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STAY GOLD: THE OTTAWA UNIVERSITY LITERARY JOURNAL: Personal Essays

This is the official website of the Ottawa University Literary Journal.

Author's Note

 

Dear Readers,

When I originally wrote Outside the grate, I thought I was writing a memoir, but I was advised that what I had actually created was really a “personal essay” rather than a memoir, so I wanted to write this short introduction to clarify the differences between memoirs and personal essays for those who may not realize that there is a difference.

Delving into the differences between a memoir and a personal essay, I would have to refer to a writing craft article written by Jen Glantz (2019), which explains that the “traditional memoir” connects with the genre of non-fiction, but it is a “way to tell stories about your life” (para. 5) either sagely or as a but it focuses on a particular period of time in your life and does not tell a story about your entire life, as does an autobiography. But it is different from a personal essay in that the latter is a “singular meditation built around a particular topic” taking “the reader on a journey through a writer’s thoughts, sprinkled into their real-life experiences”(para.11).

 

Glatz, J. (2019, November). Memoir versus essay collection. The Writer. Retrieved

https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/nonfiction/memoir-versus-essay-collection/

 

 

OUTSIDE THE GRATE BY GLORIA CREED-DIKEOGU

Beyond the grate: A Memoir

Outside the grate, the grass is a brilliant green. A greener hue I have not seen in years. Birds sing incessantly, with many new voices joining others, off and on, in the span of one afternoon, their strident banter, paired with the startling chirping of insects, ever joyful in their feast on the glaring carpet.

Beyond the grate, I go out into the garden, breathing in the sweet smell of newly cut grass. An apprehensive expectancy races through the air on the edge of a breeze that gently moves the leaves to and fro. Birds walk animatedly the length of the wooden fence at the end of the garden, beaks down. At the slightest sound or movement, they take flight, sometimes securing an alternate landing on the top of the fence or at other times, disappearing into the sky beyond the cloudless blue.

The garden is a splendid repast. A living breathing entity--locked into its own time and space.

A grey rabbit sits motionless. Watching, as I move toward the apple tree in the center of the garden. I pause there for just a second, moving purposefully to stand in its shade on the pink and white tiled walk. When I gesture with my arms and on request move to the right to examine the only empty patch of brown in the lawn, it hops quickly away with long graceful strides. Then it turns to regard me sideways, still vigilant unspeakable-silence, from the opposite side of the garden, as if together, we are opponents, engrossed in a high-stakes game and I have yet to make my move. And then I hear, that I should tread carefully. Avoid that only open, brown, fallow patch in the field of green: for undercover in its bareness, it hides a fountain of youth.

And now I understand. Now I know. But my threat is unintentional, for rabbit-pie is not in the cards.

So I move away slowly, my eyes sliding away from the grey rabbit in the distance, who takes on a military stance of stillness, and I wonder across the garden to the vegetable patch. There I am taken inordinately by how the tomato and onion plants vie for life, their primary leaves barely stretching out just above the soil, beginning to sprout. The oregano bush in the second vegetable patch is strong, taking its place centrally, in the corner, longing to spread its roots all the way across the patch if it could. Sadly, it must remain a sideliner; as it is too near those green peppers that have until now, refused to grow.

Turning back toward the house, I ponder how it is that just a few miniature roses climb the wall unheeded, their red sun-kissed petals open and perfect, while others still closed, are late bloomers--not yet ready to touch the passionate human heart with their beauty.

Then I settle in the garden swing and think about the last time you were here. It was summer then, just like now. And you were so like the late bloomer in that rosebush. Not ready to blossom yet, but on the very cusp of blossoming. With the timing just right, those tightly coiled red petals would unfurl, opening wide to let the sunshine in, for the very first time.

