The Writing Prompt, a Tool for the Tired Brain.

It’s late. I have been working at my computer all day. Writing. Editing. But, not the kind of writing and editing that stirs my creative soul or stimulates the right side of my brain. It’s the kind of writing I do all day at my job. You know, the job that pays the bills. The job where I edit legal documents, draft factual crime summaries, and write affidavits for the victims whose lives are traumatized by crime. So, now my work day is over, dinner is done, dishes are washed and kids are asleep; and as part of November’s daily blog post challenge,  I am supposed to blog. I am supposed to write about something. Anything. Or not. I got nothing.

So, instead of writing about something that came to me in the middle of a giant brainstorm, I turn to a tool I have never used before, the writer’s prompt. I need it today, I spent the entire day working on documents for a murder case. A prompt is supposed to stir an idea, and in this case, it’s offerred to bloggers who are participating in November’s post a day challenge. The prompt changes daily and is posted at the web site hosting the National Blog Posting Month challenge. I clicked on the site and scrolled down to today’s prompt:

“Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scene surrounding a particular event.”


Didn’t I say I was tapped out? Didn’t I write about enough trauma today?

I thought about the traumatic events of my life. Certainly,  nothing could compare to some of the trauma crime victims experience. But, still there must be something? I could talk about the traumatic birth experience I had with Nico. No, I’ve dealt with enough graphic scenes today.  I could write about the trauma of my divorce, but that is just exhausting and I don’t want to delve into that emotional abyss. So, how about a little light-hearted trauma? Is there even such a thing?

The closest thing I can recall to a light-hearted traumatic event is the experience I had when I was a child,  camping with my family in Mammoth Lakes and fishing along the Owens Valley River. My dad loved to stream fish. My brother did too. As for me and my sister, we liked it okay until we became too frustrated by the lost bait and tangled lines, and when we grew too bored waiting for the “big one.” We would often end up abandoning our poles and create games to play along the water’s edge, like catching minnows in the marshy banks.

After I discovered a large school of baby fish, I left my pole with my father,  who was still fishing along the bank and asked my mother for a paper cup so that I could scoop up the fish.  I returned to the riverbank and found an area along the marshy bank where the tall grass provided a natural pool for the fish. Here the water seemed still, even though all around the river moved swiftly. My father was still fishing upstream, about 15 feet away. I bent down to scoop up the fish, and fell in the cold water. I found myself sinking under the cold, cloudy water. I did not feel panic, rather I felt surprise to be underwater.  I looked up and could see the clear blue sky and the deep green marsh grass along the riverbank. That must have been the moment I realized where I was. I was disoriented but I managed to surface enough to grab a hold of the tall grass, and pull my head above the water. I could see my father drop his fishing pole and begin running towards me. I saw a flash of red from his jacket and a blur of brown from his shoes, as he approached me. The panicked expression on my father’s face as he stood above me made me  realize the seriousness of the situation. I became aware of the current moving swiftly around me and under me. I felt the grass begin to give way, its roots loosening from the muddy bank, and I felt the panic set in me. I don’t know if my father jumped in or reached in to grab me, but suddenly I felt myself being lifted out of the water. Being lifted out of the water,  shocked to me as much as the cold water temperature did when I fell in. The fear in my father’s eyes sent me into a greater shock and I gasped for air, coughing up the water I did not realize I swallowed, and choking on my great,  heaving sobs, which appeared from nowhere. I was cold, wet and scared. My mother came from the car with a blanket.  The rest is a blur. But, to hear my dad’s version of the story, the current was swift and if not for his fast action, I would have been swept away

My father has told this story before. I don’t know now if my own memory of this incident has blurred with his re-telling of it, but, I have a strong sense that my initial reaction was not panic. Rather my initial reaction was disorientation, and then realization, followed by my natural instinct to save myself.  It was not until I experienced  the reaction of those around me that I began to panic. Looking back at this incident, and other traumatic events in my life, I think that I probably have experienced these events the same way, with my survival instinct helping me to surface from disorientation, and my family pulling me to safety.

Fishing without the drowning part.

My Father’s Story

This is my father when he was a boy.

He was born in an area near El Paso, Texas, called Smeltertown.  It was called Smeltertown because of the smelt from the nearby mines.  I don’t think the name of the town is very appealing,  but, when I was little I would hear stories of his childhood, and I would think that Smeltertown sounded like a fascinating place.

Sometimes my dad’s childhood stories were tales of his struggles growing up, being raised by his adoptive mother, and his adoptive grandmother. My dad’s mother died when he was just months old.  His mother’s cousin, and her mother, raised him in Smeltertown. They made their living, in part, selling masa to make tortillas.  My dad worked alongside his adoptive mother and grandmother.

My dad's mother, cousin, and aunts.

My father was raised by these two strong, independent women.  They loved him and cared for him, but  were strict disciplinarians with him.  The only male presence, my father’s step-father, was largely absent.  When my dad was a teen they came to California and settled in a pretty rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

Dad, circa 1950, Belmont High School, Los Angeles.

He stayed out of trouble and eventually joined the army, which gave him more discipline, and offered him greater opportunity.

Dad in the Panama Canal Zone, 1953

My dad got out of the army and lived the single life, until he met and married my mom. They started their family right away, with three kids born in just over 4 years.  When my dad became a father, he had very little personal exposure to what being a father in a nuclear family looked like. Nowadays, they call that “modeling.”

Family Dinner, circa 1978.

But the lack of “modeling” has not deterred my dad. He learned a lot along the way. We have learned a lot along the way together too. Sometimes the lessons were rough. But, always, we knew he loved us and took care of us. And always, along the way, we have built new memories and created our own stories.

He took us on family vacations.

Family vacation to Vancouver, Canada, circa 1977. (Dad's not pictured because he was the photographer!)

Many times these vacations involved one of his favorite activities, fishing.

Vacation at Mammoth Lakes, California. Circa 1970.

Another Mammoth Lakes vacation.

He sang us songs.

Canciones de mi padre.

He coached my brothers in sports.

He has become a devoted grandfather.

Dad and Nico and Diego all dressed up.

When I was little people would comment how much I looked like my dad. I would cry because I thought they meant I was chubby and had a mustache.

Dad and I at my college graduation, 1986

But, now I understand that they meant we had similar features. Today, I know that my dad and I are similar in ways beyond our physical appearance, and even beyond some of our similar behaviors.  My dad and I share a similar understanding, and appreciation for each other. We have struggled. We are flawed, but we love each other. He is my father. I am his daughter. We are familia.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad.