The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Loss…is it why we write?

I learned a lot, growing up in Ethiopia, about how loss punctures the heart.  I don’t remember leaving Portland, Oregon, where I was born, but it was my first massive goodbye.  My baby brother (who was born on my three-year-old birthday not long after my family arrived) died in Ethiopia when he was only a few months old.   When I was nine, I sewed name tags onto my clothes, and my older sister and I  said goodbye to Mom and Dad and three siblings, bumped down the Maji road, and got on a plane for boarding school in Addis Ababa.

I’m the one holding Chris’s hands, here…the last year I was to live at home until I was in 8th grade and a visitor for a year to Pasadena.I’m a big softie about saying goodbye to this day…which I’m thinking about now that my talented second son just accepted a photojournalism job offer with an Alabama newspaper.  Of course I’m thrilled.  I admit with the journalism field not being exactly robust these days, I wasn’t sure he’d graduate into any job.  As a recent headline says: Good luck 2010 grads; you’ll need it.  But we moved to Lawrence–Go, Jayhawks–to help Jonathan and Hiwot with their (then) one child while they were in school full-time, and it’ll be hard to say goodbye.

A couple of years ago, Jonathan’s picture was on the cover of Sports Illustrated–in the corner, snapping a shot–when the Jayhawks won the national basketball title.  This week, it looked as if the Big 12 basketball league was also going to fall apart.  Another loss.  Oddly hard to take on top of everything else.  (I was taught to sing a Jayhawk song by my preschooler grandchildren.  How will they feel about Alabama bulldogs and whatnot?)  But apparently that one is not quite so certain, at least according to today’s Oregonian headline: Score so far: Big 12 now 10, Pac-11. 

I’m thinking today about how loss probably drives me toward my writing.  Life is about loss, it seems, and yearning–and so is fiction.  Thus, when flood took the neighborhood where my children had spent most of their elementary school years, I was compelled to write.  I first fiercely re-connected with Ethiopia through my writing, where my memories could finally take root.  Each of my books probably has loss woven through it somehow.

I’d gladly do without more loss.  But I don’t seem to have the option to check that box, so I’ll try to consider the gifts, at least in my better hours.

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