My ancestors owned slaves?

Be careful when you research your family, you might not like what you find.

I guess that’s what freaked out Ben Affleck so much.

My uncle has been researching our family for 20 years, and has traced our ancestors back to the 1600’s in the United States; we were here before the country was. We fought in the Revolutionary War (I wonder if the Daughter’s of the Revolution would let me in?), built cities and “tamed the west” (killing many natives along the way). We’re mainly Scotch-Irish with a lot of German thrown in I discovered. And my grandmother’s family were genteel plantation owning Southerners who owned slaves.

Slaves? My ancestors bought and sold black people?

I suppose it’s not all that surprising seeing as my ancestors have been here for 350 years. But I’d lived under the illusion that my family were all abolitionists. Many were. I have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War. But seeing the documentation stating how many slaves a particular ancestor owned when he died makes me shudder.

When I lived in San Francisco there was a hair salon near my house that was owned by a black woman with the same last name as my grandmother. “I wonder if we’re related?”, I thought. Today, I wonder if my ancestors had owned hers.

Slavery. We see the effects of it all around in the high proportion of poverty in people of color and the institutional racism that impacts everyone’s daily life. To be black in this country is to be judged. What is it like to live with the weight of that, day in and day out?

My ancestors were slave owners. Rather than turning away from that fact, I acknowledge it. I recognize it as a part of my history. Am I guilty about it? I’m not sure. Should I be? I myself have never owned slaves, but again I think about the black woman who owns the salon with the same name as my grandmother. If we go back six generations, what will we find?

If you’re an American with ancestors who’ve been here more than 200 years, there is plenty of blood in your family closet.

No father should have to change his daughter’s Maxi-Pad.

Rick

Happy Father’s Day to my fearless husband. The man who works every day to keep a roof over our head and food on our table (seriously, he works every frickin day). The man who chose to become to father of a severely disabled girl. He is not her biological father, but he is the one who has raised her and fought for her and has even changed her Maxi-Pad.

Yes, he has had to learn how to deal with a girl’s period and which Maxi Pad to use.

No father should have to do that. Ever.

Happy Father’s day, you wonderful man. And to all the father’s of children with disabilities: the ones who stay up all night with a sick kid; who work crazy jobs to buy their child a new walker; the fathers who sacrifice their leisure time to help their child put stickers on a drawing or play with dolls; thank you. You are the rock stars of medically fragile children everywhere.

Celebrate your day!

Thank you Andrea Lundgren for allowing me to be a guest

Andrea Lundgren, author and editor, has invited me to be a guest on her blog. She just posted my post about how a memoir needs a plot.  You can read the post here:

https://andrealundgren.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/spotlight-saturday-12-plotting-a-memoir/

Thank you so much Andrea for the support. Looking forward to reading more from you.

Even professional editors forget to follow their own advice when writing.

Feeling exuberant, I plunged into writing the first chapter of my memoir. My fingers ached from typing so much as the sentences flowed. After 700 words I happily read what I’d written.

It was awful.

Seriously, what the hell was I trying to say?

Who was going to read any of this?

And that was my problem. I’d forgotten who I was writing for. Instead of keeping my imaginary writer in mind, I wrote lovely prose all for myself. My memoir had turned into masterbation and I honestly thought someone would pay to watch.

I deleted every word I’d written and stared at that blank screen so long I stopped blinking.

After a few days of self pity, during which I decided I was the worst writer in the world and no one would buy any book of mine and how dare I think I had a story anyone would want to read, I thought about why I was writing a memoir. I want to help struggling parents who are raising special needs children while coping with their own complex emotions. Who were those parents? I remembered myself at age 29 with a tiny, medically fragile baby and no idea how I could save her. Slowly, I wrote to the young woman I used to be, realizing that the world was filled with terrified parents clutching fragile children. I wrote what I had longed to hear those first few weeks.

Remembering why I was writing my memoir, and who I was writing it for, put me back on track. I finished chapter one knowing my words have purpose and the book has a point. We’ll see what my editor thinks, but for now, I am grounded enough in the writing to finish this book.

When I edit, I always ask authors what the book is about and who they are writing for. It was surprising to realize I had forgotten to follow my own advice.

A Woman on the Margins

Originally posted on Longreads Blog:

Jessica Gross | Longreads | May 2015 | 17 minutes (4,223 words)

I first encountered the work of the memoirist, critic, and journalist Vivian Gornick in graduate school when we were assigned The Situation and the Story, her handbook on personal writing. Gornick explains that the writer must create out of her real self a separate narrative persona. The narrator has wisdom and distance the writer may not, and can craft a meaningful story out of the raw details of life. This slim book cracked open my understanding of what it means to write.

In Fierce Attachments, her 1987 memoir, Gornick wields her narrative persona to construct an incisive, nuanced portrait of her conflicted bond with her mother. She describes the Bronx tenements where she grew up, the early death of her father, the complex relationship with their neighbor Nettie and, at the center of it all, a…

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My daughter turned 20, which wasn’t supposed to happen.

This week was my daughter’s 20th birthday, which when you’re battling Mitochondrial Disease, is a birthday hard won. My daughter, who I call Queen Teen (but can I still call her that if she’s not a teen anymore?), is a beautiful, friendly, stubborn young woman who has fought every single day to keep walking and keep learning. Despite being doubly impacted with blindness and deafness she has learned to read words and understand sign language. Doctors told us she wouldn’t make it to her teens. When she did she was diagnosed with “Mito” and given five more years to live. That was three years ago.

Right now, my daughter is singing “Let’s go fly a kite” and “Take me out to the Ball Game” at the top of her lungs. It’s horribly off key, but I love every note. I don’t know how long we will have together. Two years? Ten? You stop worrying about it after a while and learn to live in the present. “Be here now” is more than just a philosophy when your child has a life threatening illness, it is the golden rule to live by.

20. Who will she become now that she is grown? What will she want to do? I love watching and learning more about her.