It has been suggested by WordPress, the makers of this website, “If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.” Good question. Why write? It is such a vulnerable thing to spill thoughts upon pages to be read, examined, criticized, lambasted… or lauded, applauded, I’m gonna try to stay in that vein… but it is a humbling thing to say to God and everybody, “Will you read this?”
I remember handing my fledgling pages to my mother, and asking her that question. She’d turn the pages, and I’d sit on my chair watching her face as she circled this or that, holding my breath for when she came to the spot that I knew she’d find funny, and see her eyes crinkle as she chuckled, or if she’d throw her head back and howl. Then she’d hand them or read them aloud to Dad and Bill. We edited each others articles, term papers, speeches, book reports and obituaries. At a very young age I learned how to land ideas, ask forgiveness, sandwich with love, and spell. They did what families are supposed to do. They made me better.
Scrabble was the go-to family game, in which the enormous two volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary was used as a weapon. With it we settled debates as we squinted through the magnifying glass at the tiniest print I’d ever seen. Tiles were laid down in triumph, a challenge was issued, researched, and the result inevitably left one of us screaming “NOOOOOOooooooo you were RIGHT!” Road trips were consumed with word games that would keep us all scratching our heads and astounding each other for hours. I thought The Thesaurus was one of the best books ever. With my brother and cousin Nancy, I turned my Papagallo purse into a story bag. I would open it, and out would fly a story. They would leap around the room trying to catch it, and when they did, I would eat it, and out would pour a story I’d memorized from Grimm, or the Time/ Life Fantasy World series. Words were fun. They made the worlds of Neverland, Wonderland, and Middle Earth real.
Our folks were strict, and I was grounded for months at a time for relatively minor infractions, banished to my room with no friends, no phone, no TV. My best friend Becky from this time period recently described this time in my life to a beau of mine. “She was like the princess in the tower.” Unreachable… watching the other neighborhood kids play from a high window. But I was never without big books to escape into. After getting a “C” in somethingerother, at nine, Mom placed a life changer in my hands. My world was shaken by Anne Frank. A precious gold key opened the lock of my own first little diary shortly after I closed the cover of hers. I thought that maybe my diary would have an impact on someone, someday… hopefully without the concentration camp. My garage now contains a large plastic bin full of diaries filled with frustrations,foiled loves, and fantasies of making the Olympics.
As with many children and teenagers, we frequently felt that our voices were not heard, especially from The Tower. When Mom and I got into arguments, Dad would allude to our German tempers and quip, “The Krauts are out.” and make a break for the ear plugs. Passion was never lacking, and my brother and I would frequently resort to writing letters to our parents when emotions were high, and we wanted to finish a thought without being interrupted or steamrolled with “because I said so!” We learned how to land ideas, ask forgiveness, sandwich with love, and spell. As a family we edited each others letters, term papers, speeches, book reports and obituaries.
The stories of our childhood were published in what has been described as a kind of Erma Bombeck of the gourmet cooking world. Mom started with freelance, moved to Lifestyle Magazine with The Dump Dump Gourmet, and eventually had a popular weekly column in The Richmond News Leader… “Mary Ellen Carter’s, The Weekend Cook”. After Dad’s first pipe puffing pass over an article, she would hand rough drafts to me, with the perforated holed edges from where the printer paper fed through… and ask me my opinion. These were pre-spell-check days, and I suspected for years that she was misspelling words on purpose… sneakily incorporating a lesson into regular life… but no, by seventh grade I officially was a better speller. I was always especially flattered when she took one of my structure or phrasing notes. I would shyly suggest something and then there it was, in the newspaper, the way we had written it. All of us. She had a nice sized following. I recently came across an envelope sent by her editor. It seems that when the paper had to cancel the article, some fans had written in, asking what had happened to The Weekend Cook. The letters were included, full of love of our family and Moms recipies.
My mom got fan mail.
And Mom always told me I would be a writer. She insisted, even, that I was better than she was, and I would protest “No way… there’s no way.” I could ever be better than her. She was so smart and funny. Nobody could turn a phrase like she could. She could do anything. My mom could do anything. I couldn’t write like that… And anyway…
“Maaaahhhhmm, I’m going to be an actress!”
And I was right.
But maybe she was right, too?
She’s been shaking her celestial finger at me for years now to get off my butt, stop holding onto my work so tightly, and let things be messy.
A couple of years ago when Dad was sick, he’d been asking for some more books. He wasn’t a writer, but he was a voracious reader. I was forty-something, and twelve again as I handed him the first couple of chapters of the book version of a multi-media synchronized swimming show I’d written and produced. Terrified, I tried to stay busy in the kitchen. I tried not to hover… he hated it when I hovered… but his water glass and beer certainly didn’t get low, and he snapped and shooed me away when I offered him a sandwich. When he finally called me back into the den and handed me the stack of papers, he had tears in his eyes. It had one spelling correction, and one note at the top.
“Wen, you’re a writer!”
That treasured draft is filed and needing a frame. Every time I see that moment in my minds eye, my heart lifts and dances in light, and twists in the pain of not being able to hold him the way I did that day. His hug is still there, but remembering reminds me I need to pay more attention to those moments. That’s the stuff that makes us strong.
There’s that Bible verse… I can’t remember which one it is, Ecclesiastes..? I’m terrible about remembering exactly which verse is what, but the gist of it is “whatever is good, whatever is noble, whatever is right, if something is excellent or praiseworthy… think on such things, and the God of peace will be with you.”… I think that’s almost it. We’re supposed to think of good stuff. Peter Pan was no Jesus, but Peter, my eternal beau, teaches us to fly by thinking lovely thoughts, and the original Wendy, Michael, and Johns feet lifted off of the floor as they sang of “Candy!” and “Christmas!”
Now, among the other things I do, I teach people, mostly children, how to swim. I show them that if they hold their bodies without fear, “Cha-cha-cha! Chin back. Chest up. Chill out.” they can trust that the water will not only hold them up, but that they can fly and even dance through it. I’m blessed in the fact that most days are spent teaching and seeing souls learn to soar.
I want to think on and share such things. Honest. Joyous. Real. I’ve even had several folks go so far as to say I should be a minister for crying out loud. The gauntlet has been thrown down now by my parents, my family, my friends, co-workers, and the kids of friends who have already read those first five chapters and I know I promised them to you and I haven’t done it I’m so sorry, I really hit a block, and you’re still waiting to see what happens in Chapter Six and I just need to face the dark waters on the other side of the oil slick and write about the tough stuff. I’m sorry. And while I have actually been writing, I’ve not been turning in my homework. I need some accountability.
This is me manning up and owning a gift.
It’s time to take the light out from under the proverbial bushel.
So I’m starting a blog.
So there, I said it.
Here it goes!