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Michelle's Musings

Born to Write? part I

If you had asked me five or six years ago whether our democracy would end up facing an existential threat, I would have said this country is just going through a phase. While I'm dismayed with our nation's current trajectory, this post addresses a completely different type of surprise.


During recent ancestral research, I uncovered tantalizing tidbits that would make good fodder for my writing. The problem is, I haven't figured out what type of project to pursue. Should I focus on one tidbit at a time, or is there a way to throw it all into one larger pot? I'm guessing the former is the way to go; I just need to wrap my head around a plan of attack.


While I contemplate the direction I want to pursue, I continue to unearth more mysteries, including the likely genesis of my interest in writing. After my father's recent passing, I received a box of his belongings that contained a fictional story and a screenplay he'd been working on. Because we'd been estranged most of my adult life, I hadn't known about his writing. However, after poring through the contents of the box, I recalled that in my teens he'd occasionally communicated with me through letters. And I'd responded in kind.


An additional surprising discovery that I pulled from the various creased, yellowing photographs and spiral-bound notebooks was a vaguely familiar orange weather-beaten pamphlet with a birthday poem I'd written for my father. I was probably six or seven when I took several pages of craft paper, folded them in half, and then bound them with knitting yarn looped through three holes made with a hole puncher. As with much of my childhood memories, I don't remember writing this poem, and I have only a hazy recollection of designing the card. But it apparently held special significance for my father given that he'd held on to it for decades.


Seeing that birthday card triggered my recall of another project I'd put together back in college when I was enrolled in a Children's Literature class. At the time, I knew I wanted to go into healthcare, so I designed an illustrated kiddie book about the digestive process using animated fruits and vegetables as my characters. I remember my instructor asking about the scientific soundness of my details. I'd done my research, and I was emphatic about its accuracy.


So here I am, decades later, contemplating the idea that my interest in writing started well before I knew what I wanted to do with my life. But I'm not yet done with the surprising discoveries. I recently unearthed a genealogical connection to a writing legacy that gives new meaning to the phrase "born to write." But as with any good suspense, I'm going to end this blog with a chapter break of sorts and leave you hanging. I'm hoping you'll return next month to learn the nature of this latest discovery because it's sure to wow you like it did me. For now, I'll provide this tantalizing hint:


"Lord we know what we are but know not what we may be." (From Shakespeare's "Hamlet" spoken by Ophelia.)


See you next month!

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An Ancestor's Point of View

Since my last blog post, I've been reflecting on the ramifications of systemic racism. Yesterday, I presented a personal essay via videoconference to a group of Mills College alumnae and their guests after enhancing my June post with details I recently learned through genealogy research. I provided a historical context to my comments on racism by incorporating a brief story about a Reward notice posted in a local paper back in 1837 for a runaway "Negro" male and his supposedly free "Mulatto" wife.


DNA technology confirmed the runaway woman to be my third great-grandmother. That same technology confirmed the White "owner" who posted the notice to be my third great-grandfather. Upon further exploration, I found additional White grandfathers of mine with multiple families, some with their White wives, and others with an enslaved Black (described as Mulatto) woman.


As I transported myself back to this painful time in history, I tried to imagine what the struggle of day-to-day existence might have looked like for my ancestors. I came up with multiple scenarios that undoubtedly have some basis in fact. I extended that wonder to imagining the methods enslaved people used to cope with their plight.


Folklore passed down from my ancestors can be found in the traditions of Louisiana Creoles. While the genesis of that lore is as grim as it is powerful, I've since incorporated it into my current novel-in-progress, much as I had done with my expanded blog post referenced above.


The opportunity to enrich my storytelling has also lit a fire beneath my smoldering desire to write my memoirs. Maybe, by presenting their tales through mine, I can do justice to the legacy of my ancestors.

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