Forgiving Myself

IMG_0850“Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is the key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”
–  Ann Patchett (from The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life)

I’m stressed because I can’t do it all.

Traveling and being away even for short periods of time

can screw up my whole routine.

Then I have a melt down.

I’m overwhelmed with things to do.

I’m told I’m a perfectionist.

I am.

I’m told I’m too hard on myself.

I am.

I’m trying to figure out how not to be those things

forgiving myself along the way.

What My Editor Said


My muse, acrylic on canvas, copyright, Joan Z. Rough 2002

My muse, acrylic on canvas, copyright, Joan Z. Rough 2002

It’s back. You know … the manuscript I sent to my editor a few weeks ago. Although there were a number of beta readers who read it after I wrote the first draft, this time things feel very different. When I sent it out to Kathy, Shirley, Jane, Judy, Kevin, Bill and Sue, early in the year, I was excited at having gotten that far. I knew my story  needed lots of work. But I also needed a sense of what it could be. Why go on if it wasn’t going to be a story that people would want to read?

Their verdict, in all cases, went something like this, “Powerful story. Send it to a developmental editor.”

After many months of tearing it apart, deleting, adding new material, and putting it back together again, I sent it out to Dave Malone, who  has a great reputation for his work in helping writers look at the “Big Picture.” Last week he sent me a fifteen page document with his comments, accompanied by my manuscript with more detailed comments.

At first I was overwhelmed. When I sent the manuscript out to him, I was totally sick and tired of my story. I had a few thoughts about killing it off and moving on to something else.

Okay, I’ll start painting again. Maybe I’ll go back to writing poetry. I’ll start working on my bucket list. I still have that urge to visit Mongolia. What about going back to Africa and taking Bill with me this time, so he can see the elephants living in the wild where they belong?

But still, there was that silly, naive hope  that I was just tired, and that this highly recommended editor would think my book was perfect. 🙂

Thankfully, Dave started his comments with, “I have a lot of feedback for you, and despite how intensive it may be, know that I believe in your memoir, and I do hope you continue moving forward with it to publication.”

He added other wonderful compliments and commendations, but it was the rest of what he had to say that gave me pause and an increasing ache in my already tempestuous stomach.“Delete this; delete that; show, don’t tell; add more of this and less of that.” 

I set it all aside for a few days, worked in the garden, spent some time with friends, and had a great massage.

All along I knew there was no killing it off, going back to Africa, painting, or writing poetry. At least for the moment. I picked up Dave’s comments and reread them. The “big picture” I’d had in mind was willing to change a bit.

I liked much of what he suggested … like choosing a different starting chapter and eliminating a lot of stuff that is unnecessary and repetitive. But there are other things I still don’t agree with him on. Perhaps as I start rewriting again, I’ll change my mind about those things and begin to see his point of view. But maybe I won’t. I have the major puzzle pieces of my story before me and hopefully I can put them back together in a way that makes sense to all of my future readers.

To his comments, Dave graciously added: What I say is NOT the law. Merely suggestions (though confident ones nonetheless). You must own your changes; you must own your edits.”

As I begin the next stage of my process, I’m taking all of his words seriously. I’m staying open, letting go of expectations, and dancing with my muse. I’m allowing myself to take my time. I’ll continue to take risks, make mistakes, and start all over again if need be. After all, that’s what life is all about.

Do you allow yourself to risk making mistakes? How do you react to what you consider failure?

The Winner of Last weeks Book Give Away of Bonnet Strings, An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds, by Saloma Miller Furlong, is Dorothy Sander, over at Aging Abundantly. 


Living All The Way

I posted this back in April of 2013, and find it as relevant now as I did then. It’s a  wonderful reminder of what is important to me and how I want to live my life.

I’m taking a break this week to do a few of the things listed below. I’ll be back next Monday with a guest post over at Memoir Writer’s  Journey, about Finding Forgivenss While Writing Memoir.

Be sure to like my new author page on Facebook at:, © Joan Z. Rough

© Joan Z. Rough

“This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek.” 

