An Artist Writes Memoir: Joan Z. Rough’s “Scattering Ashes”

Introducing Joan

I met Joan Z. Rough on Chincoteague Island in February 2015, having become blog buddies months earlier. When we met on this writers’ retreat, Joan was using the Scrivener tool to revise and edit the manuscript for a memoir of the 7-year slice of her life taking care of a terminally ill mother she had both loved and hated: a narcissistic, alcoholic woman.


Let me introduce you to Joan properly from her website “About” page:

Besides writing poetry and nonfiction, I am an artist, passionate about painting with oils and wax, collage, mixed media, photography, and sculpting French beaded flowers.  My work in photography has been exhibited throughout the nation and has found homes in numerous collections. Though retired from actively showing my work, I still take great joy in creating large, colorful works on canvas and paper and smaller encaustic paintings on wood.

When near-collapse from care-taking was imminent, Joan retreated to making colláges, furiously painting in oils, writing poetry and frantically beading, beading, beading, lovely jewelry pieces.



Click here for a poem with an autumn palette.

Her memoir Scattering Ashes launched just yesterday on September 20, 2016. This memoir resonates with healing and hope for adult children caring for burdensome parents.


My Review

Joan Zabski Rough, author of Scattering Ashes, is a painter, a poet, and photographer. She is also a memoirist who summons her artistic talent in order to lay bare her life story, particularly her complex relationship with a narcissistic, alcoholic mother suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this memoir of letting go, the author paints a picture of the violence of her childhood and the search for solace through art, taming the dragon lady within, using bold strokes of black, yellow, and red, evident in a colláge she recalls constructing in her journey toward peace.

In Scattering Ashes, the reader observes writer Rough fighting to let go of guilt, shame, and self-doubt as she says a long goodbye to her elderly mother during seven years of caring for her in her own home, becoming a mother to her own mother. Face to face with the woman who birthed her, she is forced to confront scars of childhood that have left her feeling victimized with low self-esteem, a demon she has grappled with her entire life. As a reader in thrall to the unfolding tale of the dutiful care-taker daughter shackled to an ungrateful mother, I wanted to shout, “Stop, you’ve done enough. You are good enough. You are enough!”

Through metaphor, the artistic author vividly describes her muse: her ideal, stable family carved of marble. Then she deciphers the dilemma of her journey with travel imagery:

The crossroads I’m at is not your usual four-corners kind of deal. It’s a hub of sorts, with innumerable roads shooting off in all directions. I’m afraid I’ll choose the wrong road. I know I can’t stay where I am for long, and I certainly don’t want to go back the way I came. But where do I go? And what does it mean to be free of the burdens I’ve spent these last years carrying?

Joan Rough’s memoir begins like Picasso’s Guernica with images of violence and animosity, her home a war zone. It ends as its author promises in the book’s dedication “ . . . to all mothers and daughters who are seeking to love and forgive each other.”

I highly recommend this memoir to all who struggle to make sense of a complicated mother-daughter relationship. This true story lights the way to self-acceptance, forgiveness – and eventually, to healing.

Meet Joan on her Facebook author page

Buy her book here!   scatteringashes

Do you know Joan or someone like her? Can you relate to her struggles? her triumph?


Coming next: Aunt Ruthie Longenecker – Her Life in Pictures


57 thoughts on “An Artist Writes Memoir: Joan Z. Rough’s “Scattering Ashes”

    1. Joan lived to tell her story as victor, not victim. To me, that’s the most amazing part of her journey. Then too she admits it’s taken her 6 years to “birth” her baby, encouraging to me now still working on drafts.

      You are at the head of the table once again when it comes to comments. Thanks, Merril.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Well done Joan for giving voice to shattered mother-daughter relationships. It’s a great feat to dig deep and survive as victor. May your artist’s voice and joyous smile scatter far and wide. Many congratulations on your publication – I wish you great success.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Once again you have come to my rescue through your post. I purchased and read chapter one that Amazon allows before you receive book. Wow how gripping.

    Can’t wait to get book in two days. I’m sitting near window enjoying the dark morning of a rainy thundering day. My best kind of day. And enjoying your blog. Saturday I saw my mom at my sister’s house when we went to city. We enjoyed tacos I purchased for everyone not to burden my sister to feel inclined to feed everyone. The visit was short but very nice my sister Sylvia had gone out earlier to take my mom out for her birthday that was in August. I wonder how I will be as a caregiver to my mom. I know I will be the only one willing to care for her. She just turned 80 is very healthy and has a great circle of friends. This book will help me. Even help me with my relationship with my daughters. Thank you enjoy your day.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you for writing it. So sorry for your loss. I pray that you will find peace and comfort in all that you did for your Mom. Yes it will something for me for today and later.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, my, Marian. What a wonderful job you have done here for me. I so appreciate you and how you are helping me get the word out about my memoir. I will be responding to each of the comments here, but first wanted to thank you, my dear friend! Now, on to writing your next chapter!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, I started the day with good writing intentions and worked on two chapter revisions. Then “life” took over: taking care of a loved ones’ needs. You know what that’s like.

