My earliest recollections of books and reading go back to sitting at my father’s feet by the hearth in our living room as he read to us from Robert Louis Stephenson’s ‘Treasure Island”, Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories and, much to my mother’s chagrin, poetry from Hilaire Beloc’s “Cautionary Tales for Children.” Although the stories have stayed with me, most of what I recall of those cozy evenings are the sensory memories of the heat of the fire, the smell of my father’s cedar and tobacco infused sweater, and the even tones of his bass voice.
For as long as I can remember I have loved books. The books themselves have been an important part of the reading experience for me. We had a small alcove in our home stocked with many old children’s books and games. I shudder to think of the number of first editions and rare books that we drooled in, doodled on, tore out pages from and otherwise defaced. Located at the top of the staircase in the center of our house, the long window seat in the Children’s Library of my childhood home was the gathering spot for all mischief and most reading. A great deal of distracted daydreaming also took place for me in that library. I’d sit with my bare feet curled underneath me with a book in my lap, read for a while and then gaze out the window projecting myself right in to the storylines. Our books were almost entirely old. . To this day the musty smell of a book’s leather binding, moth-eaten innards and the feel of pages thickened by the damp remains an intoxicating reminder of home for me.
At the age of 12 a family friend gave me a black leather-bound artists sketchbook to use as a journal that I have to this day. It was the first of many that I have kept and in those books I explored the world of emotion and the landscape of my world through writing. Although inefficient in this day and age, there is a palpable connection for me between the formation of words with my own pen on the page and the ability to access the full spectrum of emotion. The pen and paper remain my best tool. When I need clarity I have found time and again that the best way for me to understand is to write. The most honest pieces of my work are born out of writing sessions when I am hunched over a table, lightly clasping a pen and allowing the small muscles of my hand to form the shapes of the letters on paper rather than clickety-clack-ing them out on a keyboard.
Prior to The Angel in My Pocket most of my writing was in essay format, personal and probative in nature. As is likely no surprise to anyone, I was utterly lost when my middle child died unexpectedly and suddenly at the age of six. My perfect world was turned on its head and nothing made sense any more. Plunged into the depths of grief and an existential crisis, I was filled with nothing but soul-searing pain and questions. Writing was one of my lifelines and the journal entries and prose that I created in those early days of grieving were the early seeds of my book. I have written the past few years to pull the sorrow from my bones and and release it.
I have found that on the blank page, with pen in hand, I can rage and rail, write circles around myself and yet one thing has always been true for me: If I keep writing, eventually the truth of the matter for me will emerge. The surprise I received through writing has been peace. With each small gain of insight and release of sorrow it travelled back up my pen, spiraled around my fingers, hands and arms and settled deep into my core. The only greater gift I could imagine would be to have my healthy daughter back in this lifetime.