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2004-07-15 - 3:28 p.m.

Mirror to Self

by Joan Callaway

The first and third Thursday of every month my writing group meets at my house from 10 a.m. ‘til we finish or noon at the latest. Since we are all writing our life stories, we each read something autobiographical we’ve written during the preceding two weeks and then spend a few minutes commenting and critiquing the passage. Actually, we now have one man who is writing a historical novel – a mystery about the Hetch Hetchy Dam, based on his father’s experiences.

With membership at about ten, today only six were in attendance. After passing out a copy for each of us to follow along, Larry read a poem he had written for a men’s group to which he belongs. The assignment was to write on the topic, “If you were in Charge.” Larry had written about his precocious 11-year-old grandson, whom he describes as “tectonic” when it comes to things “electronic,” because David had been able to rewire all the components of the entertainment center after the painters had disconnected them. Very cleverly done with Larry’s typical good humor.

Next came a part of the novel with plenty of good background information or the Hetchy project and how it came to be. This chapter introduces a mystery surrounding an explosion of methane gas in a tunnel being constructed by Hetch Hetchy from the Calaveras reservoir that caused the death of seven workers and injuring an eighth. Reading a chapter just twice a month is not a great way to read a mystery, but he’s got us all hooked now. He’s gradually introducing new characters and dropping little tidbits that will probably mean something later.

Then I read a version of One for the Gipper. Happily, a bunch of Democrats, so no one complained about my biased reporting, but they did make a couple of suggestions. Namely, I should be sure to differentiate between my complaints of him as Governor and as President. Good point.

The only other woman here today read of her experiences interned during World War II at Crystal City, Texas, along with Japanese Peruvians who had been rounded up in Peru and shipped to United States via Panama. We were all astounded that this had occurred, as it was nothing any of us had ever heard about. As Yoshi said, “The question still remains as to why the U. S. Army went to Peru to arrest the Peruvian Japanese since Peru was not involved in WW II.” Her ongoing story of the six years her family was interned, two of which they were separated from her father, and the stigma she reports feeling as a teen-ager, is heartrending. I remain ashamed of our country for this unfair and unreasonable action. It is what makes me even more worried about the Patriot Act and all of its implications.

The physicist in the group, who has been writing his life story decade by decade, primarily captions for photos that trigger memories of travels, backpacking trips, and family events, today surprised us with the results of an activity from a spiritual writing group at the Unitarian Church. Each of the participants had been given a mirror and told to write whatever the mirror inspired…anything. John wrote a most introspective and moving couple of paragraphs about aging, running out of time, and “making peace with what is from moment to moment.” It was a new side of this writer; one we had not seen before in his year-by-year reflections.

The last reading of the day was a short almost cryptic description of the uncle of the writer, whose wife died in childbirth of their fifth child many years ago. Since he needed help raising his children, he called upon the services of his then 18 year old younger sister, who abandoned her aspirations to be a teacher, cared for the children, never marrying, but living with her brother and his family. This piece left lots of unanswered questions for the reader, but the author ended it by saying, “wish we had had tape recorders then to record the answers they would have so willingly offered. Another one of life’s frustrations.”

I think that’s true for many of us in the writing group. I know I have a lot more questions for my long-deceased parents now than I had when I was growing up.

I realize, of course, that whatever I write in my life story is only my truths, my perceptions. The perceptions of events and interchanges related in my book are as I remember them and may not be remembered in this same way by those who read my manuscript nor might they have been by those who, sadly, are no longer around to comment or contradict. I have been as honest and forthright as possible and have contributed as much of emotional significance of my life as I can recall – as often as possible a mirror to myself. It is through this truth-telling of our lives that those who have shared our lives and those who come after may know us a little better and perhaps profit from the lessons we have learned. As Russell Baker wrote in his memoirs: “We all come from the past, and children ought to know what it was that went into their making.”

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