      I am so happy your book is already making a difference in people’s lives. You must have felt like giving up more than once, but you didn’t. Now your story is spreading seeds of hope in the world. Literally!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. She sounds like another remarkable woman and scared survivor and I feel instantly attracted and sympathetic to her plight. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a stable family home and one wonders how some children make it into adulthood at all. I will definitely read this book. Thank you for sharing, Marian. 💗

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for this excellent book review, Marian. It makes me want to read the book. I really enjoyed looking at the paintings as well. I was already introduced to the author in Shirley Showalter’s latest blog post, and appreciate learning more about her.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Shirley and Joan both live in Virginia and knew each other before I met them at our writers’ retreat in Chincoteague Island. And I think I learned about you, Elfrieda, through Shirley’s posts. I love how we can make connections here and share hope in a despairing world. Thanks for joining in today.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Joan’s memoir sounds like a necessary, welcomed gift to anyone who seeks answers and guidance for troubled lives. This line, especially, struck a chord: “…the search for solace through art, taming the dragon lady within, using bold strokes of black, yellow, and red, evident in a colláge she recalls constructing in her journey toward peace.” Beautiful, Marian. Well done.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for picking out those lines with that particular image, Marylin. Joan uses the word dragon throughout her memoir as a way to describe her uncontrolled feelings. When I met Joan, I didn’t detect any vestiges of the dragon lady. 🙂 Apparently she has written herself free. I think Joan exemplifies the idea of writing a a way to heal. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a wonderful review of Joan’s book Marian. I’m definitely adding this to my TBR. 🙂 (PS weirdpress is not letting me comment on most blogs. I don’t know why so if you get this comment it’s because I’m logging in through Facebook, and I will not receive your replies either :()

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a worthy book, and one you can relate to judging from your books and blog comments.

      So, yes, I did get this comment but like you can’t post comments on blogs of other WP followers. Maddening! I hope the glitch is fixed soon.


    1. Thank you for working around WP issues this week. I’m glad my comments have not vaporized into thin air. I hope the “Happiness Engineers” will succeed in fixing the problem – and soon!

      Hero of her own story – that’s Joan!


  8. Such a lovely smile , Joan has such a lovely smile . No one knows what goes on behind a smile like that , do they Marian . I have read some on of Joan’s comments on your blog but I had no idea of her pain . Thank goodness she used the gift of art , poetry , writing and photography to help the burden she was under . I for one will be reading her book with interest .
    What with Joan’s and Laurie’s book coming out soon I’m getting quite excited .
    I do remember you meeting up for that literary weekend because I thought what a great thing to do.
    I had a craze on Catherine Cookson in the 80s ( do you know her Marian?) she had a story to tell of her home life . An alcoholic mother who’d she’d grown to belive was her older sister . Her life was more colourful than her books . Anyway they gave me a huge lot of pleasure reading them . Sorry I’ve gone on a bit …really great post .

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Catherine Cookson books are very popular over here , not everyone’s choice of course . They are usually set in the northeast so there is a dialect involved. Many have been made into tv adaptations so if anyone likes the books they can get the DVDs . But it is more about her life and how she clambered out of poverty to become a famous author …it just goes to show that anything is possible ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I can decipher Scottish and other British dialect pretty well because Bobby Burns’ poetry is heavy with its “slurry” language. I will see if our library has any of Cookson’s books. You have whetted my appetite for her style and story. Thanks, Cherry!


  9. Joan’s book sounds powerful and compelling, Marian. It’s on my list. Thanks for the illuminating review and sharing more of Joan’s background and creative pursuits. Joan, an elephant-sized congratulations to you. I imagine this was a challenging book to write as others have already said, but also one you had to write to help others but also to fully digest your own experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m just speculating, but I doubt that Joan would have written this difficult story unless she had taken care of her mother, which made her confront her turbulent past full force as a mature woman. Yes, she is brave to have written it, but she probably felt compelled to share it too, and as you say, Elaine, to fully digest her own experience.

      It’s beautifully written – nothing hidden. It would be interesting to hear/see what you think after you’ve read it. Thank you!


Thank You for Leaving a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s