Writing to Remember … and Move Forward

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the small triumphs that came with a summer of day trips. There were breezes from the river rippling across a church cemetery with sun-bleached tombstones, the sepia-toned photographs in museums of those who fought for civil rights, the seagrasses framed against an impossibly pure blue sky, the sugared walnut, apple, and chicken salad savored while looking out on the Chesapeake where a lone seagull swooped with abandon.

Inis Mor, Ireland

Yet, triumphs, when it comes to romantic love the second time around in these “sunset” or “autumn” years feel as elusive as those river breezes.  As I wrote to friends on my Facebook page this week: Rule Number 1. Don’t meet a blind date in the town where you got married. And how do you get past the shaking hand and bad teeth when you are reminded of once being young and married to the man of your dreams? Just as an aside … he was sweet and a good conversationalist.

After I said goodbye to him and drove away from that town so steeped in memory, I waited for the dreaded text. An hour later, there it was. “Let’s meet again for a walk or a day trip,” he wrote. I sighed … how nice, but if only, if only I could see myself in his arms. Not the arms of the man I’d just had coffee with, but in the arms of the man I’d once loved.

A recent article comparing voles to humans (voles are monogamous) offered the somewhat saccharine notion that despite a human’s propensity for monogamy, “soul mates” can be found more than once in a lifetime. Take the 82-year-old woman who suddenly appeared sad in the elevator one day, the columnist wrote. Her husband had died suddenly. So, she got a senior golden retriever for the company. About a year later, she was again in the elevator, only this time with a happy smile. And shortly after that, was observed holding hands with an older gentleman. She had found someone!

As a widowed friend said to me, “How do we get past the age spots on the hands, the bad teeth, the croupy cough, the … well, just the old age? Not to mention that most men view women as second-class citizens?” She asked this after we had both attended a party, mainly of married couples where the women looked ten years younger than their spouses. One of the women, in her eighties, had actually found her second husband through a dating app. She leaves him at home now when she travels the world because “he’s a bother and doesn’t want to go anywhere,” she confided to my friend.

For anyone, who has read my books, you know that true love is a recurring theme. Although it’s not for lack of trying that my heroine, Ava Stuart, didn’t find someone again after Jay. In the years after his death, she would have liked someone to travel with, someone to come home to at the end of the day to cry, to bitch, to moan about the state of the world, to laugh at life’s absurdities. This is how writing leads the way for Ava. She explores her memories and reflections, and comes to terms with, even finding pleasure, in being alone.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” –Anaïs Nin

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ava writes in her memoir in And the Memory Returns.

She thought about Jay, and how he always made her feel special. How lovely it had been to share with a real man—one who liked women and wasn’t threatened by them, who offered intellectual stimulation, a soak in a hot tub, talking about politics, love, and life. Ava felt like it had been a billion years since she lathered Jay with soap in the shower, her hands running down his firm stomach to his thighs where the dark hair caught in swirls in the hot water.

As she grows older, Ava understands that the hope and the promise of writing are that she can live twice, yet not be frozen by the past and still look ahead. No one holds her back. She holds the cards to this day and to her future. No one could save her, but herself. How many times could a woman reinvent herself? Did metamorphosis have an end date? Now there were so many women like her, alone and in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. She liked to think there was a wildness to this, an excitement in this sea change of women alone.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
–Anne Frank

How about you? Have you written to remember and move forward?

Life’s Small Triumphs at Summer’s End

Between the endless chaotic news cycle and the ups, and downs of living through the past couple of years and its effect on families, it’s not easy trying to stay focused. Lately, I’ve been talking to people who say they have “brain fog.” It’s impacting their ability to think clearly, and to write. Besides, healthy eating and a good night’s sleep, one of the best ways to overcome the feeling of lassitude, according to the experts, is to stay engaged with life and create something meaningful for yourself.

Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

From my perspective, it seems that we’re all a bit overwhelmed. Mindfulness, living in the moment, and not looking too far ahead served me well this summer. I needed to put aside the overload and take it one day, one step at a time. I realized that I could tap into some of the most beautiful scenery in the world right here in my own backyard, which I wrote about in this post, and do it spontaneously.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I explored nearby Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland from Wilmington and Winterthur—to Rehoboth and Asbury Park—believe it or not, I had never been to either town although I’ve lived in Pennsylvania most of my life. I published a book, And the Memory Returns, this summer, a turning point of sorts because who knows how many more books, if any, I have left. As anyone who writes knows, authors soon learn the book business is tough. You can go broke publishing a book, but I didn’t and I love how it all turned out. As you grow older, it’s easier to shake off the ego, and the possible failure and simply relish the little triumphs.