Terry Tempest Williams


My Mom Lives On

DSC02486In October of 2012, I took a trip up to Long Island to scatter my mother’s ashes in the places she loved and had spent most of her life.  She had died in 2007.  Unable to deal with the anger and rage she caused me during her last seven years of life, I tucked her ashes away on the top shelf of a dark closet. It took me until just a few months before that trip to understand what had happened between us and why. I found forgiveness for her in a journey of memory I took through our history together. I found out things I hadn’t known about my mom or me.

As I scattered the last of her ashes in places where she’d spent time as an adult and a child, I felt lighter and happier than I’d been in a long time.  My rage was gone and I was able to pick up the pieces of my life and put it back together.

A month or so after returning home from that “letting-go” trip, I began reorganizing my studio. I found a small tin tucked away in a corner and upon opening it I discovered another tiny plastic bag filled with her ashes.  I took those remains and placed them on the  ground around a tree peony that grows just outside my  studio door.  It had been transplanted a few years earlier and hadn’t adjusted well to its new location.  At the time I asked Mom to help that beautiful plant to grow strong and tall.

This is what she did!IMG_1109IMG_1112

What Little I Know About My Father

My grand father's cabinet making shop.

My grandfather’s cabinet making shop.

The photo on the left is of my grandfather’s cabinet shop in New York City.  He is standing on the left. To the right is my father. Further to the right is a hired employee.

Except for a few photos and the stories I remember from the time I was a child, I know very little about my grandparents.  On a visit to Ellis Island a few years ago and my husbands penchant for putting together family trees, we gathered the small amount of information we have about Dzadzia and Babchia. They were very tight-lipped. If they ever spoke about their lives in Poland before they arrived here in America or their journeys across the Atlantic Ocean to a new country where they couldn’t speak the language, I never heard it.  I remember meeting other relatives who came from Poland through them, but the visits were always brief and we never followed up. There was never a sense of having an extended family.

I can say I don’t know a lot about my own parents, who were both born here as first generation Polish-Americans. I do know the day to day Mom and Dad stuff, but their early lives remains a mystery to me in many ways.  For my father all I have are his military records and the medals he was honored with for his heroism during the Second World War.  I have a few photos but that’s it.

I know my dad suffered from shell-shock, known today as PTSD.  He was difficult to live with and my mother, my brothers and I suffered the consequences of his damaged mind. He abused all of us both psychologically and sometimes physically.

My dad as a boy!

My dad as a boy!

He was born and grew up in New York City in what I presume was a Polish neighborhood, surrounded by other ethnic neighborhoods.  He was a bigot, always taking people of other ethnicities down. He was also extremely competitive. I imagine it started in the City where many early immigrants first settled. The competition he most likely experienced in school and on the streets, to be the biggest and the best that he could be, must have been fierce. He experienced the Great Depression, witnessing men jumping out of windows because they’d lost everything. Other than that I know nothing of his day to day family life.

He attended Cooper Union, where he studied engineering and architecture for three years.  I have no idea why he didn’t graduate.  He did however have a chair of his design in exhibition at the World’s Fair in New York in 1939.  He married my mother on Valentines day, 1942. I was born 9 months and 3 days later.

The day after he and Mom were married he went to Montana to begin training for his role in fighting the war with the First Special Service Forces, known by the Germans as the Devil’s Brigade.  The were fierce fighters trained to jump out of planes over Norway, then skiing during the cold winter months to munition factories and labs where the Germans were beginning to experiment with atomic energy and bombs. When their mission was canceled, my father landed by parachute in Italy where he and his men fought their way up the boot, killing and being killed as they went.  He witnessed his best buddies head blown off by a Nazi, as they stood talking and was the lone survivor when he and his men took out a nest of  Nazis hiding in an extensive underground bunker.  When the war was won, Dad was one of the men who liberated a number of the prison camps in Germany and stayed there for several more years doing some kind of secret work. My mother and I joined him there when I was four years old.

After the war he started a home building company on Long Island, where we lived until 1960, when he decided to “retire.”  We moved to Killington, Vermont, where he built and ran three ski lodges.  Despite his early abuse and bigotry, he was a good man in many ways, and became  a loving “Grampy Tom” to my kids.

As Memorial Day approaches at the end of the month I think of him and wish I had known him as a boy, as a student of engineering, and the man who fell in love with my mother.  Before he went away to Europe and came back a different man.

It’s all still happening today as we send our young people across the seas to fight in other lands.