What’s in a book title?

The title of my memoir is Leaving the Hall Light On (Dream of Things). A lot of people ask me what the title means. Here's an explanation. At first I believed—my magical thinking—that if I left the hall light on, if we didn’t move away from our house, if we didn’t change our telephone number, Paul, our son who took his life at age 27, would know how to make his way back. Paul would know we were still here waiting for him. For a long time I waited for that familiar sound of his Volvo coming into the garage, the sound of the door from the garage slamming as he entered the house and went down the hall to his room, the sound of him walking around the house at night, the sound of the door opening and closing as he went in and out of the house. In fact, for a while I thought I heard those sounds. And for a long time I left most of the things in his room alone for fear of removing his presence there. For a long time I refused to give away his things in case he would need them when he … [Read more...]

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Burning moments and magical thinking in our memoirs

It turned out that I led the memoir workshop: “Telling Healing Stories – How to Write A Compelling Memoir” on my own at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference last Friday. Thankfully I had the material prepared, so when my workshop mate didn’t show up, I just waded right in. I discussed the four aspects of all good literature: plot, theme, structure, and voice and gave the group a list of universal themes (which I’ll discuss in a future post). I also explained how the plot is made up of a series of events – or as they have been called – burning moments. For example, the disposition of clothes and possessions of a loved one who has died is a huge burning moment. In one of my favorite memoirs, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion describes in meticulous detail the items in the plastic bag she brings home from the hospital after her husband died. She says, “…I remember combining the cash that had been in his pocket with the cash in my own bag, smoothing the bills, taking spe … [Read more...]

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Magical thinking revisited

I wrote the following piece for the Bereaved Parents Newsletter, lovingly produced by Peggy Sweeney of The Sweeney Alliance and her Journeys Through Grief blog. And I'm thrilled to share that it's listed on the newsletter's Top Ten for 2012. The Sweeney Alliance is a nationally recognized company that provides help to families and professionals coping with grief and stress. Since 1990, they have developed and facilitated specialized programs that teach children and adults how to reinvest in life and living following a life-altering event such as the death of someone loved, divorce, violence, neglect or disability. Here's how to contact Peggy. Peggy Sweeney, Founder and President The Sweeney Alliance 1601 Quinlan Creek Drive Kerrville, TX 78028 Phone: (830) 377-7389 E-Mail: peggy@sweeneyalliance.org Here's my article: Magical thinking is an ancient idea that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions, an event can be averted or turned around. … [Read more...]

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