On the road: Back in the USA

In 2016, inspired by the ending of the film Big Fish to tell my father’s story so he could be immortal, I decided to research the life of my father, W. Lon Hutchison. I started writing a novel Tracking the Human; nobody’s a long time, based on events in his life. To carry out the research, I had to return to the Mid West USA, from Canberra, Australia, where I was living.

With my mother’s death in 2011 our family “home base” in Kansas City had been sold and reimagined by the new owners, going from being bright pumpkin orange trimmed in turquoise to being repainted all white with a picket fence.

Without my mom’s house, whose screened-in front porch had been a meeting place for the neighborhood, I had to find somewhere to stay. I wanted to be with people I knew and felt comfortable with. I was fearful that this would be a challenging project, quite different from past research that I had done for university assignments and educational programs. I anticipated needing emotional backup.

My friends, Linda and David, who live outside Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas, welcomed me.

As it was a weekend and the National Archives in Kansas City were not yet open, I went to the public library in Lawrence, pleased that I found my way to the library on the back country road that didn’t show on maps.

Lawrence  Kansas has a beautiful public library. I went upstairs, sat down in a comfortable chair in a quiet glassed-in corner, overlooking a park, and started searching for documents using the free wifi.

I can’t remember what search engine or terms I used, but what came up was so shocking that I could barely read it through my tears.

In 1934, my great aunt Jessie Hutchison went to court in Tulsa, Oklahoma to have my father, W. Lon Hutchison committed to the Eastern Oklahoma State Mental Hospital in Vinita.  Once committed, many  people never left.  The state mental hospitals were where the unwanted people were dumped.

A Really Big Fish

What made me return to writing Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, a novel about my father? I suspended the search for information about my father almost as soon as I started in 2011 after my mother’s death in Kansas City, Missouri.  I did send out freedom of Information requests, some emails and phone calls. When nothing came up, I gave up. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to find out more.

In 2014, I left Nairobi, Kenya where I had been living off and on since 1998. My partner and I moved back to Canberra, Australia, where he had grown up. I took some writing courses and workshops at the University of Canberra. I published a book of poems and sketches, Silence Spoken (available on www.lulu.com). I was not yet committed to researching and writing about my father’s life. Continue reading “A Really Big Fish”

Self-made Man

How can someone reconcile with their father decades after his death? The book I’m working on Tracking the Human: nobody is a long time is fiction based on events in the life of my father W. Lon Hutchison. The only clues I have about his life are documented intersections with the United States legal system. I have followed these clues to come closer to someone I never knew, although I lived with him for 18 years.

When my father died in 1971 in Kansas City, I learned about his death six months later.

I was camping on a beach in Northern California when a friend came running down the hill to our tent. We just received a message from your mother. Your father has died.

My father was an impossible being, a man without a past, without a family, who sprang full grown into Christian Science as a successful businessman. That’s how he presented himself to the world.

He was formidable, tough and unforgiving. No one crossed him. If they did, he never ever forgave them. I felt suffocated by Christian Science, the religion of my father and his constant push to make money.

Unless I accepted his worldview, I was out. So at age twenty, I was cast out of the family by my father.

Why fiction? Because a different truth lies in stories where point of view is acknowledged – where readers can draw their own conclusions and think about what happened or might have happened.

Do you think fiction can reveal truths?

Do you think fiction can reveal more than non-fiction?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Respect for Elders

I found a new title, or it found me during a poetry festival: Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time.  Now back to writing a novel based on events in the life of my father, W. Lon Hutchison, from his birth in 1907 in Indian Territory, soon to become the state of Oklahoma, to his death in 1971 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Begin again… my father was a man with many secrets. The legacy of secrecy and revenge goes back to past generations and forward to current and emerging generations.

Where I live in Canberra Australia, every public event begins with respect for elders, (referring to Indigenous peoples in Australia ). We recognize that we are standing on Ngunnawal land and extend our respect to their elders, past present and emerging . Respect for elders is fundamental to the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, extending back at least 65,000 years.

Growing up, I was not able to respect my elders. How is respect established? What about transparency as is often heralded in the shady, sloppy world of politicians? There was no transparency in our family. Not by parents or children. On all sides, hiding and /or lies. My father was hiding his past. My mother was whingeing about lack of love from her mother and disgust for her stepfather. My father said nothing at all about his birth family, even when his sister moved to Kansas City, Missouri and became friends with my mom.

