Flynn Resigns (Not the Flynn you’re thinking of)

(An example of how a headline can open your mind to old memories and help you write toward surprising connections.)

I don’t want to talk about the General Flynn who just resigned because he might have lied about what he said to the Russians.

I want to write about Jim Flynn, my father’s friend.

My father taught delinquent boys history during a time when we used the word delinquent to describe young men incarcerated for a crime(s). Delicate language as though they were simply late returning their library books. A time when we invested in the hope of rehabilitation. In this place where my father taught history to delinquent boys he met Jim Flynn, the man who supervised my father.

Jim Flynn was an Irish-American like my mother and her family. I was too young to notice, but my father told me that when Jim Flynn slipped into an Irish brogue, there was always a wee bit of Irish whiskey in his belly because, you see, Jim Flynn had never lived in Ireland.

We lived in a rented apartment, sort of a duplex in a maze of identical rented duplexes, when my father first took me to Jim Flynn’s house, an old Victorian he had fixed up. Now that I have grown up words at my disposal, I can say “the house he renovated”. Or, better yet, rehabilitated. Just like the delinquent boys under his and my father’s care.

And in this gangly relic of a house with its narrow hallways and half-lit stairs leading to impossible rooms, a ten-year old girl might imagine stumbling upon an imprisoned princess or the castle’s resident dragon or monster of whatever type.

This rambling and a little bit creepy house with its velvet chairs and lace curtains, contained Jim Flynn’s collection of things from the past. Things my grandparents sometimes talked about but I had never actually seen.

We sat in Jim Flynn’s parlor, the kind of room that my grandparents as children would have wandered into and would have been shooed out of, being too precious for the swish bam boom of a child’s love.

Jim Flynn eyed me and said “Do you know what this is?” pointing toward the center of the room. “A Victrola?” I said as a question.

Yes. A Victrola. The word filled, no – drowned my mouth, with the long “ohhhhh” of it. Delicious. Full. Round. Yet, the sounds hissing from the morning glory shaped horn of this odd grandfather of a machine bristled and scratched their way through songs I had never heard.

When I grew up and went away from my parents’ home, I asked about Jim Flynn from time to time. At some level, I worried if there would come a point when they no longer kept in touch – maybe a fight or just plain old forgetting.

Then, one day, when I asked about Jim Flynn, my father replied, “Oh, he died a few years back.”

Unknowingly, I had been living in a world without Jim Flynn in it.

Jim Flynn Resigned.

Last year, my father died but in his case, I knew exactly when he was in my world until the minute he wasn’t (except I am doomed to remember that at the moment of his death, I stood in line at Walgreen’s buying lip balm for my mother and wine for me.)

I miss Jim Flynn. I miss my father. I miss the me who lived in their world.

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Tattoo on My Forehead

This is not going to be a political post although to news junkies, it might seem like it at first.

Last week, a well-known political commentator talked about how some people will never be employed because they “have tattoos on their foreheads.”

I thought about it. Then looked in the mirror.

Do I have a tattoo on my forehead?

Yes. Yes, I do.

It is invisible and it probably changes every day. But it still stops people from seeing the real me.

The tattoo distracts to the extent that I can’t even see the real me.

I’m going to generalize and guess that maybe we all have tattoos on our foreheads.

Mine says I’m a bad daughter, bad mother, overweight and aging wannabe writer who is misunderstood by everyone and never invited to the party. Ahh, poor baby.

Yet, some people do love me, even my children occasionally say nice things about me, and I am surviving cancer. Those things don’t seem to show up in my tattoo.

Where is the doctor? I’m going to get that damn tattoo removed as soon as possible.

Then when thinking about the tattoos marking me, I wander over to the sticky web of love and traps.

Love traps. Loving someone but knowing that she is caught in a trap that prevents you from being able to help her without getting caught in the trap yourself. I realize the trap of my own making is the one of feeling helpless and out of control. (Hence all of the bad things screaming out to me from my invisible tattoo.) I don’t want to sweep the people I love into that trap. I will have to get out of it myself. How?

By letting go and accepting what is, I suppose.

This trap theme is something I need to keep front and center in my writing. Making my memoir and other stories look back to this tragedy of not being able to change the fate of the people you love.

Now, back to the ink. Is there a tattoo on your forehead keeping you from getting what it is you think you need? A tattoo that tells us something about the trap that has caught you?

Looking Glass

In an open air market, somewhere in central Mexico, renown author, Gail Sheehy stood a few feet away. With her back to me, she didn’t see me gazing at her reflection in the mirror she held. It looked like she was deciding whether or not she would buy the earrings dangling from her lobes.

Sheehy had been a keynote speaker at the annual writer’s conference held in San Miguel de Allende, a town in Mexico that has kept it’s colonial drama while being a distinct retirement destination for thousands of citizens from north and even way north of the Mexican border. There is enough of an English speaking base in San Miguel that a writer’s conference focused on American and Canadian authors can attract hundreds of attendees, mostly Americans, to this outpost a few hours north of Mexico City.

To someone like me, Sheehy has been everywhere and spoken to everyone. Her book, Passages, is cited as one of the most influential of recent times. Though Petite, she seems like a giant to me.

I had a chance to glimpse this giant simply as a woman wondering if something looked good on her. This is a woman who has interviewed Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill and Hillary Clinton and so many others that it seems silly to single any out.

There are deeper questions hidden in this moment. When we are looking at ourselves, what does our reflection reveal to the unnoticed observer? Would we be surprised? Or, what if no one sees our reflection except for ourselves. Worse yet, what if we don’t take a minute to look closely at what is in that mirror. Ignoring what is before our eyes when the truth tries to reveal itself.

I turned away. It isn’t polite to stare. A few minutes later, we passed each other going in opposite directions. I blurted out, “Did you like them?” She didn’t hear me or she had no idea what I was talking about. She didn’t respond. I wondered why I opened my mouth at all, slapping an imaginary hand to my forehead. And what a weird thing to say. Maybe that is why I have not made a career for myself sitting down and chatting with world figures.

Two days later, I listened to Joyce Carol Oates give her own keynote at this same conference. Gail Sheehy was in the front row and asked Oates a question when the microphone was opened up to the audience. I don’t remember what she asked, but I realized that Sheehy looked up to Oates. In that moment, Sheehy was a fan. Just like me.

As I’m working on my memoir, I spend most of my time reflecting, but without a mirror. I try to sense when I’m avoiding deep excavation of the truth, instead focusing on the good story resting on the surface. I guess it is a balance. I do want to make sure the story is good. But, it also has to penetrate some greater truth.

When I am in the company of titans of modern writing like Sheehy and Oates, I’m tempted to look at them instead of myself. I think this is common for writers who are finding their way. Letting fear of never shining as brightly as the great ones get in the way of ever shining at all.