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“The House Across from the Park”
Winner of the Carter V. Cooper Memorial Prize for Nonfiction, 2010
Selected by Philip Lopate
What inspired you to write “The House Across from the Park”?
I'd actually completed the sixteen essays that comprised my memoir, "A Different Woman," but a nagging feeling persisted of something left unsaid—some overarching time construct. I was also enduring a particular grief that emerges whenever a piece of writing ends, and the next is still silent. So I gave myself the gift of just one more essay for this collection. Thus emerged, "The House Across from the Park."
What is your biggest challenge as a writer?
To harmonize my heart with my head. I tend to let my heart take over and waft off into flights of emotion. My head resolutely pulls me back to earth. I may spend days brooding over one word, but then it emerges and instinctively I know it fits.
Do you structure your writing before you write, or do you begin by writing freely?
My structure, if any, is vague. I tend to ponder a little on the main theme then begin to write— an evolving process.
Are there instances in your writing to which you did not intend to give thematic or symbolic meaning, but which you became aware of after writing them?
Yes, in fact quite often I recognize an unintended symbolism only after I've completed the particular essay. Am always a little shocked when it appears, seemingly without any conscious planning.
You begin the piece with projects left undone. What do you think preserves the memory of someone better: things completed, or things still needing that last touch-up? Which do you prefer?
I think that things needing that last touch-up best preserve the memory of someone. It is certainly my strong preference, since I fear that should I tamper with the original I might lose the essence of its creator.
Do you think that this state of not looking, not listening, or not thinking is a state that is easily achievable or does it take a whole life of marriage, children, and aging to achieve it?
To achieve the state of not looking, not listening, or not thinking is not easy, but is certainly achievable. I don't think it necessarily depends upon a whole life of marriage and children either, it has more to do with a life fully lived. I do think that aging plays a role though, since it teaches us—is apt to force us—to let go of past ego patterns, to slow down and to be more aware of the moment.
Did you consider any other titles for this essay, or did it essentially name itself?
I originally titled the essay "Watching Myself Disappear," but it didn't sit easily and I spent innumerable days in a state of disquiet—my usual pattern—until one day, while cooking dinner, the final title floated up, unasked. Quite a lot of my writing happens this way.
Does your work as a hospice counselor influence your writing? If so, how?
I think my hospice work had some influence on my writing, in that it surely enlarged my understanding of the human condition, which is a plus for any writer.
What writers have inspired you? What are you currently reading?
Writers that inspired me? There are many writers i greatly admire, but for inspiration I tend toward a mix of poets and philosophers: Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, C.G. Jung, T.S.Eliot, Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Billy Collins, Ken Wilber—the list continues. What am I currently reading? I have just finished two books: Epilogue by Anne Roiphe and Incidental Findings by Danielle Ofri.