The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Benjamin’s Bench – Ginny Contreras Sawyer

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I have never been one to put off work. Quite the opposite, really. I complete tasks weeks, sometimes months in advance. I am organized, a self-starter, ahead of the game at all times. (When I try to arrive fashionably late to a social function, I still end up early.)

Recently, for the first time in my life, I find myself putting off the number one chore on my to-do list, and it’s a scary feeling. I know it is happening. I recognize the signs, yet I’m powerless to stop it.

My procrastination does not present itself in the tub of ice cream, sit on the couch and watch Netflix kind of way. It is more active in nature. I straighten the junk drawer, dust the blinds, de-clutter the kitchen counter, sort through my daughter’s toys.

Home improvements projects jump out at me. Like the ever widening gap between the side door of our house and the cement steps. I convince myself that one more winter of neglect and those steps will surely break away like an ice floe adrift in the Arctic Sea, so I set about to fix them. Between research, excursions to Menards and the actual repairing, I manage to eat up a week’s worth of time.

I get really into Halloween this year. I buy that fake spider web stuff and attempt to stretch it over the shrubs in the front yard.

I schedule a furnace tune-up.

What I’m supposed to be doing is revising my memoir and sending query letters off to agents or publishing houses or both, but I just can’t do it. It’s like putting the same pole of two magnets together—I’m literally repelled when I sit down to work on it.

I sign up for a mindful mediation course in hopes that this will bring some clarity as to what the hell is going on with me. Turns out mindful meditation is all about trying to live in the present moment. To stop clinging to the past. To stop wanting for the future. My teacher would say it’s the clinging, the stubbornness that my situation should be different which is the source of my unhappiness.

I find this ironic because essentially, a memoir is the author’s attempt to make sense of a past event in his or her life. I want to ask the teacher if trying to make sense of your past is the same as clinging to it, but don’t.

Running is also a kind of meditation for me. Not mindful meditation, though, because I am trying to escape the present moment, trying to escape the boredom of plodding along one foot in front of the other, trying to escape the burning feeling in my lungs. When I achieve that disconnection between mind and body, I can run forever.

Sometimes I write in my head as I run. The physical movement often jars loose thoughts or ideas, a new way of looking at a subject. When something really good comes to mind, I’ll stop and frantically type out a word or phrase and text it to myself.

This fall I am running more than usual in hopes of shaking free of my current ailment.

As I run along the Mississippi River one day in early November, there’s no word or idea, just an impulse: I must get closer to that wooden bench next to the path. Three tall, gnarled oaks surround it; candles and mums and mini gourds decorate an engraved plaque. I stoop to read it.

Enjoy this bench & tree
in the memory of
Benjamin Curry Stassen
A dear Son, Brother, Nephew,
and Cousin.
You are missed so much because
you are loved so much.
With Love from the Crary Family.

I look away, at the fading fall trees, at the carpet of leaves. Tears gather at the corners of my eyes; suddenly I can’t breathe.

I do not know this family. I do not know this boy who was their son, brother, nephew and cousin. It’s the simplicity of the Crary’s message that unravels me, their use of present tense to refer to the past.

You are missed so much because you are loved so much.

This family gets it. They feel it, live it, suffer it. They know how the past can invade the present. How the present can invade the past. Would be. Should be. Could have been.

I sit down on Benjamin’s bench and watch the Mississippi as it flows stony and gray through the gorge, and I remember my firstborn—my dear son—for the first time in a long time without the pretext of paper and pen.


Ginny Contreras Sawyer is a writer of creative non-fiction, including memoir, essay, and literary journalism. Her work has been published in City Pages, Minnesota Women’s Press, and she was a regular contributor to the leading website for foreigners in Prague, Czech Republic. Ginny holds a B.A. in Spanish and Political Science and a MFA in Creative Writing. In her free time, she likes to travel and has visited forty-five countries around the world (although that number will probably hold steady once payments kick-in on her grad school loans). For the time being, she lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband and five-year-old daughter.

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