A San Jose ride
Luxury cars line up—wait
Across myriads of lanes
Tracing hairpin-curved mountains-capes top-speed
Their racing sojourn
hair-raising—
All impatient-switching;
lane to lane
exit to exit
Red lights merely temper
a full-mad rush--
Devil-eyed fiends
Pacing them
As they speed onward
Two by two—
toward an unknown finish line
Not ever missing that checkered flag.

San Jose Scape
City-life is challenge—
Day-in and day-out
On high vistas
And low valley high-rises—
Their sculpted-garden heavy
Gated-glory
Interspersed with
Tall logo-finished skyscrapers
And cityscapes packed with people--
Ready to kill the fatted calf
At every opportunity.

Now it is almost a year, and just like with the miniature roses, you have made miniature steps toward reaching a goal that is still elusive.

This year has been a struggle for us both, and my journey is so different from yours. Yet, like you, when you had finally gone, I had to come to terms with my ‘loss’, coming to the realization that your leaving was not really a loss for me, but a gain. A gain because you had already gained your majority, and had entered the outside world to gain knowledge and wisdom and make a new life for yourself, in the hope of gaining a successful livelihood that also extends my influence.

And I—what about me? I was forced to face the future head-on, picking up where I had left my life before you came, all those years ago, and taking up the reigns once again. And day in and day out I ask myself—how do I do this? What did I have to go on before? Do I have the strength to continue on? Where do I go from here? What is next? How do I take these next steps?

So like you, I had lessons to be learnt too. Lessons that shake me to the core, because in some ways, I was unwilling to come to terms with how my life had changed and what it was that I needed to do, in order to resume effectively and be healthy.  Healthy was what I needed to be; and that was hard. Harder than anything, because now it was only me I had to look after. I could not blame anyone that I was not doing well. I could not say that I had to focus on you, when I was dying on the stairs. Stairs that seemed to go on and on, that needed climbing: when there was no visible next floor in sight.

There are still days when I am bound to struggle. That is how life is. Things never go smoothly. There are always new bumps and bends. And if I want a good life, then I have to attend to those and change them to my advantage. At least, I still have the chance to do that. After all, I have free will.

Each day I remind myself that I have free will; and that the future is –--although not an empty canvas, still changeable.  I am the artist; the creator of that vivid painting, called life, and my painting is still incomplete. It is only when they light that funeral pyre that I won’t be able to take up the brush anymore and I am no phoenix, to rise from the ashes.

Days later, venturing outside, I regarded the rosebush in full bloom; no longer a bush of spindly unopened globs that appeared as if they were too small ever to sprout. Now, I see resilient beauty like nothing before, defying the aging, decrepitness we vowed to replace year in and out, and filling the entire garden with its opulent splendor.

And so it will be with you, as you move into a new life, adversity and struggle will get the best of you. But as you struggle to grow, like the rosebush, if you wait, and make the best of your struggle; then you will move toward knowledge, mellowness and ease, beginning to enjoy what follows in its wake. Reaping a well-deserved harvest in the years to come because you did not give up; putting all that you had to give, forward, when it was the hardest to do that.

I had to learn to let go of you: graciously. To accept that children are never ours forever. That they must leave us, make their own lives, and learn to stand up on their own like unsure birds that fly from the nest for the first time. But when the birds can fly and are able to stand firm, in their own stead, then they are a testament to our own courage and resilience in this life.

I knew that just like one of those roses, maturing and open; I had to be open to acceptance, and to faith and hope: believing that you would be beautiful in your own way and in your own time. Trusting that the wellspring of your inner resolve and the lessons you had learned would be enough to carry you through the toughest of times of your life, when the thorns of life are relentless.  

Accept the challenge

Accept the challenge

Live life to the full

Don’t stop to look back

Just to howl at the moon.

Accept the challenge

Live just how you want

Not caring too much

When you suffer the brunt.

Accept the challenge

Live life how you can

Not worrying too much

When the crap hits the fan.

For tomorrow will come

As soon as is right

And then you will see

That resilience is might.