Sunday, November 16, 2008
Exercise: The Reluctant I
Writing Prompts and the mind of a writer.
In the picture my Mom is in the forefront, my Aunt Lois is pointing to the cake. Mom's birthday, but they shared the same birthday two years apart.
I sat there listening to her always with the phrases for everything. A quote, a song title, a bible verse, pulled as if from a small box in her mind. This time it was essential that her directive be avoided (not that it was known then.)
"Brags a good bargain, but hold on is a lot better," she said.
"Then how do you propose a writer will sell his/her work? No one can promote what another has written as well as the author. It's his/her baby, birthed with no fewer labor pains than the birth of a human infant. It seems weird to internalize that phrase and know now that one size, or in this case, one phrase, does not fit all.
Years after her death her phrases pop up as rules of life. Life is not a box of little ticker tape answers to every questions, though a lot of those do strike home with a ring of truth. Following, hanging on her every word helped to raise a lemming, a self-conscious, fearful individual with a couple dozen successes that many have never had, and yet that success feels like an embarrassment. It shouldn't.
Not all her phrases affected life that same way. Expressing the way her grandfather began a story - a phrase she repeated often, began a story created for my only Young Adult Historical novel. Watch For the Raven was born from her phrase, "When Tag was a pup, and turkey's chewed tobaccy."
Her phrases in all fairness did guide and still do.
We stood, the five of us, at her coffin during her wake, the final time we were able to talk with her and reminisced those phrases and funny fax paus she emotionally rendered throughout our growing years. "I'll slap my face against the back of your hand," was meant to be an admonition to my brother for inappropriate actions and words that we no longer remembered. We did remember watching our dad try to repress the laughter lighting up his mahogany eyes, the twitch in his lips that threatened to curve in a smile. Five faces suppressed the laughter only until she caught her mis-spoken words.
Laughter, hearty and long, followed as the tension in the room dissolved in fits of laughter, as it was as we swayed, arm-in-arm, remembering--the good, the bad and the hilarious--
And now alone, I think of perhaps the only wrong phrase, at least for me, that she ever insisted was law. Perhaps, she was right, but never for her daughter, the multi-published, award-winning author who needs to promote herself to sell her books.
Perhaps there is a way to brag without boasting, is that what she meant? Be proud but not too proud? Be verbal, interesting, social, outgoing, be discovered by your talent, not what you say on your own behalf. If only it was possible to ask her for clarification, if only she had lingered as long as her phrases have. If only she had stayed until I had my first book published--then maybe it would have been different. Maybe then she would have said,"You deserve to be proud and brag," perhaps...
(This post sprung from an exercise in the book The 3 A.M. Epiphany. The use of I was permitted but only twice and it had to be a first person narrative.)