21 March 2012

Farewell to Mordena

This afternoon I got word that my writing-group friend Mordena Babich had died. This wasn’t a surprise since I knew she’d entered hospice treatment after her second bout with cancer, but it rips a big hole in the world. Mordena left a young daughter and husband, many friends, and more fine manuscripts than she would accept praise for.

Here’s the start of her essay “Writing Aikido”:
This past January marks twenty years that I have been practicing Aikido. I’ve been a writer of children’s and young adult fiction for about twenty-five. At first glance there wouldn’t seem to be obvious parallels between fiction writing and Aikido, one pursuit almost entirely mental and the other almost entirely physical. Still, both involve a constant pursuit of excellence, daily practice, and a never-ending effort to improve, learn, and adjust. I’m finding lately that the two disciplines have more common ground than I ever imagined.

I first began to see the connections about five years ago, when I attended a writing workshop with the late Sid Fleischman, the grand old man of children’s literature. Among other bits of practical advice, Sid said that it takes two ideas to make a story, just as it takes two sticks to make a fire. One idea won’t catch fire; it’s just a stick without that second idea to rub against it.

Around this same time, Itoh Sensei often said in class that it takes two forces to take uke’s [the attacker’s] balance – movement in two directions. For example, up and forward. Without the forward, up is just a stretch. Without the up, forward is just pushing. 
At one meeting, long before I read this, I quoted Sid Fleischman’s point to Mordena, and she said, “I know! I’ve been looking for the second stick!” It’s always fun to have a writing-group colleague with the same vocabulary and literary likes.

Mordena pooh-poohed others’ praise or optimism about her own writing, but it definitely deserves more eyes. Check out “Beautiful Beast” at Hunger Mountain or “Blind Date,” part of a series she called Evil Coffee Shop.

1 comment:

karen Day said...

This was a really nice post, John. I can't believe she's gone. I feel as if something -- our group? Our critiquing? -- has suddenly come to an abrupt HALT. Will be strange and hard to move forward. What a great voice she was. Talented. Smart. We shall miss her.