Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Warrior found

My house is a mess, but the original pen and ink drawing titled The Warrior is found. It was tucked in a journal dating back to 2003 when I created the image.

Meanwhile, I found accounts of my travels with Laura in journals dating back to 2000 -- Ashland, New York, Tuscany. Precious. Now among the missing is 2005-2006. But those journals will turn up in the storeroom. I can even picture the cover of the journal. I do remember that I did not journal much immediately following my two knee replacements (October 2006 and February 2007) and I'd forgotten how much pain I was in prior getting them.

I'd forgotten that Laura called the naughty and impulsive part of herself Moira.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Looking for the warrior

Looking for the warrior

Every once in a while, one needs to clean out long piled-up stuff.

There’s no one quite like a writer when it comes to long piled-up stuff. Ask my son-in-law Dan, who is still, after more than a year, going through my late daughter Laura’s stuff, mining her journals for never-developed poems and shards of wisdom beyond what she shared with us.

Of late, Dan found a poem titled “If They’re Right,” written two years after Laura’s diagnosis of stage-four colon cancer in 2008. The “they” were of course the oncologists and specialists that gave Laura not much time. Up for interpretation is the meaning of the poem, which depends upon whom the poet is addressing. Laura may have left an enigma, as she so often did.

Today, I’m searching for my sketch titled The Warrior, which will adorn the cover of Laura’s collection titled The Warrior’s Stance, that is, if I can find the original art. Two huge piles were sifted through without my finding the drawing. Tomorrow is another day.

Meanwhile I unearthed two long-buried treasures. The first was a fat envelope containing my late friend and editor John Willett’s unpublished manuscript titled Child of the Night Sky. A novella aimed at young readers, it’s the story of a pre-Columbus Indian boy who is blind, but is saved from his ancient tribe’s customary dealing with physically challenged children because the wise elders of a group that visits once a year see that he is gifted with sight from beyond.

John’s book is a delightful read and contains his message for today, something that comes through in all his works, published and not. It was simply wonderful to be reminded of my friendship with and admiration for this gifted man.

The other treasure was the printout of a two-day email correspondence with Laura, four years prior to her diagnosis. She’d been working with a psychologist for a year or more because of a feeling of despair and depression that would not go away. Through regressive therapy they’d made a breakthrough to memory that had been walled off. It was an astonishing, horrific revelation for her and for me, too.

Evidently, we’d been trying to work our way through this horror, and my behavior had not been helpful. What Laura was asking was something I could not give – a knockdown, drag out argument. As I’ve said before, and as she said frequently, I will do anything to avoid confrontation, and she was pissed, believing it the only way to clear the air.

My final email words on the subject were “See you Monday,” at which time, no doubt, we were to have our discussion of the painful matter at hand. There were no further printouts. I suppose I could search my own journals around that time to see if I wrote about it. But right now, I’m too busy looking for The Warrior.

Laura Morefield and Charlene Baldridge
Christmas 2008

I’ve decided, though, that whatever discussion ensued helped us four years later when we had to communicate with each other regarding prognoses, surgeries, the diminishing possibility of her survival, and, at last, her wanting to share her death and her work with me, the latter on an ongoing basis.

I was privileged to be present during my beloved daughter’s last moments, to be holding her hand as she breathed her last breaths. For the past year I’ve been with Laura through her work, my response and the responses of others who have witnessed The Warriors’ Duet.

I’d give anything if I, like Emily, could return to that Monday in mid-October 2004 and eavesdrop on our conversation. But like Emily I would likely find it too painful to bear.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the Road with Warriors

On the road
Laura Jeanne Costales Morefield
as Cornelia Otis Skinner in
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
Madison High School, 1978

My 48-year-old daughter was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer in 2008. She’d just beaten her stepbrothers in a round of golf and driven home to Orange County, when the pain she'd attributed to a pulled muscle became so acute that she went to Mission Viejo Hospital during the night. She was so robust and healthy that for two days they tested her for everything else (just like "House") before performing the liver biopsy that enabled them to make their diagnosis. Though her colon cancer had metastasized and filled her liver with too many tumors to be counted. Laura named the three largest Fred, Ed and Earl, went home, and studied colon cancer and the various chemicals offered by her oncologist before deciding on her course of treatment.

The Warrior by Charlene Baldridge
Laura continued her good eating habits, continued playing golf during non-chemo weeks, went to yoga, and learned finally to accept there would be some "couch days." She wrote a lot of poems, mentored others with colon cancer and began a book about her experience titled Golf on Monday, Chemo Tuesday. An inveterate blogger, Laura had two: lauramorefield.weebly.com and another about colon cancer, referenced on the first. She far outlived her dire prognosis and died following a precipitous decline, four months prior to her 51st birthday. 

The Warriors’ Duet is exactly that. I took some of Laura’s glorious post-diagnosis poems and surrounded them with commentary about my experience as fellow writer and traveler and the mother of an extreme warrior. I continued to search for my funny, sarcastic, joyful and beloved girl after her death, and I discovered in the writing, to my surprise, that I had been a warrior too.