As Fall beckons, I look back on the loveliness of places I’ve visited this summer. Did I ever think that I was growing too old, cynical, or jaded to appreciate the windswept spray of saltwater against my face, the importance of learning about enslaved people and the Underground Railroad, the magical story of an impossibly young 31-year-old First Lady who brought history and grace to the White House, her legacy now exhibited at Winterthur?

My career as a journalist ended quite some time ago, the children are grown and the house has been stripped down to all but the essentials not counting the antique china and crystal inherited from my parents, in which my sons have no interest, yet I don’t have the heart to part with.

From the Delaware Historical Society collection

I remind myself of the freedom of not having to go to a job, of not worrying about graying hair, or even how many copies my book sells. I realize how much of my life is tied to the changing seasons. How many more will there be?

No, I don’t have to write a blog post every week if I don’t want. Yes, I can hop in the car and take that 50-mile drive to the Chesapeake Bay area or visit that history museum. Yes, I can move beyond brain fog. Yes, I can relish the small triumphs as summer comes to an end.

The Ancestry and Legacy Journey

I just released my second novel And the Memory Returns about a woman who looks back on her life and the people and events that most shaped her. A writer, her memories serve as a diary of a sort. As Ava begins writing her memoir, the phrase, and the memory returns … is the jumping-off point to remember.

Ava might have sent her DNA to Ancestry (to make sure that the stories her parents passed down about her heritage were indeed true). My results came back last week, and what my parents told me proved accurate, although there were surprises. While I am mainly of Germanic and English heritage, there is some Russian and Scandinavian thrown in there, which I never knew. How cool is that.

Looking back at the past and where I came from as I “row north” to quote Mary Pipher from her bestselling book, Women Rowing North is about mortality. As I began researching my “family tree” I learned that some of my ancestors lived only to thirty, while others made it into their nineties. My great-grandmother died on the day my mother was born. Her name was Gertrude so now I understand why my mother’s name was Gertrude. (My mother never told me that.)

Who were these people going back generations?  What were their dreams, motivations, desires, and demons? I’ll never know because except for my grandmother who kept a diary in a brown University Composition Book, none left a written legacy.

The Ancestry journey has been an exercise in “and the memory returns.” I remember my father saying that the Weideners came to Philadelphia prior to the Revolutionary War. “Weidener with three e’s is the real German spelling,” he insisted, not the Weidner or Widener as some spell it. This is how a third cousin ended up contacting me on Ancestry. You’re one of the only Weideners on the site, she wrote.

I remember my father telling me our family began as glassblowers in Philadelphia. By the early part of the 18th century, most of us had migrated to Chester and Berks counties, here in the Philadelphia suburbs. One Weidener even fought under Von Steuben in the Revolutionary War.

My cousin reminded me of where my grandparents are buried in Germantown. An old Episcopal church with crooked tombstones and ancient ivy comes to mind as a little girl followed her parents there. I plan to visit that cemetery soon.

In some ways, the Ancestry journey put into perspective the fact that my book does not yet have a review and the copies I ordered to sell are taking three weeks to arrive. Has anyone even read it?  Momentum, as my friend said, happens gradually.

“You never know where the book will lead,” she said. “Give it time. It’s your legacy.”

Time and history and a reminder I am but one in a long line of lives and stories.

Have you tried Ancestry? What surprises, if any, did you learn?

And the Memory Returns

And the Memory Returns is the first book I’ve written since 2015 when A Portrait of Love and Honor was published. Returning to the protagonists Ava Stuart and Jay Scioli, I felt I could delve into this crazy, serendipitous journey of life.

For Ava, writing allows her to explore her memories and make sense of them in a way that empowers. For whatever happens, memories remain within us. As Oscar Wilde said: Memory … is the diary that we all carry about with us.

Aging is not easy, but it proves to be a time for reflection, she thinks. Her life isn’t always the way she imagined it would be, but whose ever is. It’s up to her to find within the ordinary life, the interesting and even the extraordinary. The men and women from the small towns to the cities struggle too and offer in their own small way a portrait of honor and courage. From the Sussex garden of Virginia Woolf to the streets of Paris and Cairo, the beauty of life in all its complexity can’t be ignored, that is, if one chooses it to be so. And, for some, like Ava’s best friend, Toni, memory is no more as she struggles with Alzheimer’s.

