Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 13, 2009

What Haunts You?

Twenty minutes ago, I didn’t pick up the phone with much enthusiasm. Earlier there was the call about a car that’s getting fixed. Then there was the call to confirm an oil change for said car, an appointment I’d already cancelled. Then a call for my daughter, who now lives across the country, to notify her about some great sale on jeans.

But this was my friend Mary Ellen, whom I’d encouraged to take a class in children’s lit in the education department at UMass. I’d suggested I might come to visit, and she was hoping I might show up as part of the presentation she’s doing. She and another student would talk about my books and introduce me as a sort of talking artifact, except she put it much more nicely. She asked me, What would you say your major themes are, a lovely question I twisted into: what obsesses me?

I first thought of the project I’m working on now and spoke about the ways people learn to change loneliness into solitude, something hard into something creative. And said of course there’s that theme of fighting quietly to overcome obstacles, especially girls and women. The novel I just finished has a lot to do with learning another language and finding ways to translate the looks on faces, the sounds of words, the landscape. The novel is set in the Arctic, but I think it draws from my childhood in which important things weren’t said, and I learned to watch closely and listen for words not spoken.

What obsesses, haunts, or enchants you?

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Responses

  1. “I first thought of the project I’m working on now and spoke about the ways people learn to change loneliness into solitude, something hard into something creative.”
    NICE, Jeannine. V, v, very.

  2. What a wonderful question!
    This isn’t Mary Ellen Kelly, is it?

  3. …I think it draws from my childhood in which important things weren’t said, and I learned to watch closely and listen for words not spoken.”
    Yes, oh yes. I totally get that.
    And I agree 100% with Jenny’s comment.

  4. Ditto on changing loneliness into solitude. I know exactly what you mean about growing up in a family where important things weren’t said. Maybe that’s what compells me to write, to find a voice.
    You’re the coolest “talking artifact” around 🙂 . . .

  5. Those are three different questions indeed
    Obsesses: getting it right
    Haunts: past failures (and yeah, that’s connected with the first thing)
    Enchants: stories; the possibility of magic; music; imagination

  6. Thank you, Jenny.

  7. I know. I felt like Willa Cather or somebody that gets in school. Maybe there’s a theme going on here?
    Nope, another Mary Ellen, this one an artist thinking about doing some creative work with children.
    Miss you!

  8. Yeah, I know some writers who say their parents were story tellers, but for me, it was more the opposite.

  9. I’m glad you get that, Jama. I know it was a huge inspiration for me — figuring things out, and then, like you do here, getting to say — I know what you mean. What a huge relief.

  10. Re: Those are three different questions indeed
    Well, maybe every question is three different questions? This looks like it could turn out to be another entry….

  11. What good questions — and what wonderful answers you offer. I wish I could come to that class! But I can look forward to that novel, at least.
    My obsessions (in writing and probably in life, too): Fear and loss, and the need for courage. And the need, too, to be true to oneself. And the importance of taking delight in the world and finding sources of joy.

  12. Thank you. It’s interesting to step back from the writing and to see how obsessions from life have slipped in. Again and again.
    I love your obsessions!

  13. I hadn’t thought of this much, about my WIP, but I do think it’s playing out something I have always thought about–that’s how some of us build healthy adult lives on top of the base we’re given as children and how some of us build those healthy lives DESPITE the lack of base we got. If that make sense.

  14. That makes total sense. I know I picked up some things from my mom, but thankfully, I hate to say, not many. A lot of my guidance as a mom has been the thought of what I wished I had, rather than what I had. But that can work, I think.

  15. This post is haunting me! And I mean that in the very best way. I read it a couple days ago and have been thinking about it ever since. I also came from a family where important things were not said, and I think what I often write about is courage–diving into fear instead of hiding from it.
    The things that enchant me are the small beauties in everyday life, and I strive to not overlook them.

  16. It’s so hard to learn that just because we don’t look at fear, doesn’t mean it will go away.
    Good luck with finding the small beauties. Mine today was hearing from you. A real pleasure. Thank you!

  17. What a lovely thing to say, Jeannine!


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