Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Musings, 19 November 2011

Good morning,

The mums which we purchases largely for their splash of color, one September Saturday, have decided that if we did not want to continue watering them, they would not continue to grace our deck. They have succumbed to neglect and the fierce whip of autumn winds, and now roll in their weightless pots behind the table. Fall threatens to yield to winter, and I pull my sweatshirt closer to my frame as I gaze around me before deciding to retreat to my idyllic bedroom with its early-century paneling and its cathedral ceiling. The wind batters my bungalow but I feel safe.

I have become a virtual parent. I felt this stark reality in recent days, as I watched my SmartPhone for messages from my son and his step-brother, one of whom attends the college that the other left to visit this week. I pull the laptop towards me in the evening and scroll through Facebook for news of my adult step-daughter and her adorable boyfriend, and there, too, do I exchange greetings with the boyfriend's mother. I do not cyber-stalk my son, but I do take note of the pictures on his Facebook page, and I cannot help but feel gratified by the complacency that I decide appears on his features. I feel a small wince of worry at the ever-present and barely disguised beer bottles, but I have only to reflect on my own college days to know that he has not yet attained the depths to which my friends and I sank during our own college careers, and so, I persuade myself to watch but not worry.

By text-message, I learn of his play that has been accepted for presentation in the playwrights' festival, and his short story that will appear in the campus literary review. I praise my son for these accomplishments, remembering the clench of thrill in my gut, nearly forty years ago, when I learned about the planned publication of three of my poems in a local literary magazine in St. Louis.

I got that news by mail, since the virtual word had not yet been born. I stood at my mailbox and tore open the self-addressed stamped envelope required with each submission. The editors of Eads Bridge are pleased to announce that we have accepted three of your poems for publication, which will appear as a triptych on adjacent pages. We enclose suggested edits of those poems, and await your approval. I clutched the paper and grinned at passing students. It was not my first publication. I had been a high school correspondent for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and a guest-essayist for a Christian magazine aimed at teenagers, the publisher of which employed my sister. I had been the editor of my high school literary magazine in my senior year, on account of which, to no one's surprise, my writing had been published. But the submissions to Eads Bridge differed from my prior accomplishments in that I had no guardian angel and no captive audience. If the editors of Eads Bridge liked my poetry enough to publish it, then maybe -- just maybe -- it was good.

In the end, only two of the poems appeared. I regretted that, but the editors had final say. I had written the poems together, and to me, they only made sense together. But I did not challenge the final decision and I accepted the "writer's copies" which were my only compensation. My father evidenced the most pleasure at my being a published poet, since his father had also been. From the example of my grandfather, who died years before my birth, I began to wonder if I couldn't go to law school and write as a vocation, while supporting myself as an attorney. I set my sites on this goal.

The rest, as they say, is history.

And now, my son has grown into a writer as well as the musician that he could not help but also be. He sends his short stories to me for review, and his essays, and his papers. I comment; I encourage; I support. From my perch, overlooking the neighbor's roof and the distant trees, I walk the line between mother and editor. I read what he writes wherever I am when I receive it. This story seems unfinished to me, I told him, texting from Division 3 where I awaited my very tardy client on Wednesday. Ugh, came his reply. Then, a few seconds later, okay, what should I do?

And although I know he seeks direction for this one story, which I imagine must be tendered to his writing professor within mere hours from the time he sent it to me to read, I find myself giving him broader advice: Just keep writing.

From the tenor of his answering text, I know he must be laughing. I give him more specific advice about the story itself, and why it leaves me wondering. He's better at essays than he is at short stories, but he is young, and might well find himself excelling in any of these genres. I haven't read the play as of yet, though I have asked to do so. He'll send it, in his own time, and, hopefully, one day I will receive a doc file of his first novel.

I am, when all is said and done, both a virtual parent and a dishonest one. If I bared my soul, I would admit that I want him to pursue his gift of writing in part, at least, because I did not. But as the wind whistles outside my window and the sounds of NPR drift around me, I protest to my silent, spiritual self that I do not strive to live vicariously through my son. Rather, I yearn to spare him from the isolation of regret that I feel for a road not taken.

Yesterday, I met a man at the Missouri Bar Fall Meetings who professed to have encountered me in the past, perhaps when he came to Jackson County as a visiting judge. I searched my data bank but found nothing to corroborate his memory. He asked me what type of law I had practiced in the past, and I told him: Lobbyist, prosecutor, civil litigator, family law practitioner. He remarked on the varied nature of my career, and asked of which endeavor I felt most proud. Actually, I told him, the job at which I think I most excelled was raising my son.

It might be the holidays making me a bit maudlin, or the long ride back from Jefferson City listening to country music. Perhaps in standing on my front porch at four yesterday afternoon, coat in hand, fishing through the mailbox, I triggered a recollection of that nausea which I felt long ago, holding the return envelope, wondering if Eads Bridge had accepted my submission. And perhaps that memory opened the flood gate of my most secret yearnings, of the life I did not lead, the loss of which I feel without diminishing my happiness in the life that I chose instead.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.