When Laura first received her diagnosis, I wanted to give up my life and move into the Morefields' downstairs bedroom. "That's not gonna happen!" said Laura the wise. Her husband, Dan Morefield, would tend to most of her needs. Their best friend, Erik Kieser, organized teams of helpers for chemo weeks and post-surgery weeks. Dan thought Laura might eventually have to move downstairs and outfitted the room with a television. She never did move downstairs, and bounded up the stairs just after her several surgeries and hospital stays and in fact just two nights prior to her death, though she relied on Dan's arm.

Christmas 2008
Laura Morefield and Team Laura member

And so, I became a team member and fulfilled my duties in rotation, taking Laura to chemo treatments and picking her up afterwards. In addition I was privileged to visit whenever I wanted, with advance notice of course.

Following her death, Laura was on the edges of my dreams for months, just out of sight. The night I finished collecting and editing her post-diagnosis poems -- her only request of me, made just weeks before she died -- Laura appeared in her Groucho guise, replete with twirling cigar, and made it abundantly clear there was more for me to do. "What's next, Miss Mommy?" she asked out of the corner of her mouth. Since we’d each spent a little time on stage, the more and the next of my assignments become a dramatic dialogue for two women. 

What do you do with something like this? I’d never written anything for the theatre, only about the theatre. I began by showing The Warriors’ Duet to friends, among the first theatre directors Claudio Raygoza and Glenn Paris, who said “We’ve got to give this a reading.”

Warrior Women
Karson St.John, Mom, and Linda Libby
Photo courtesy of ion theatre company
I had two women in mind from the start. Glenn and Claudio persuaded those women, Karson St.John and Linda Libby, to read The Warriors’ Duet in May 2012 at ion theatre company. Expecting to weep throughout, I asked to be hidden in a deep, dark corner of the theatre, but I but I did not weep, merely gloried in the words spoken aloud. 

Apparently, The Warriors' Duet will enjoy additional life in the spring. The theatre, producer/director, actors, time and place are yet to be announced. I am very excited over the prospect.

Laura and I traveled the world together for more than a decade. Now we’re together again, on the road with Warriors. I want everyone to know her wit, her words, her ability to celebrate life, and her courage. Seldom has there been such a warrior.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Introducing Loo and Moo

Loo and Moo, together again for the first time

Laura Costales as Cornelia Otis Skinner
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
Madison High School, 1978
When my daughter Laura Jeanne Costales Morefield was in her teens the two of us had such a fraught relationship that we went to someone she trusted, a youth group counselor named Elliot, to talk about it. After listening to us for a while, he said we should take our show on the road. We were flattered only for an instant. He termed it witty, incisive and deadly. We were going to kill each other with competitiveness, clever lines and well-aimed barbs. Already we were drawing tears and out-of-control emotions; soon there would be blood.

He showed us how to quit the game, to give up our destructive act by identifying the routine when it started up, by discussing issues directly, and nipping the act in its bud each time. I think the game is more common to mothers and daughters than we know. It was even more deadly in our case because we were so evenly matched and we knew it.

Though the game stopped, the competition never died. The funny thing was that against her will Laura was drawn to things in which I was or had been engaged. We were great admirers of one another’s writing and the individual voice each of us achieved in both prose and poetry. Laura was a much more political animal than I and perhaps more interested in social justice. She had a great ability to organize and write clearly. She once told me I was an extraordinary writer and urged me to change my first person narrative memoirs into fiction, something I was never sure I could do. She wrote screenplays and fiction; and I, non-fiction, criticism and features.

We were published together a couple of times. Once in a hardback book of letters between mothers and daughters, and the second time in a literary journal in which we both wrote poems on the same topic, her father, Samuel Costales, who died when she was two. I still mourn him and she never knew him.

As for our relationship, almost lost when I left the stepfather she adored, it was healed eventually. Envious of our apparent harmony, people always asked us how we closed the breach and grew close again, even closer than before. They urged us to write a book about it, but darned if we could ever figure out how we did it.

The most important elements were the love and admiration we bore for one another despite the tacit competition; our ability to say it was okay to be angry and hurt; and at length, our ability to talk about the really tough topics, to open communication, to clear the air, and to state what we wanted from one another.

Of course, I wanted Laura to outlive me. She would take care of my creative legacy, what do they call it? Intellectual property? She would organize the archive so to speak, clean up the inbox, and bring me posthumous fame.

When first Laura was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer in 2008 all I wanted was to die so that I would not have to witness her death. When it became apparent that I was not going to predecease her, she asked me to care for part of her intellectual property by collecting and editing her post-diagnosis poems, which she considered her best work. I did that and titled it The Warrior’s Stance after an image in one of the poems. This chapbook is looking for a publisher.

And then, because she asked, “What next, Miss Mommy?” in a dream, I created a dramatic reading for two actors and titled it The Warriors’ Duet. The subtitle, if it were standup comedy, would be Moo and Loo, Together Again at Last. We are still together through our work, and in a way this dramatic piece is the act we never performed in public, the healing book we never had time to write.

Charlene Baldridge
San Diego, June 30, 2012