My father was a self-made businessman, although there is really no such thing as self-made… who can make themselves? Impossible. My father’s religion, Christian Science, was about individual discipline. According to Christian Science, There is no life, truth, nor intelligence in matter. All is infinite mind and its infinite manifestation. As a Christian Scientist, a person lives in their mind and the body will follow.

Through fiction I will build respect for my elders, reconcile my family and develop forgiveness. In this blog I will share my search for reconciliation.

Growing up, did you respect your elders? Was that built in to your culture? Did your parents share family stories with you?

 

Poetry finds the way

Although I had to ditch Life Expectancy, the title I had chosen for the novel about my father because it was the title of a book by best-selling author Dean Koontz, I did find a title for my blog: Family and Fiction

For the blog, I decided not to use the title of the book. The blog is about the book and more… about investigation, research, reading, writing, rewriting, soul searching, self-doubt related to the book and beyond.

Discouraged about not finding a title for the book, I put it aside. Better not to think about it. Concentrate on issues at hand – an open house party for a visitor from Venezuela, helping my older son and his spouse to move from Nairobi, Kenya to Canberra, Australia, activism on climate change and for human rights for asylum seekers.

The book and the title were shoved out of sight, out of mind. Neglected, yet festering in the background, telling myself I should do it. I should continue. It had to be done. But I ignored those interior voices and kept myself busy with everyday life.

Until…Poetry finds the way.

I attended a panel at the poetry festival, Poetry on the Move, in Canberra. I brought with me a blank journal with illustrations by Ebenezer Edward Gostelow (1866-1944) that I had purchased at the National Library of Australia. I’m a sucker for buying beautiful journals as gifts. But not for myself. Easy to write on the computer when you can change it anytime but in a journal? More thought and better handwriting required.

A side journey:

Ebenezer Edward Gostelow was born in Sydney Australia in 1866. From 1889 he taught in country schools across New South Wales. As a self -taught artist and lover of Australia flora, he livened up blackboards in his classroom with captivating chalk drawings of flowers.

My journal is livened up with a drawing of a banksia on the front cover (photo) And on the inside with 10 full-page color illustrations as well as small sketches of flowering plants that pop up when least expected.

Back to the poetry festival: 

While waiting for the poets to begin a panel discussion, I sat down in the front row and read previous entries in my Australian flora decorated journal. I found quotes copied from books I had been reading, including Land Fall, a poem by Clive James and several quotes from Tim Winton, Island Home. Then a quote from a poem by Gary Snyder, Rip Rap and Cold Mountain Poems:

“Tracking the human future of intelligence and despair.”

That was it. One sentence that says what I’m trying to do in the book I’m writing.

The title found me: Tracking the Human, with a subtitle from a poem by Kenneth Patchen, Nobody’s a long time.

                         I’m on the road again… to writing, blogging, publishing….

How did you find the title for your book, short story or poem?

Your comments are welcome.  Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               I’m on the road again… to writing, blogging, publishing….

 

Word Count: 456

Keywords: Poetry, Poetry on the Move, Canberra, Ebenezer Edward Gostelow, National Library of Australia, Banksia, Australian flora, Clive James, Tim Winton, Gary Snyder, Kenneth Patchen, Tracking the Human, Nobody’s a long time, title

Why blog?

Is it to write away sorrow and share joys?

Is it a living memoir?

Is it only for yourself? And maybe a few friends?

Is it to encourage people to continue their own writing or start writing?

Is it to exchange ideas and encourage other writers?

Is it to encourage people to buy and read my book, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time when it’s published.

All of the above

Here are some of the people I hope will read my blog and share their comments with me.

  • People who like to read, who learn through reading,
  • People who use the public library regularly.
  • People who are curious about other peoples’ lives and families.
  • People interested in the early to mid twentieth century in the mid West of the United States.
  • People interested in riding the rails, hobo culture, mental hospitals, and Christian Science.
  • People who are writers and write in order to know the world and themselves.

Here are some interesting people that might read my blog:

All of the above people were found on a shelf in our front bedroom. All are from an extensive collection of dolls that I inherited from my mother. Everywhere she went, my mother bought a handmade doll.

This person is particularly special:

Can you read what it says at the bottom of her apron?

Rebecca, who longs to travel. 

Rebecca would be my ideal reader… a person who longs to travel, who is curious, who wants to meet new people and exchange ideas.

Welcome to all those Rebeccas (and Robertos) out there.

Enjoy reading family and fiction.

Why do you blog?

Send in your comments.

Thanks!