Jul 18, 2022

On Writing

Below is a personal essay I wrote recently.  It's about writing.  And my mom :) Hope you enjoy!

My mom is a wonderful writer, and it was a big deal when she bought an Apple IIGS in the early 90’s. My sister Vanessa and I loved making gigantic banners on the computer, because the printer paper was all connected end-to-end. Sometimes we removed the edges with all the holes, sometimes not.  Sometimes my dad would visit from Texas, so we’d make a banner that said “Welcome Home, Dad!” with large clip art images on either side of the words (maybe clip art was early emoji?).  As I grew up and understood that even though my parents seemed like best friends following their divorce, his home was really just in Texas, so we’d amend banners to: “Welcome to Maine, Dad!”

When I was in 6th grade, my mom went back to school for a second degree in English, and you can chart my own academic success to watching my mom model how to be a scholar.  I went from being an extremely lackadaisical kid who once got in trouble with my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Beck, for staring at the sun — to suddenly (or finally) understanding how to read and how to write and how to focus.  (Note: I loved Ms. Beck. 💗 She brought in her records and made lyric sheets so we could sing and learn songs like “The City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie.)

My mom got into the Honors Program and wrote papers on her Apple IIGS, but I know she at first struggled with a style of essay writing that she simply wasn’t taught in the 40’s and 50’s. My mom had been the editor of her high school newspaper and went to college to become a teacher.  College writing in the 90’s was structured differently — around getting to have and express a personal opinion, around having one’s own thesis.  She worked hard and became a scholar, reading and re-reading and note-taking — and then writing and crafting well-reasoned arguments. 

In school and college, I got discouraged if I didn’t understand something right away or wasn’t quickly proficient which led to a pretty joyless battle with perfectionism 😂but I learned ultimately that it’s not the sign of a lack of intelligence if something is hard or takes longer which was what my mom was modeling. 

My mom took some creative writing courses, too, including non-fiction and memoir which she loved. She got in trouble once, because her professor said what she’d written couldn’t possibly be true. He thought she was lying.  He said it was too tragic and beyond belief.  She said it was true. They agreed to disagree.

When I was a little kid, before there was an Apple IIGS in Maine — my mom had a typewriter in Texas.  It was the most exciting thing I could think of.  In Texas, as a 5-year-old, I could find my mom in the kitchen — or in her bedroom which had a giant window which I later learned was called a “picture window” and was popular in the 70’s and 80’s — or in her study.  My mom’s study was the one place in the house that my dad didn’t go.  It had books inside — a window looking out at giant trees — and: the typewriter.  Next to the typewriter was a stack of yellow index cards.  The second most exciting thing I could think of were: yellow index cards. ðŸ’›

Recently, I was in the great state of New Jersey at a big box store with my partner Marisa visiting her parents, and I spotted a stack of yellow index cards.  I remembered sneaking into my mom’s study and threading a yellow index card into my mom’s typewriter and typing something.  No clue what I wrote.  A word.  An idea.  A punctuation mark.  A letter.  Probably “A” for my name.  Or little “a” because it’s just so lovely looking.  But whatever it was, the feeling was thrilling. I don’t know if I had the good sense to take the typed-on index card with me on my way out of my Mom’s study or what…but I lived for that thrill at age five.

So, I bought the yellow index cards that day in Jersey, and I keep them on my table / desk and I write ️ ideas on them.  Song lyrics.  Funny little things.  Well, funny to me 😂  Recommendations from a friend of a podcast or book to check out. A writing idea. 

I asked Vanessa, who has always been a wonderful poet, if she ever went into the study, too.  She was 6 to my 5.  She did : ) she remembers the yellow index cards and the typewriter.  Writing is a sneaky, subversive, self-making act.

My mom is 84 now, 85 this October, and writes everyday.  Her laptop is kaput at the moment, so she writes by hand.  Anyway, yellow index cards.  It’s amazing to be reminded…

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