Best of Times, Worst of Times

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Dear readers, the University of Iowa was lovely.  I had a wonderful time there teaching an intensive, generative memoir workshop last week (during UNL's spring break).  The graduate students were excellent, the Shambaugh House was a lovely and comfortable space in which to teach (my red velvety chair was practically a throne), and my reading at Prairie Lights was really fun.  Prairie Lights staff members Lindsey, Nana, and Jan were great, and where else but in Iowa City would so many people turn up on a cold/rainy/windy/ultimately-snowy night for a reading?  Robin Hemley threw a great party at his beautiful house, and wow, can his wife cook!

Tomorrow, the manuscript of ISLAND OF BONES goes to the University of Nebraska Press.  I'm excited to be making my deadline!  This is a collection of memoir essays about, oh, you name it:  mothering, latinidad, the academy, being poor, not being poor anymore, writing, teaching, love, and so on.  Kind of like a sequel to The Truth Book, but happier.  And thank goodness for that. 

My editor, Kristen Elias Rowley, hopes to be able to bring out the book in Fall 2012.  We'll see.  These things don't always progress according to plan.  And THE DESIRE PROJECTS, thus far, is slated for Spring 2012, which should be a tumultuous year, Mayan projections aside.

However, something very strange and sad also happened in Iowa last week.  I'd just gotten back from a great dinner and then drinks afterward at an underground pub with a graduate student there who is also a friend.  When I returned to my hotel room (far too late), I had a voicemail waiting.  My biological father (Lenny in the opening of The Truth Book) had died. 

I felt absolutely shaken and stunned and sad.  He was young.  It was not expected.  He passed away in his sleep.  He was a kind man.  Messed up in some ways, but kind.  He made an effort.  He reached out to people.  He had a gentle soul.  I've known him since my late 20s. 

So I did that thing I do:  compartmentalized the hell out of it.  Workaholism may not be everyone's coping strategy of choice, but it's been my saving grace on more than one occasion.  I gave my Prairie Lights reading and taught the rest of the week without mentioning it to anyone in Iowa.  I thought, If I say this out loud to anyone, I'll fall apart.  I won't be able to keep going.  I'll have to leave.  I'll be that visitor whose father died in the middle of her residency.  So I sucked it up.  I started to tell my friend, there in the middle of the party, but once her eyes were on me, I couldn't, and I changed the subject.  I got home and plowed through my book manuscript one more time.

So there you have it:  the story behind the story.

Now the Handsome Husband, Greyby, and I are planning to head across states for the funeral service. 

Oh, my heartbreaking, messed up parents.  Stop dying. 



fayepoet said:

Thank you for opening your heart—the pain and sadness—as you begin your trip to bid farewell to your biological father. I hope you find solace in the fact that Lenny was good, kind, gentle, and reached out– traits you share and that I so appreciate.
A sudden death, so unexpected, can be difficult and its good that others will be with you to offer support and comfort. Know that my thoughts are with you, dear Joy.

April 1, 2011 9:25 PM

Faye said:

I am so sorry to hear of your loss.

April 2, 2011 9:10 PM

Mary K Author Profile Page said:

Dear Joy,
Thanks for your posting. My biological dad died eight years after I met him and I was still getting to know him. He lived in Omaha when I was in New York and he wrote every week. (His spelling was terrific; I did not inherit that gene.) He was messed up too and in poor health due to much "hard" living. He died at 66.
I'm sorry for your loss. And glad for you that you got to know your bio father; most don't. I know I'm grateful.

April 3, 2011 2:25 PM

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