Yet, despite illness and the unfairness of life, a good dog, a loving son, and the opportunity to travel to far corners of the world make for gratitude and acceptance. A spiritual life and community—and memories of Jay—form the backbone of Ava’s resolve never to give up as she begins writing her memoir…and so, the memory returns.

Told with beauty and warmth, insight and style, And the Memory Returns captures a woman’s journey as she ages and finds healing and redemption. ~ A Reader

A Writer Explores Her “Backyard”

I’m always looking for new experiences and encounters. Or, selfishly, I’m looking to learn more about me, who I am. Since I’m on hiatus from international travel, I’ve been exploring my “backyard,” so to speak. I live in Pennsylvania. Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland are all within easy driving distance.

I suppose it’s not where you go, or how far you travel, but what you get out of it. Whether I strolled beaches in Cape May or the boardwalk of Asbury Park, New Jersey, I pay attention. The smell of salt water, the icy ocean lapping around my ankles, a psychic calling herself “Madame Marie” selling your future on the boardwalk, an old man smoking weed under the pavilion. A writer pays attention to grittiness, realism, and beauty. And, of course, the stories.

In Historic New Castle, a waterfront town dating back to 1655 where Dutch welcomed ships harboring on the murky green Delaware River, I met a woman, a volunteer docent with the Delaware Historical Society. It was a slow lazy Thursday morning in June and the visitor’s center was nearly empty of tourists. So it was that she gave me a one-on-one tour of two Colonial-era houses. As we browsed a kitchen with stone fireplace and copper cooking pots and dining room with Chinese porcelain teacups and teapots brought over on sailing ships centuries ago, she shared the history of the town and its early settlers. “Did you know the Dutch were so tall because they ate a lot of fruit and vegetables?” she asked as we stepped outside into a garden of herbs and flowers maintained by volunteers.

She liked to talk and with a little prodding on my part, she also shared her history. She had retired here, downsized, restored a small 800-square foot, 19-century home, and loved her new life, she said. “My husband had died, my children were grown, and my big house in Chester County seemed ridiculous and a maintenance headache,” she said. The house in New Castle she ended up buying “needed a lot of work” and required that any changes be approved by the Historical and Architectural Review Board. But the challenges of dealing with how to retore with integrity a house with mud cellar floor and no closet space had paid off.  “It’s small but perfect for me and my little dog,” she said.

“There’s so much to do here in town from concerts and festivals that some nights I think, oh, I should stay home but I don’t,” she said. She invited me to come back in October for a ghost walk sponsored by the Historical Society and pointed out a bed and breakfast where I could stay. We parted at a restaurant she recommended, one with an outside area with fountains and purple and blue hydrangeas and towering magnolia tree.

I ordered lobster corn chowder and iced tea with lemon. A couple to my right had just ordered a bottle of pinot noir and her disappointed look as he left the table to take a business call, struck me that she suspected he probably didn’t appreciate her or the loveliness of the place. I see that a lot. People race around, not paying attention, acting without regard for others. It’s why I’ve come to dislike airports. As he took his business call and she drank wine alone, I got to thinking that it was nice to be by myself on this day. I don’t always feel this way. Some days it gets lonely. But on this day, I was a woman seeking out an adventure, a golden moment to remember, a moment of authenticity away from the day-to-day routine, and had found it.

I began thinking about the widow who had shown me around town and told me her story. How long would I stay in my house? Where might I go if I moved? What about Lily, my yellow lab, who needs a fenced-in backyard? And my sons? They live nearby. Am I prepared to move to a place where there is more to do, live in a small house, and not see my sons as often? That’s why I’m writing this. Writing is a “thinking out loud” exercise. It helps me sort through my thoughts. Writing takes you on a journey of heart and mind. Don’t go there if you don’t want to know the answers, but for a writer, it’s like breathing. You do it or die. The reward comes in paying attention to details—the sunlight on the river, the psychic on the boardwalk with her flashing purple palm readers sign, and a woman’s story of her new retirement life.  Writing offers a chance to conclude, or, if not a conclusion, something genuine, a tiny kernel of truth, an unedited moment.

