Sherry Stratton, "What I Cling To" November 15, 2016


I am not a writer. The more I have to write about—the more I wish to write it—the more I am not a writer. After my brother’s death last year in deepest winter, I went through his neat, handwritten phone list and started to call people. One or two each day. This served as a break from my phone calling related to the other death duties: the myriad medical creditors, Citgo, Visa, DISH. In both categories of calls, any exchange might make or break my day. I told my friend, a poet, about “Mary from Pick 'n Save” who Steve met in the pet aisle at the grocery store. I didn’t know Mary, but Steve had told me about her. I called her, told her I was Steve’s sister. She asked, “has he died?” We talked nearly an hour: about Steve, about her connection to our home town, about Sheena—Steve’s cat that is now mine. We were saying goodbye; I could hear Mary sniffling, and she said, “one more thing: kiss the cat for me.” My friend said, “you have to write about that.” 

At my writing group, each month lacking a new piece of writing to present, I tell stories instead. One such story: about receiving a letter out of the blue, forwarded from the Wisconsin funeral home, from a stranger—a musician who saw Steve’s obituary and felt a kinship. In the letter he asked if he could purchase one of Steve’s CDs. Seeing the effect Steve had even on people who didn’t know him, I was blown away for days. The group tells me, “you should write about that.”

The next summer, I visit the lakeside cottage that Steve had made his home and now we—what remains of our family—are turning back into a summer place. I call Mary again. I have the program from Steve’s memorial for her, can I stop by? She says yes, gives me directions. Mary in turn has something for me and for Sheena, an old toy from the 1940s: a wind-up music box with springs ending in wooden balls attached at the top. Attractive to cats, she says, and the tune is soothing. She tells me that she intended to give it to Steve and didn’t get the chance. I suspect it’s a family heirloom and ask if she really wants to give it away. Yes, she assures me. Next I stop at the gas station convenience store, hoping to meet someone else from Steve’s phone list, “Tracy from BP.” Steve had said she was the first person outside his family that he’d told about his diagnosis. But I strike out; Tracy has moved north. I tell my friend these stories. She says, “you really should write about this.”

Last month I told the writing group that I’d like to meet at my house next time. We usually meet at a coffee shop, but I wanted to have them at my place—in summer, when we can sit on the porch. It took a bit of bravery to make this invitation; I tend to be a nervous host, on my own. Plus, I don’t really have the time (after all, I don’t even have time to write). A week before the meeting, I send out directions. Optimistically, I add, “I may even write something!” As the date approaches, I think about that. These days, much of my time is spent with, or for, my elderly mom, ensconced in assisted living nearby. And I still have not gotten all the tasks of my new life under control since my husband’s death nearly five years ago. Probably never will. Stuff has been happening right and left, and there is no way I will write something. And now, the meeting is today. I spent some of the morning and early afternoon preparing snacks and stowing them in bowls and trays in the fridge. I organized, made notes. Cleared off counters and tables and laid out glasses, napkins, dishes. I was on a schedule, and writing did not appear on the schedule. It was not essential. And then it was 90 minutes before my friends would arrive. I had in my head just an opening line for the blog post I’d committed to write—eventually. The assignment was to “Share your creative process . . . any topic related to writing.” My theme: all the reasons I have for not writing—very good reasons that I cling to—mean simply that I am not a writer. I sat down and started to write.


After a career in technical writing, Sherry Stratton has focused on the subjects closest to her heart. Her work is forthcoming in Punctuate and has been published in the anthology Songs of Ourselves: America’s Interior Landscape (2015), Portage, A Prairie Journal, and elsewhere. Sherry is copy editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal. 

Read Sherry's essay Accidental Visitor.

Photo credit: Angela Just

Photo credit: Angela Just