Milena Hodrová, in the second chapter of Looking Always, writes a letter to her daughter in which she includes a favorite Carl Sandburg poem titled “Fog:”
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Back in 2007, a fog had drifted into my brain. It was by no means moving on, but instead was obscuring any glimpse of what might come next for me as retirement from academic life loomed. What would I do?
Then, I attended a talk in which the speaker* explained her reasons for writing a memoir. There were twelve and she began to list them. One was to make sense of her past. Another was to find out who she was. Yet another, to claim her own small portion of the globe. As she spoke, I shifted in my chair, my late afternoon slouch giving way to edge-of-the-seat excitement.
I’d write a memoir. It’d be about pot.
For forty years I’d been fascinated with cannabis. I’d been the first to study its use by soldiers serving in Vietnam. I’d lobbied for decriminalization in the 1970s. Back then I’d also taught cancer patients about getting high to better tolerate chemotherapy. For a while, I was even an unpaid “dealer,” delivering baggies full of grower-donated grass to patients and nurses on oncology wards. I’d had a several year stint as a too-heavy user and then a struggle to quit. For more than twenty years I’d studied counseling approaches for cannabis dependence.
In the seven years of writing the memoir, I exchanged drafts with fellow writers and shared feedback. Some were writing fiction and soon I was drawn to that genre. The characters and plot of Looking Always sprouted from a few seeds of ideas: a middle-aged man struggling with loss, an elderly Holocaust survivor living a life of vitality, and correspondence rich with wisdom.
Today, my wife and I live in Seattle with our Australian Shepherd, Jade. Cheryl’s retirement from academia led to a career as an artist and I’m at work on a new novel, this time involving time-travel.
Hats off to Sara Mansfield Taber, a superb writer and teacher of creative nonfiction. https://sarataber.wordpress.com