great grandfather Hilen, who came to Fon du Lac, Wisconsin through the Erie Canal when he was nineteen and how he worked on the railway as a conductor and I’ll show her his lantern with his name engraved into its base—and a date: 1858.
Then I’d like to tell her that it’s his wife’s china that we are eating off of (Yankee china to Confederate silver), and that she had a son who had a wife named Genevieve who died young of typhoid and left two baby boys behind and it’s her Adderly’s white china dessert plates with the blue relief fleur de lis that we’re going to eat our chocolate chip cookies off of in a minute, right after she says that she was all wrong about me—that I’m not an over-privileged ninny, just a woman well-endowed with the fragile touchstones of family stories, just another sentimental woman in a long line of sentimental women who clung to their possessions in a world that had no promises and still doesn’t. Right after she says she’s sorry.
Then I’ll say, “That’s okay. Next time I’ll cook you a real meal,” and give her a linen napkin with hundred-year-old creases in it and a hand-sewn M in grey, and I’ll remove the straight pin from it and the browned note written in yet another slanted elegance, stating with some sort of pathos toward the daughters to come, “Hand embroidered for my trousseau—1912.” And I’ll tell her about the farm girl who wrote that note, that she had a beautiful contralto voice and went to Northwestern University to pursue a graduate degree in voice until she was sexually harassed by her professor who threatened her with failure, so she up and left and went back to her hometown sweetheart who moved her to a small industrial community on the Mississippi River where he ran a corn syrup factory and she sang in the Presbyterian church choir and at her piano and had a son who was brain damaged at birth by the doctor’s forceps and lay otherwise perfect, in a small crib in the dining room, right next to the hutch I have now, until he was thirteen and died of pneumonia.
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Then I’ll show her the piano and tell her that farm girl was my grandmother and maybe I’ll play her the song she used to play for me: believe me if all those endearing young charms, which I gaze on so fondly today, were to change by tomorrow and fleet in my arms like fairy gifts fading away… That’s all, of course, pending on whether she has a change of heart and hands over the olive branch. If she doesn’t, she won’t get a cookie.
But I don’t do any of that.
Instead I stand at the glass hutch doors and turn the old key and sniff the bloody waft of brass and stare at the notes I’ve been left by my mothers on all sides. Some have to do with china. Others, with furniture. Photographs. Silver. Quilts. I take out a sterling pitcher—the one my father says was always on his dinner table as a boy, and with flannel cloth and polish, I run my fingers over the same beveled handle that my grandmother did, thinking about her solo for Sunday church, or her vegetable baby not crying in the next room.
The fact remains that my mothers wanted to be known. And this is what they had to care for and show for themselves, with sick children and husbands dying in war and life on this mystical and heartbreaking planet. They were the ladies of the house, and that meant something to them; the fact that there are notes shows me that it did not, however, mean everything.
I’ve read those notes over and over. Some are on torn pieces of paper—the backs of checks, lined note-paper with the lines rubbed off by years of sitting in a teacup with the train going by. Others are on engraved stationary—“Mrs. Hilen Aldrich.” And on the inside, “Given to our first grandchild by her loving grandparents, Lucy and Hilen. Hoop skirt chair needle-pointed by Lucy. Chair belonged to Hilen’s father and mother. With sincere adoration—1932.” This note is covered in a child’s pencil scribbles; perhaps those of the first grandchild, my mother, or perhaps mine, playing next to my mother on a china-dusting day. Whichever. It doesn’t matter.
We are all the same in the china cabinet. We are rebellious youths running far from family. We are new mothers who for the first time fear death and seek understanding in the chain of legacy. We are trying to make “home” in new places, remembering Thanksgiving dinners and entire people—their voices, their smells, their eyes sparkling over a story and the gravy only their wife can make—all from the glimmer of a forget-me-not on a Staffordshire chafing dish. We are far from our mother’s gravy. We are the mothers.
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I’ll dust the contents of this cabinet. I’ll keep it well. We will not be the ones to break it. And there will be Christmases around these plates and cups and homemade buns, all because there is a tiny plate just for buns. There will be mint juleps because there are spoons for mint juleps. Shrimp because there are shrimp forks. Espresso because there are demi-tasse. And the mothers will bring these things to the table over and over; the bounty of table-side ritual, the battens of family. And the gold will wear thin on the cup handles and little chips will dig in around the crystal rims…and it means that we were all here. On this beautiful and heartbreaking planet, breaking our bread, but not our fragile things. That’s life, long and short, in a china plate. That’s inheritance.

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