Monday, December 28, 2009

Jaqueline Woodson's Feathers and thoughts while on the elliptical

The following blog was written last Wednesday December 23, 2010. I thought awhile before posting it. I asked myself, why ? Why share this? The answer is that this blog is about the process of writing. The pitfalls, obstacles, what works and what doesn't–for me. I hesitated in posting because of the subject matter, but the subject matter isn't what is so important here. What is important is that I sat down and just wrote something, something spontaneous, something unexpected, something from deep inside.  Something that I don't think I wanted to write about but more had to, and in doing this writing, I let go of whatever has been blocking me over the last two weeks.

I also think that the inspiration in this piece is significant–another book, reading someone else's writing stirred something within me that made me want to write, and, therein lies the power of reading.


This isn’t what I thought I would write. I had a tumbling of thoughts while on the elliptical this morning reading for my upcoming residency. Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson. Then I went to Starbucks to write, and this is what came out. I haven’t written much lately, and when I was writing, it was for school. But I feel like I have found my voice again.

This is me, raw again, raw and vulnerable.


I had a revelation on the elliptical today:
My dad has no middle name.
I mean, I knew this, of course, but it hit me:
He was never given a middle name
never given something that most children are given when they are born.


The missing name.
    The missing heart.
    The missing center.

He is a mystery.
He is predictable.

He doesn’t call on the kids’ birthdays
and misses the holidays.

He used to.
He used to take me for long walks and talk about
He used to call and
check in.
But now–
he does not.

For years he faked it.
For years he forced himself.
This is what I think.


I haven’t seen my father since June, for my daughter’s ballet recital.
He lives 20 minutes away.


I don’t have to
decorate anything or
buy anything or
cook anything
today or tomorrow or the next day.    

I miss my father and my mother and sister, all together.
I miss them during this moment of being on the outside,
that is,
outside Christmas, and,
well, now I know: 
It’s all I have left
my family as it used to be.

When I am on the outside,
I am close to the past, when I didn’t know everything.
Because I think (really this is a fantasy, though, and I am really wrong. I just tell myself this, that I just have this version of my childhood and perhaps my sister has another.)
each of them might be feeling that too
pretending to be a part of it all, to fit in,
but they don’t, and they are in a state of parallel existence.
Nodding and smiling at the right moments but inside sighing and wishing to be alone. 
But I really liked it a lot when it was the four of us on the outside together, eating Chinese food on Christmas.
I miss it.
I miss my family even though I feel certain that my father never wanted to be there, to be with the family, with me, my sister and mom, but unlike when you sense that from a friend and then move farther away–unlike that– it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter that he didn’t want to be there, it mattered that he was there. 

The fact is that I want a dad, just not mine.
It feels peaceful to acknowledge this.
I wish I was alone right now so I could cry,
but maybe this holding back is good and will make me write more.


On the elliptical I thought those thoughts all because of the book I was reading, Feathers.  Then I had all these random thoughts about the book, thoughts that brought me to my father.

I noticed that there’s a thing about names in the story, about how the new kid wants to be called Jesus and how Frannie’s name is really Abby but is called Frannie because her brother had an easier time calling her that (Abby is her middle name). 

That’s how I landed on Dad thoughts, but really Dad is always there lurking in the shadows of my thoughts. 

Sometimes he is not lurking but blocking the middle of the road of my life.



Abby/Francis and the Jesus boy from Feathers. Yeah, that’s what made me land on my father, but like I said, he is always there, somehow. Mostly not in a way that stops my life, but more the effects of that relationship linger around the edges of everything. 


i wish i wish i wish

I don’t wish anything
I don’t want to say it...
it “is what it is”
maybe a better and more clear way of saying that is
Dad is Dad and I am me and we are both too old to be not who we are
and I know
who he is
isn’t what I want in my life
despite my wanting to be okay with who he is
I guess I am not okay with it
and despite this other part of me that used to dictate how I dealt with all this (which took tremendous effort. So much that I had panic attacks regularly. Funny how once I submitted to my real feelings about my father, those panic attacks disappeared) despite the part of me that says you and your sister are different people. He treated you differently from her and you have to base your relationship on that–
Not sure about that because now, now he treats me like he treats Jen, and in his eyes we are the same.

“I miss you....”
Do I?
I’m not sure about missing him
I am so sad that I don’t have a dad
that there’s no one to call if–
if what?
I was going to say if I got stuck in the snow
I wouldn’t call him anyway.
I’d call AAA.
That’s kind of funny.