Who knows where I’ll be next year? Whether I’m here in Chester Springs, whether I’m in Asbury Park, or back to Europe, I’ll be writing. I’ll be sifting through the encounters, the experiences, and the stories. And that’s all that matters.

Summer’s Journey for the Writer Waits

It’s the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. As light lengthens past nine at night, a writer feels braver. Summer offers a richer and truer expression of relaxation and reflection.

When we write, we’re in “summer school.” Writer William Zinsser said: “The subject you best know is yourself.” So, write about that. If you’re journaling, use the journal as a “classroom” to explore and learn more about yourself and others. Author and writing teacher, Susan Tiberghien, once said, “I try to live my day as a journey. When a flower opens in sunlight, when a cloud beckons, I write that in my journal.” In writing, self-absorption slips away. In her writing guide, Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg notes that writing allows us to “let it go.”

Not only that, but I have always felt writing fosters empathy, not just for others, but for us. What’s the point of that? Empathy translates into better relationships, opens up a mutual give and take, and encourages different perspectives and a rhythm of hope and optimism that might not have been there before. When people ask why I started the Women’s Writing Circle, I always say it was borne out of this feeling that women’s voices have been marginalized. Writing may crystallize a plan, a path forward, a way out of a problem. We’re in this together.

At a recent writing workshop, we were asked to describe a room in our house. Does it foster creativity? How would you describe it? What would you change if you could? I wrote about my pink, gold and red living room. The colors and textures reflect my taste, as well as a commitment I made a long time ago to declutter the spaces where I live. Clutter fosters chaos, disorganization. There’s a couch, a loveseat, and a chair. There are books in one corner near a dark green rolltop desk. On the walls, hang the art from my travels. The art depicts the Wheel of Life, bought in Nepal, the Tree of Life, from Morocco, the winter sled and horse skimming across tundra, bought in Russia. For all that I have seen and traveled the world, I spend most of my days, here in this room, in this house, redolent with memories. A hint of laughter hangs on the breeze or is that the windchime next door? What would I change? The touch of a hand on mine, a kind word over another solitary dinner. What was a choice? What wasn’t a choice?

I write. I ponder. Summer’s journey for the writer waits.

Writing To Tell Your Story

As I go through the final revision of my new novel, And the Memory Returns, I think of what author Bob Mayer wrote today on Facebook: “If you want to write for a living, you have to take chances. You have to put it on the line. If you want ‘security’ forget about it. It doesn’t exist anyway. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Don’t worry about the ‘market’. Tell your story.”

I have a story to tell and at my age, I’m not worried about the market. I took a risk in writing this because it’s always a risk to put your craft out for public consumption and scrutiny. The joy resides in writing … and knowing that this book will reach readers in a month or two.

And the Memory Returns is the sequel to A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based on a True Story. (Bob Mayer was kind enough to write an endorsement for that book.) Once again, Ava Stuart and Jay Scioli are central characters. Ava is alone but Jay is always with her in thought and spirit.

When people ask what the new book is about, I practice my elevator pitch: It’s about a woman as she ages, remembering the people and events that shaped her life and asking herself: where she is going, and can she put the past behind her? Along the way, she finds a path forward. It’s never too late.

The cover of my book was inspired by a wooded trail at Longwood Gardens, which is near my home, here in suburban Philadelphia. As I stood in the cool of an October day when visiting the gardens in autumn, the vibrancy of dying leaves offered poignant beauty. I love the colors of my cover, offset by the white font and hope you do too.

It will be interesting to see whether the path I took to publish this book—no accolades from authors on front or back covers, as I did with my other books—just the story—makes a difference in sales. I selected Word-2-Kindle to publish the book under my own imprint Writing Circle Press, which I wrote about in this post. There will be a trade paperback, as well as an E-book.

So, that’s the situation. As always, I remain excited about this time in publishing, one that affords the hard-working and dedicated writer a variety of choices and financial options to publish. It’s a time to pick up that pen, and write, if and, hopefully, when the spirit moves you to tell your story.

From Writing to Publishing

Every time our Women’s Writing Circle meets, it takes me a couple days to process highlights of our time together and blog what went on without betraying the confidentiality of the group. I think it’s safe to say that as the ten of us gathered in the lovely community room of the Chester Springs Library, here in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the desire to devote time to ourselves and capture our stories before it’s too late emerged.

