My kid, chatting casually with one of her poet-heroes, Billy Collins
Last night I left my mountain and drove an hour and fifteen minutes to my daughter’s place in Lake Arrowhead. The occasion was a poetry reading she had arranged at a local coffee shop for her peers in the Master of Fine Arts program at Cal State University in San Bernardino. Whenn I arrived at the pre-reading snack-fest, her house was filled with professorial and college student types (and husbands and cats and kids).
I can’t begin to express how happy this makes me.
We never do anything in a conventional way in my family. As hard as I tried to impress upon my children the importance of going straight to college, each one chose his or her own way, and all were working immediately after graduating high school. Shali, too, and then she was married and a mom and divorced and married again and a mom again. Somewhere in there she found time to work and go to school. While she was at Pitzer, the word got around to her professors that she was a poet—a really fine poet in her own right, not just because her mom says so (though you should believe me if I do; I have a fancy degree, too—just not as fancy as hers). Her teachers encouraged her to apply to an MFA program back then. Again, she went her own way, choosing something more practical. She headed to Claremont Graduate University for a teaching credential and master’s degree, and she’s been teaching school for some years now. This year it’s first grade.
But now at night she dons her Super-Woman attire and heads down the mountain to Cal State, where she is studying with well known and respected writers and poets. Yay! Finally! I’ve been thrilled ever since she was accepted into the program… because I’m her mom, of course, but also because, through all these years, I’ve just wanted people to hear her, to be exposed to her amazing work. It is a gift that came out of nowhere. It didn’t come from me. It’s as if I said to her one day when she was a teen, ‘Wow, isn’t turquoise jewelry amazing?’ and a dozen years later she came to me with an intricately crafted necklace and said, ‘Oh hey, Mom, I made this,’ and it was perfect.
Last night’s event was fun and marked by sincere camaraderie among the students reading. And it was attended by Jim Brown, author of The Los Angeles Diaries and This River. If you’ve heard me speak of him, you’ve heard me say that he sets the bar for memoir writing. He is achingly honest in the stark depictions of his life, and his nonfiction is more compelling than any I know. After the readings, he came over to me.
“Your daughter has real talent,” he said.
“Thank you,” I replied, trying not to sound like the sappy, proud mom that I am.
“She was my favorite tonight,” he said quietly.
That was the moment.
If my kids are all safe, happy and well provided for, I will die happy. If they are recognized for the incredibly unique people they are, well, that might just cause me to dance my way into heaven.