Two years ago, our local writing group published its second anthology, What I Wish I Could Tell You. Having published the first one two years prior, we knew what lay in store for us. Work and patience and stress. And sleep deprivation. Let’s don’t forget that. Undaunted, we began writing.
For months, we wrote, read, critiqued, and edited poems, creative nonfiction, memoir slices, recipes, and lyrics. It was a learning experience for all of us, not only about the craft but also about each other and our backgrounds, fears, flaws, and hopes. Some people struggled with rewriting a piece when group members found it too loose and wandering or too terse and simplified. Others were more agreeable to making modifications
We persevered. Even when not creating a work together, the group goes by a cardinal recommendation: “If two or more people make the same suggestion, you need to seriously consider making the proposed change.” When working on the anthology, there was no “if,” especially if the editor recommended a modification. If this person said, “You need to punch down the vocabulary in this dialogue,” you did it. If this person said, “You’ve used the word fruit three times in this paragraph, find another word. Or better yet, be specific.” Were there apples, oranges, bananas, mangoes, pineapples, blueberries, and strawberries in the white fruit bowl?
We soon saw a theme developing. Memories involving friends and family were there, some amusing and others more serious. Tributes and farewells to people influential to the writers were included. So were memories of receiving a grim diagnosis, a mother/daughter struggle, a teen’s efforts to find his way in a new school, and a child’s fear of Grannie moving in to “raise me up right.” There were washdays, moving days, church days, beach days, and Christmas days. Babies were born, and people passed away.
While the pieces were diverse, most involved change. Sometimes the change came about because of the passage of time itself. People grew up and old. Other times, the change was deliberate, like emigrating to America from Germany, Switzerland, and Ireland. Eventually life worked out reasonably well for everyone.
Lately, I’ve thought more earnestly about the theme behind the anthology and went back to read the preface. “What I Wish I Could Tell You shares its title with a poem in the collection, because after considering many titles, our common theme seemed to echo the sense of longing expressed in those words. Our aim is to use our voices and our stories to say what—and who—we remember, what has touched us, grieved us or given us joy.”
If you can find a way, remind us, Mother,
all living things blossom and wither,
all things die and return. Tell us again
of nature’s order and economy.
Promise nothing is ever wasted;
nothing, ever lost.
- What would you tell your parents if you could?
- What do you wish they had told you?
- What do you wish you could tell your children/grandchildren?
- What do you wish you could say to a friend, a relative, a work acquaintance?
- What about your younger self? What do you wish you could say to him or her?
- If your younger self could talk to you, what do you think he or she would say?
My first husband, when learning of some folly performed by a younger person, often said, “He’s young. He’ll learn.” Recently, when discussing some condescending behavior of an acquaintance, a friend said, “She’s young. Let’s don’t forget that.” Because of teaching college students for four decades (ouch), I’ve often thought the same thing and have wished I had more frequently said, “This too shall pass,” or “You can do anything for a little while.”
It’s your turn to do some pondering. What do you wish you could tell someone, living or dead? What would you advise your younger self? What do you wish someone could or would tell you?