My mother’s love, her service and sacrifice, her canned peaches that were better than candy — all of these deserve their own essays. But today I’ve been thinking about her mind.
She grew up in Lost River, a tight-knit farming community nestled in a valley just beyond Arco, Idaho. Her dad survived one of the grimmest episodes of World War I, before returning home to start a family and to raise sheep, cattle, and grain. Her mother served an LDS mission to the Southern States, but not before setting an example of sacrifice in pursuit of education.
So my tale begins with Grandma, since it must begin somewhere.
Here are a few more gems — I know it’s been a while — from Ann Padgett’s “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life.” You’ll find it in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (New York: Harper, 2013, pp. 19-60), which you should buy — or borrow from the library — and read.
If you write.
Writing must not be compartmentalized. You don’t step out of the stream of your life to do your work. Work was the life, and who you were as a mother, teacher, friend, citizen, activist, and artist was all the same person. People like to ask me if writing can be taught, and I say yes. I can teach you how to write a better sentence, how to write dialogue, maybe even how to construct a plot. But I can’t teach you how to have something to say. (pp. 31-32)
Here I’ll give you a better taste of how it works, in case you’re on the fence about whether it will work for you.
Our meetings consist mostly of three activities: reading (aloud), giving critiques, and receiving critiques. Each of these could make someone squirm, I know, but it’s the price of improving as writers. We try to be kind, helpful, and candid.
How It Works: Reading
Some or all of the writers in the meeting will read excerpts from something they’re writing, or the whole thing, if it’s very short. They may or may not preface their reading with a brief explanation of the work, of what has happened previously, or what sorts of help they especially want. It’s all on a clock; unless the meeting is especially crowded or we’re running late, each reader gets up to seven minutes for the reading itself and any introductory explanations.
In the meetings I’ve attended, I’ve read from three short stories (one written that day on the train, because an idea struck), the first and second chapters of a novel I’m polishing, and an essay I drafted a couple of years ago and have revisited a couple of times, but which really isn’t working yet.
After each reading, the author circulates a signup sheet. Anyone who wants to read more and provide a critique at the next meeting will sign up. Sometimes two people sign up; sometimes it’s six or seven.
After the meeting the author sends out the piece – up to 2,500 words – by e-mail, at least a week in advance of the next meeting, so everyone who signed up has time to read, reread, and critique it.
American Fork’s chapter of the League of Utah Writers (LUW) meets twice monthly, on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, at 6:00 p.m. We meet in the American Fork Library, in the smaller of the two conference rooms near the east entrance. The chapter itself is just a few months old, and new members are always welcome.
There’s a Facebook group, Good AF Writers. Take the name as a fact or an aspiration, as you choose.
I’m told that different LUW chapters run their meetings differently. In our meetings, those who bring writing for critique read from it aloud for several minutes, then circulate a sign-up sheet. Anyone who wants to read more and provide an oral and written critique at the next meeting supplies a name and an e-mail address. The author sends out the piece, usually in a Word doc, at least a week before the next meeting. We limit the length of that to about 2,500 words – lately down from 5,000 words – to reduce the workload for critics. (You can always bring in the next chunk next time.)
We who signed up as critics then read and reread your piece, offer a brief oral critique (generally not more than several minutes) at the next meeting – assuming you’re there – then send the Word doc back to you with any markup and comments we may have added. Sometimes you get a lot, sometimes you get a little.
After four years with a mellophone player in the American Fork High School Marching Band, our household is marching band-free. For me there are some withdrawal pangs.
In those four years I visited band camp a few times; made a feature-length documentary about the band and a shorter video tribute to a retiring director, John Miller; dabbled at social media; wrote press releases, blog posts, and newspaper features; edited others’ newspaper columns about the marching band experience; and attended one competition after another.
I worked with parents and other boosters, directors, and staff from print and broadcast media outlets. I even sent the trumpet I played through my first year of college to Grand Nationals and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, to be played, of course, by someone much younger.
Along the way I met more fine people than I can count — and not just band students. Virtually everyone I met seemed to know what I tried to remember throughout: We weren’t the story. The story was — is — the kids, their music, their show.
I am not a photographer, as you will quickly see, but I snapped some photos along the way. Here are a few from state and regional competitions in St. George, Utah, last fall. I offer them to help us get in the mood for marching band, if we’re not already, and perhaps also to relieve my withdrawal symptoms.
I’m driving south to St. George, Utah, today for my middle son’s last two competitions as a member of the American Fork High School Marching Band. If my youngest son doesn’t change his mind in the next few years, this will be my last weekend with a child competing in the marching band.
Today is the Red Rocks Invitational, which is also the Utah state championship. Tomorrow is the Bands of America Western Regional, which draws fine bands from Utah and other western states, including California.
These are also John Miller’s last two marching band competitions before he retires next spring, after 30 years as Director of Bands at AFHS.
And last week at Pleasant Grove High School, the AFHS Marching Band hosted the final competition of the regular season, the Mt. Timpanogos Marching Band Competition, where over 3,000 students in 43 bands gathered from schools in Utah and Idaho.
All these lasts and possible lasts inspire some thoughts.
I find band parent Mark Standing on the highest row of the stands at Pleasant Grove High School’s football stadium. He and I work with a few others on the American Fork High School Band Booster Publicity Committee, feeding press releases, stories, and commentary to print and broadcast media. We’re at the Mt. Timpanogos Marching Band Competition, so we’re technically working, but it’s that rare sort of work they must mean when they say, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Regrettably, we can’t support our families at this; it pays exactly 100% less than our day jobs.
Mark gestures toward the blanket next to him and says, “She’ll be back in a few minutes. She’s from Sky View, and she says she’s a psychotic band mom.”
I am not a mental health specialist, but I understand that psychosis is a disorder in which one becomes detached from external reality.
I look forward to her return for three reasons. Sky View is my second-favorite Utah high school marching band, after my own American Fork. Band moms are dizzyingly high on the coolness meter. And I have some long-standing grievances with reality generally.