In an alternate universe
I have my dad
he calls to see how I am
if I need help with anything
I can’t even think of anything.
I don’t even know what that looks like.
is that sad?


No middle name
two middle names
not using your given name
choosing a different name

What could that all mean?

My father wasn’t given a middle name.
Was his brother given one?
Something is missing from my father but for many years he faked his way that he had it
What is it?
That word just came to me
he doesn’t seem to grieve
like when his best friend of over 30 years died
he was consumed with what he had to do
would call
sporadically and say
I’m so overwhelmed with dealing with the estate
Never did I hear him say
“I am so sad
this is so sad
he was so young
cancer sucks.”
“I should really look at my own life
life is short
I should really try again with my kids before it’s too late.”


Something is missing from my dad


I keep thinking about the middle name
no middle name.
they couldn’t think of one?
Maybe they were fighting about it.
Maybe Tilly, his mother, was tired.
What was the whole thing like?
The birth of my father?
I know it was November
The war had not ended
What was the day like?
They already had a child
A five year old boy (the same age as my older daughter)
A boy who would grow to be a bully to my father until the day he punched him in the face but they would face a life time of competitiveness that would drive such a wedge between them
My uncle has no children
Does he have no middle name too?

Was my father wanted? Did his father hold and cuddle him immediately, did Tilly?

Later, when they were old and grandparents they showed love, through letters and phone calls,
We didn’t see them much
Mom says he, my dad, didn’t want to
Dad says Mom hated his family
Who knows

I recall them, one day. It was June, I think, the last day of school. We were living in VA, and I came home and walked into the backyard and there they were sitting together on our picnic table, and I don’t know what they said but in my mind they are smiling and I am happy.

My childhood was happy
I mean, that’s what I feel when I look back at it.

things got bad when I was 14.
I felt something wasn’t right
but no one would say what it was
instead they all said it was me
something was wrong with me
it wasn’t me
it was them


My father has no middle name

If you aren’t loved enough
what happens to you?
Your heart
isn’t tender
or vulnerable
you don’t know how to be vulnerable
being loved shows you how to be vulnerable
vulnerability equals true intimacy
Can this be learned?
Could my father learn how to be tender and loving?


An old man
not really old but
around my father’s age
sits in the leather chair facing the window to the outside
he doesn’t move much
he leans his chin on his hand which is propped by his elbow resting on the chair’s arm
he stares at nothing
is he a father?
does he think of his daughters
that maybe he will see tomorrow for xmas eve–
unless he is Jewish–
the other hand holds on to the other arm of the chair

what is he thinking?


Anonymous said...

very moving... *wiping a tear from my eye* My grandpa didn't have a middle name either. Somehow he became known as Dominic "Pete" Saladino, but I don't have a clue as to why "Pete" nor why no middle name. Maybe my mom knows, but I don't really ask. Anyway, your words made me think of my own dad and random thoughts and feelings buried just far enough below the surface they aren't usually recognized, but every so often they appear, just slivers of nearly transparent smoke, puffs of air that slowly weave and coil their way around my brain and linger just long enough for a few thoughts and maybe if I'm lucky a few words on paper and then they dissipate...Even when I read my work, I can tell they're there, hidden just below the surface, but you can't quite make them out, I can't quite make them out. It's more just a feeling of something more than the words on the page...

Hmmm...*with a slight laugh* I'm not sure where those comments came from, but at least I'm writing something...I haven't for a while now...I miss it...Funny, huh? I'm graduating with my MFA in writing in a couple of weeks and I'm saying I miss writing...Ironic...

Hannah R. Goodman said...

Krystle, I know what you mean about missing writing. I think it's a certain kind of writing, a more spontaneous and deeper writing that we don't get the time and space to do for school. My "dad" stuff lingers all over the place when I write, even though fathers rarely appear in my work...I guess there's a reason for that!

#1Nana said...

Raw is a good description. I felt the raw emotion. At times I didn't want to read further because of where it might take me. I'm very new to blogging and found your blog by chance. I've signed up to follow. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more of your insights.

Hannah R. Goodman said...

Thanks #1Nana for your comment and glad to see you found me and want to read more! Looking forward to your comments in future blogs!

Joanne Carnevale said...

I'm sitting in the same Starbucks in which you wrote this. I glanced toward the leather chair and half-expected to see the man with his chin resting on his hand, but the chair was vacant.
My own father has no middle name. He shares some similarities to yours, but seemingly due to his introverted tendencies rather than a lack of care and concern for others. More worrisome for me is that I, as well, lack a middle name. That notwithstanding, this is another inspirational, very raw, and splendid blog piece.