This week, the spotlight is on Cathy Allman and her poem, “A Review From Heaven To My Children,” published first in Pisgah Review.
Q: What inspired you to write “A Review From Heaven To My Children”?
“A Review From Heaven To My Children” was inspired by a writing prompt for a micro-fiction class at the Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute taught by Steve Lewis. He asked us to “write the whole story of our life in less than a page.” When trying to respond to that request, my first thought was that I have written my whole life in journals. Many of us who have too many journals worry that if we die before we destroy them, they could/will fall into the hands of, and be read by, someone who loves us, but doesn’t know everything about us because we will never tell them certain things that we only tell ourselves. That made me think of The Bridges of Madison County, and that made me think of Clint Eastwood, whom I adore. Running a list of Eastwood films through my head reminded me of how Clint movies make me rethink good guys and bad guys (Unforgiven) or winning and losing (Million Dollar Baby).
There were two other factors to the completion of the poem. First, how once the script gets out of the writers’ hands, the director can cast whomever they choose. If I were casting myself, I would want to be Michelle Pfeiffer, not just because she is beautiful, but because she is married to David Kelly, who is a great writer, and she lives in LA, where I always loved living the most but no longer live. Shortly before this assignment my husband and I had just heard a speech at the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year conference in Palm Springs by Geena Davis, and she blew me away with with the intelligence, humor, and wisdom of her speech, so she was on my mind.
Second, the twist of the last stanza came from the same week that Steve gave us the micro homework. I was teaching a creativity workshop to a group of girls. The method I use for “warm-ups” is to give the class a bunch of fill in the blank prompts so they can trick themselves into a stream of consciousness place in their work where they won’t edit and they can surprise themselves with how much they have to say. One prompt was “________ is invisible.” When designing the prompt, I thought that blank would be a doorway to words like: faith, God, joy, hope, and the abstract notions underneath those kind of words, but more than one person wrote “I” am invisible. I always learn more teaching than I learn taking a class. In class I am deliberate in focusing on the students’ writing, and I leave my own stuff out of the room. I didn’t tell them, but I wanted to tell them that I have spent years being invisible, by choice, mostly taking care of my high-energy husband and kids who grew up in this over-scheduled generation and overachieving community. Because of choosing a high-maintenance family lifestyle, so much of my own whatever ended up barely staying warm on the back burner. Is that a bad thing? Because coming at my own whatever from “a slant” (as Emily Dickinson would say) has made me see myself more clearly than if I were only and always looking at just myself. So many times when I feel overextended and underappreciated, I think of who I would be without the chance to be part of the lives (my husband and my children) that I am over-involved with. Even though I have secrets and regrets and countless journals in need of a good bonfire, I have a family, and I’ve been watching, and learning, and yes sometimes hiding, but I’ve been amazed. I’ve been very, very, very blessed. Hopefully secrets and regrets won’t keep me out of heaven whatever, whenever, and wherever I die. While I’ve been alive, any notion of that place I imagine called heaven is informed by how my family keeps teaching me things about loving I would never get close to knowing without them.
Q: How long did it take you to write it?
The poem took about a week to write. The journals are still in progress.
Excerpt of “A Review From Heaven To My Children”:
In the film version of my life, based on my found journals,
you cast Geena Davis as Cathy Allman. Really?
When I was writing myself,
I always saw Michelle Pfeiffer playing the part.
I get why you gave Clint Eastwood the story to direct,
a Bridges of Madison County thing, right?
I love the way Clint plays the songs I wrote
on the piano throughout the film.
I just never saw myself as that lonely, defiant,
or trapped to the point that
any choice I could make
would only be the best choice
of a no-win decision.