Susan Weidener Photo

Those stories often revolve around family, spirituality and the quest almost all writers I know pursue, which is answering the question … Who am I? Who are the people who most impacted my life? What was their role in my own journey? Whether interviewing family members or reminiscing about a long-ago time as a young girl, we share through fiction and memoir. This takes work and dedication, of course. But the women who have come to the Circle month after month during the 12 years I’ve facilitated the group, are testament to that dedication.

For my own part, I am happy to report that my novel, And the Memory Returns, is now in final production stages with Word-2-Kindle. To pique your interest in buying the book, which continues the story of Ava and Jay and is the sequel to my first novel, A Portrait of Love and Honor, the synopsis is this:

For some time, Ava felt the best years of her life ended when Jay died. They seemed the most promising, brimming with excitement and expectation, where anything was possible. In the years after his death, friends, family and a good dog sustain her. A writer and single mother, she looks back on her life and her memories. What did it all mean? Where does she go from here? Can she put the past behind her? Her best friend’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and the transformational power of international travel leads to surprising revelations and a path forward.

Photo by Nu00f3ra Zahradnu00edk on Pexels.com

Many of you might remember that I recently wrote about publishing my novel. The post, “The Author’s Publishing Jungle”, details my reasons for choosing independent publishing and BookBaby.

Further research on my part, however, turned up Word-2-Kindle. I bought the Deluxe Package, which is $399. It includes everything from interior design and formatting to cover design and upload to Amazon, which then assigns my trade paperback an ISBN at no additional cost. Word-2-Kindle was a marked savings over virtually the same service with BookBaby, which cost around $2,200. In addition, Word-2-Kindle offers unlimited revision for a month, which works for those of us who might have missed a typo or need to rework a sentence. My project manager, Jen, has responded to my questions in a timely manner and I am pleased with how well things are going.

The point is to get my book out without breaking the bank. I should have no trouble recouping the $399. That, in itself, was a motivator to work with my chosen publisher.

As we write our stories, we—or, at least, I—contemplate a desire to see them published. Not everyone feels they want to publish and that’s fine. Sharing with you, my readers, has been one of the great honors of my life, personally and professionally.

I wish the best of luck for everyone planning a creative endeavor. As we discussed in the Women’s Writing Circle, there has never been a writer who didn’t question whether what she writes is any good or not. That said, the risk of using our voices to help make this world a little better, even for just one reader who might glean something useful from our work, is a risk worth taking.

The Power of Journaling

And so … her memory returns, as do her words, here along the writer’s way. In December 2012, blogger and author Kathy Pooler wrote about the power of journaling for our Women’s Writing Circle. A few weeks later, she would come to suburban Philadelphia and teach a workshop on journaling. As many of you who read my Facebook page know, Kathy passed away last week. Words cannot express how supportive she was of me and so many writers, who put pen to page and “mapped out” the most painful stories of our lives.

I want to note that the importance of journaling seems, at least to me, timelier than ever in this age of isolation and remote work. Putting our deepest thoughts and feelings down on paper can be revelatory, answering that most sought-after question … Who am I? As we describe events and circumstances that lead to more exploration, the practice can be enlightening and enriching, while, hopefully, easing loneliness and lead to reflection. Now to what Kathy wrote.

Ever since I was ten years old and wrote plays for my maternal grandmother, Nan, and her little Italian lady friends, I enjoyed writing. I see them gathered in the living room sipping coffee and chattering in Italian. I never understood a word, but I still feel their fascination and loving attention as they hushed each other when I stood in the archway to announce a play would begin. As I grew older and began facing life with all its complications, I’d grab a pen and pour my feelings into a journal. I had stacks of spiral notebooks filled with the heartaches of relationship failures, the exhaustion of being a single parent, the terror of living with and loving an alcoholic son; heart-wrenching losses . . .  my Nan . . . my best friend, Judy . . . my beloved father . . . the uncertainties of my own cancer diagnosis.

Journaling became my pathway to healing, capturing my moments of need, longing, creativity . . . my life. These journal entries morphed into vignettes as I followed my dream to write my story. Here are my thoughts on why writing has been a journey of the heart:

1.   Writing my story has helped me clarify the things that have really mattered in my life: Often when I sit down to write, the story I intend to write does not end up being the story I write. The story reveals itself to me in the writing, when I listen to the whispers in my heart.

2.    Resurrecting my memories keeps me connected to people and events that shaped me: Flashing back to those plays acted out in front of Nan and her friends is heartwarming and fills me with validation and inspiration to keep writing through the harder parts.

3.    Writing through the pain has helped release the burdens of my heart: For years I held on to the guilt of making poor choices and putting my children through so many upheavals as a result of my choices. Writing has helped me to forgive that young woman and believe that she acted in good faith.

4.    Writing out my painful memories has helped me forgive those whom I perceive have hurt me: In attempting to capture the essence of my characters’ personalities and the impact they have had on my life, I have gained new insights into their behavior. Forgiveness is freedom and my heart feels lighter.

5.    Revisiting my past self and reflecting upon my motivations and needs at the time have increased my self-awareness and filled me with gratitude for the growth I have experienced: When I recreate a scene from my past and feel, deep in my heart, that I would never do the same thing today, I realize how far I’ve come. Writing has helped me to heal the painful parts of my past that I have carried around for years.
It truly has been a “Journey of the Heart.”

With Kathy at a book signing in Amsterdam, New York

Kathleen Pooler is remembered as a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who wrote memoirs about the power of hope through her faith in God. She wrote of divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believed that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.

You can read her obituary here.

A Writer Offers a History Lesson

“Use loneliness. Its ache creates urgency to reconnect with the world. Take that aching and use it to propel you deeper into your need for expression—to speak, to say who you are.” ~ Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.

Last Sunday I drove down through Delaware and Maryland, across the Mason Dixon Line and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and onto Annapolis. I had taken a room for two nights in the Governor Calvert House—Historic Inns of Annapolis. The three-story brick building across from the State Capitol where George Washington resigned his commission was within walking distance of everything from Revolutionary War mansions to Civil Rights museums. The bay and the Severn River, a 14-mile-long tidal estuary, beckoned below the hill.

A feeling in my own life of questioning where to go from here has led to this: learn and learn more. As a writer, I have a responsibility to use my voice to shed light, to keep learning, and, hopefully, play my part in making this world a better place.

When I arrived in Annapolis, temperatures in the mid-seventies had drawn hordes of people … mostly families and couples and those in town for a Navy lacrosse game. As I hopped aboard a bright red trolley for a tour of the town, the loneliness of the solo traveler ebbed. I felt good that I had done this. Risk-taking results in something useful to the writer, whether a chance conversation with a stranger, or a new way of looking at a world we thought we knew.

The next morning, under cloudy skies the town had settled into a quiet green oasis, a lovely showcase of April’s special spring beauty of tulips and flowering trees. I toured the William Paca House and listened as the guide spoke about the enslaved people that served Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The irony was not lost. A nation founded on the freedom of the individual used enslaved people to carry heavy silver urns filled with scalding hot water up steep stairs to the parlor. Here, gentry could sip tea in a sitting room with views of symmetrically laid out gardens. As a lawyer, Paca enjoyed inviting guests to his home for lively discussions involving the oppression of the King and the concept of a nation based on “all men are created equal.”

A few blocks up the street from the house, the Museum of Historic Annapolis features a floor-to-ceiling mural of George Washington. The General towers over his personal slave, a small man in red-feathered turban. Earlier, the sun had broken through the clouds casting a dockside bronze sculpture of author Alex Haley, reading from Roots, children transfixed at his feet. Inside the museum, not far from the Washington mural was a black and white painting of Kunta Kinte, a fictional character based on Haley’s ancestor. The plaque read that Kinte had been brought on a ship from Africa under months-long grueling conditions to the Port of Annapolis. The remainder of his life was spent in hard labor on a tobacco plantation in the South.

A recent PBS special featuring Ken Burns’ documentary on the life of Benjamin Franklin revealed that, yes, even Franklin had enslaved people. As a Philadelphian, I admire Franklin, who founded the University of Pennsylvania, where I did my graduate work. It seems Ben saw the status quo as enslaving people.

Of course, I couldn’t leave town without a boat ride around the harbor and the river where multi-million dollar homes serenely gaze upon the brackish waters of the estuary.

As controversy rages about what children should and should not be taught or allowed to read in books, this trip served as a lesson. There is no turning back. Teaching critical race theory is essential to understanding our nation. Books open worlds and introduce us to all sorts of people and cannot be shelved due to prejudice or the patriarchy. History reminds us that the past is prelude to the present. Although often a solitary and lonely task, the writer expresses injustice as best she can. After all, the truth begins with the truth.