There are times when working on a memoir, or any kind of writing for that matter, an author feels stuck. “What should I write about next?” “How does this scene fits in with the rest of my story?” Often the writer stares at a blank screen for hours, even days, fearing “writer’s block.” I’ve had plenty of those “panic-stricken” moments and worked my way out of them by doing exactly what I thought I couldn’t do: writing. I put my memoir aside and wrote about whatever caught my fancy: a snow storm that blanketed my town, a child running down the street after his dog. The idea was to write something I didn’t need to write about. Afterwards, I felt refreshed and able to continue with my memoir. Below, is one of those experiences I wrote about that got me out of my writing blues.
The Lady in the Hat
A woman’s hat, the only one in the congregation, genuflects to the words of the Sunday liturgy, a wide brim model that tilts down in front obscuring the wearer’s forehead. Wrapped around the brim, a diaphanous blue ribbon comes together into a bow on the side facing me. The custom of wearing hats at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church had been discarded by women long ago. And she stands out, not only because of the hat, but because of her age. Young women seldom wear hats anymore to church or anywhere. She is barely forty and from across the aisle I can see skin the shade of café au lait and perfectly manicured hands that hold a Bible.
Who is she? I wonder.
On the way out, the rector asks me, “Did you meet Shawn?”
“Thelonious Monk’s niece,” the Rector says, knowing my passion for music. “The woman in the hat.”
“That was…? Oh, the mystery lady!”
She remains a mystery for months afterwards. When I invite her to a fundraising event in New York City—one of those stylish gatherings where women parade their custom-made dresses and hint at donations to the charity they actually haven’t made—Shawn appears in a simple black linen dress and lilac hat that captures everyone’s attention.
But there is more to Shawn than the hats she wears and the whiff of elegance she brings to a room with one of her entrances. I hear rumors about “her tragedy.” But no one tells the whole narrative. Because a few mention something about jail, and I know she has a daughter and no husband, I fill in the blanks. The husband is a rapist and is now incarcerated. The husband has physically abused her and is now doing time. Her husband is…
Actually dead. It takes more than one meeting for all the details to come out. Her husband and his mother had opened a restaurant in a small town in Long Island. At a Christmas dinner, the husband’s brother, a crack addict, goes up to him and pulls the trigger of a small revolver, shoots him dead in front of Shawn, her daughter and the horrified reaction of other relatives. Beside his drug addiction, the brother had been battling mental illness for years. The motive, fueled by drugs and craziness, is jealousy. With the mother and brother as business partners, the addict feels left out. He can’t take it.
“I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks,” Shawn confesses. “Until one day when I turned to Lindsey, who was 13 at the time, and said, ‘Look your father wouldn’t want this. It’s going to be tough, for you and for me, but I expect you to pull it together. Get A’s sin school, no fooling around and no drugs…hear, no drugs ! And as for me, I’ll be sad for a long time, but I’m alive and I will live somehow. And so will you! So, let’s get out of bed!’ ”
When I learn the story, I realize that Shawn, who has now become a close friend, uses hats not only as a touch of chic, but as a shield to protect her from the bullets of the world. Tulles, flowers, bows, if they are beautiful, have a place on her head! They mask the evil in front of her, and she has seen enough evil to last her a lifetime.
How about you? How do you deal with your “writing blues”?