I had a teacher in graduate school, Ehud Havazelet. I can tell you now that I took my camera to the pawn shop and sold it so I could buy pot for Ehud when he asked if I had any—I can tell you because Ehud is dead. I wasn’t a pot smoker, but I was flattered he asked me. As if. As if I could comfortably inhale without coughing. Maybe I could not write as well as Ehud’s beloved Flannery O’Conner, but I sure as hell could get him some weed. It was a nice camera that I sold for a hundred bucks. It was a 35 mm that meant something to me, but it meant more to me to get my teacher some pot.
Years and years later a classmate from the MFA program and I flew to Oregon to visit Ehud in the hospital when he was so sick with leukemia. As our bags when through the scanner, T went for a walk down the hall, and I didn’t know why until we were on the plane. “They didn’t see the marijuana!” she said. She unzipped her carryon and showed me the clumpy ounce she had brought with her. I was sick to my stomach. I was travelling with a felon who had put my future at risk as she supposedly went for a drink of water. I didn’t ask her what she would have done if they’d found the pot, if she would have just left me standing there, holding the bag. I didn’t ask and that was the last time we ever went anywhere together.
But Ehud was so happy to get the smelly Tupperware container. He was very thin and it was his birthday. We, former students, had gotten on a plane and risked jail time, one knowingly, to help make him feel better.
T and I loved Ehud because Ehud loved literature, and because he was a fabulous teacher. He taught like teaching was breathing or sex. He made me love A Good Man is Hard to Find just because he loved it so much. He made me crazy about Flaubert. Flaubert was hot when Ehud talked about Madame Bovary, the room in which she sat, the hair that curled around one ear. One time during my two years at Oregon, Ehud did a reading on campus (from his book What is it Then Between Us? Maybe. I can’t remember the words, just the look on Ehud’s face as he read them. He read his words as if they were a song he knew by heart.) and I had my eyes closed because I was listening and at the end, Ehud said, “This must have been a terrible reading because even Anne had her eyes closed.” I protested that I was listening, and Ehud laughed and I was so happy. I had a teacher I loved who noticed that I had my eyes closed at his reading. I loved writing. I loved language. I was in a program that let me live in a bubble of books. I was so close to heaven I had to close my eyes just to hear it all.
One day in class, Ehud drew a funnel on the board and he said an amazing short story is shaped like an inverted triangle, but at the very end, as it narrows to almost closed, it suddenly flares out and open. The end of the story turns out not to be the narrowing of a larger story to a comprehensible, clean finish: a really good story opens up suddenly and lets the reader loose in a whole new world, a world of wonder. A really good story is like life when life is amazing. You think you know what is going on and suddenly you realize the king is not wearing any clothes and your whole perception of what is real and not real shifts and, in a split second, you become a new person because your mind is not the same mind it was just a moment earlier.
These past couple of years have been like that for me. I was living the story of Anne realizing the impact adoption had had on her, my, life. I lived the story of writing a book and thinking that maybe I’d be writing about adoption for the rest of my days, and then as the story narrowed to the end, suddenly it flared open as I realized, Oh my lord. My life isn’t about adoption as much as it is about community.
It felt as though huge doors flung open in my heart. If it hadn’t been for community, maybe my birth mother would have just left me in a phone booth to die. The truth is, I live for community, for connection. What I love about a place is the people I get to know. Walking into a store where no one knows you is not at all the party it is when the clerk asks you if you are going to pull a bra or a sock out of your purse yet again. People make life better. Not just people. Connections with people make life better because then life, my life at least, feels like it has purpose and meaning. I am here to help. To listen. I am also here to take and to talk. But I need community to do those things.
And to write about what I most love?
Yikes! This is awesome! I feel like I’m getting away with murder. Part of me has secretly believed that life is supposed to be a grind, that you are supposed to just put your nose to the grindstone and do your work and suffer just like your parents did and their parents did before them.
Oh, hello, Puritan upbringing.
All these years of wanting to write but feeling like I didn’t have a subject or a story to tell, and there this stuff was, right in my face. First was the adoption story, one I thought I couldn’t tell since no one seemed all that interested in it, since I didn’t know many important details (like, uh, who my birth father was or where I was for the first ten weeks of my life), and since my family would have been happier if I didn’t write it than if I did. But then I told it and it turned out there was an audience! It turned out that I figured out how to start a story that seemingly had no beginning and how to end it when it seemingly had no end. It also turned out that my family, most of them, seemed fine with all of it.
So I emptied myself of the adoption story, and then I was back to no story to tell. Or I was back feeling slightly trapped. Like: is this it? The other day, however, I walked into the little sports store where I buy my socks and this feeling came over me for the crappy bathroom and the bright lines of shoes and the grouchy friendly guy behind the counter and I thought, as a girl might think leaning close to a handsome boy, I am so in love.
I want to write about everything. I want to praise and praise and praise. I go to get my coffee every day at Peet’s and I want to write about it. The place. The people. The coffee. The iced tea. I go get salads at this place called The Picnic Basket in Santa Cruz and I love that place so much it hurts. I want to write about that. I want to write about the couple that took me in when I wrote my book and came home to a world with no home. I want to write about the birds I chase on the boardwalk so I can get pictures of them midair.
I feel like the funnel of my life has exploded and I am no longer bound by the narrative of adoption, or, really, of my life. I shot out the tail end of my own story and landed in the world.
And now I get to write about it.
Hello, 2018. I thought you would never arrive.
I have set up a private Facebook page for people who want to commit to finishing a writing project in 2018. If this sounds good to you, check it out here: http://www.anneheffron.com/home/2017/12/17/write-or-die-i-ii-and-iii-a-year-to-finish