A Mosaic Heart

mosaicAs I scan across the room to my four children, like any other parent, I cannot imagine waking up to a day with one of them gone.  The task of carrying the family through such a loss and continuing with our daily lives of music lessons, karate, school work seems not just impossible, but surreal.  How do you fix breakfast, do the laundry, manage the homework and maintain the evening taxi shuttle when one sibling has died?  Every part of my existence that I complain about, these mundane and often irritating aspects of everyday life, seem nihilistic in the absence of one of my children.  Every apple cut, every shirt folded, would wash over the ever present gravestone in my mind.

Now:  repeat this nightmare times two.  The image of burying a second child invokes rage against the Fates, my God, your God and all of humanity.  It should not be possible, not permissible.  Unfortunately, parents of children with lethal genetic disorders see their children’s lives differently from those of us who find the coughs and colds of childhood as winter annoyances.  Reality faces these parents down with cruel certainty.  How and why are clear; when is today, maybe tomorrow, maybe not.

While touring Books in the Park, a literary festival in Norfolk last Fall, I casually asked Terry Jones-Brady, “Tell me about your book.”  With honesty and frankness, she detailed for me her two daughters’ lives, each ultimately overtaken by cystic fibrosis.  I silently wondered how horrifying it must have been for her younger daughter to wake up the morning after her sister’s funeral, knowing what genetics had predetermined for her.  Jones-Brady’s memoir, A Mosaic Heart: Reshaping the Shards of a Shattered Life, describes her life coping with this heartbreaking eventuality.  Ultimately left alone by her husband’s suicide, Terry Jones-Brady took to her computer to reshape her life.  The most unlikely of emotions emerges in conclusion:  joy. 

In sharing her experiences, Terry Jones-Brady has won the William Brenner Nonfiction Prize at the Hampton Roads Annual Writers’ Conference in 2010, a Silver Prize in the category of Grief/Death and Dying in the 2012 Nautilus Book Awards and Honorable Mention in the 2013 Great Southeast Book Festival.  A Mosaic Heart may be purchased locally from Prince Books as well as from regional vendors, Shooting Star Gallery, Page after Page and Amazon.  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Books in the Park? Really?

Seriously, Festevents?  Throwing a couple of stages up and giving out permits to food trucks does not a festival make.  Sadly, Books in the Park has gone the way of Waterside.  This event, once joyful and interactive was continually full of disappointment this year.

First of all, why the separate billing for Books in the Park and the Embrace the Culture Indie Music and Arts Festival?  — or was this intentional as Books in the Park was hardly Indie.  The Barnes and Noble clearance tent was clearly not in the spirit of supporting local authors.  Bargain books and 75% off commercialized craft kits screams, “I don’t have a mission statement.”  How embarrassing to have Skye Zentz, a local celebrity musician, playing the next generation of folk music adjacent a small field with unopened toys in a bucket – for the kids to play with?  My children were wondering if this was ok to break open the new plastic clamshell baseball glove packages.  No staff person was present to explain, no signage to direct.  What happened to the face painters, the giant bubble making display?  Placing the advertised food trucks exclusively on the other side of the Spirit of Norfolk pier additionally contributed to the anemic turnout to what could have been a signature event.

But the most important question of the day is:  Where were the books?  Where were the local writing groups, the local poetry societies?  A ballerina briefly appeared in costume to read for five minutes.  The field, once littered with small tents of writers was replaced with a horseshoe tent of self-published despair.  Sadly, this could have been these authors’ time to shine.  TaRhonda White, a motivated young African American woman was there with her book, The Will to Carry On, about succeeding beyond sports (we need her message).  Terry Jones-Brady, a Silver Nautilus Book Awards winner, spoke with me with such courage about her memoir, A Mosaic Heart:  Reshaping the Shards of a Shattered Life, in which she details the loss of her two girls to Cystic Fibrosis and her husband to suicide from the resultant despair.  Again, another message that needs to be heard. 

And speaking of shining, we have a local author with national billing (to include People Magazine and the New York Times), and she is placed behind an accordion player literally shackled with a galvanized chain to his tambourine.  Was this supposed to be literary irony? 

I’m at least heartened to hear that the crowd on the other side of the pier enjoyed their festival.  For shame, Festevents, for treating our local literary community like it is from the other side of the tracks.  Perhaps a short field trip to Richmond to see what real literary support looks like is in order.  My kids, ranging in ages from 5 to 13, agreed that this was a “Fail.”  Call me next year before you censor more of Books in the Park.