Long, long ago, in a young adulthood far, far away, an aspiring writer read a short story in the Boston Globe Magazine. She can’t recall what is was about — probably it involved a young woman, but a line struck her and has stayed with her to this day: “We spend all our lives remembering the most basic things.”
I can’t tell you how many life lessons I’ve learned, often quite smugly I might add, only to get gobsmacked by the same problem a few years later. If I’m lucky, I remember what I did before and soldier on through; sometimes I don’t and need a second gobsmacking. I don’t recommend this.
I have several writer friends, and we check in with each other as a way to keep ourselves on track. It’s like having an exercise buddy, but way less sweaty. They will often tell me they were only able to write a little, but were reading a lot. They’ll tell me some quotes from writers that encouraged them or made them think or made them ask why? All good tendencies in a writer.
And I thought, huh. I used to do that. When did I stop doing that? Oh, yeah, when I had a husband, a kid, and a mother-in-law in assisted living. Right. Sure, now I have older parents, but I am no longer the first responder, and we have help. I still have the kid and he is away at school. And while he still needs support, I don’t have to go to back to school nights, or parent-teacher conferences, or god help us, math night. Can’t the math people go to math night and I’ll go to word night? I don’t even care what type of words they are — fiction, rap, poetry, monologues. OK, so maybe I haven’t quite let go of that stuff. Maybe I should read up on that. But what about writing?
When I thought of what I could read to be inspired, I was like, meh. I can barely keep up with my book group and romance novels. Reading about writing seems like a lot of work.
That aspiring writer from long ago is seriously rolling her eyes at me.
I actually didn’t have to go that far. If I had bothered to read my own “About” page, I would see: “I aspire to be the love child of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris. But I also have a serious bent that sneaks in between the laughs.” I should also add: And I have memory gaps you can drive a truck through. But that’s not how I remembered how much I love, love, love David Sedaris. It was my friend Mike inviting me to hear David read in Boston recently. I have only heard him on the radio in snippets and never seen him in person. His essays make me laugh so hard, once when I was listening to him in the car, I almost drove off the road. He’d like that, I think. I have 4 of his books, and now I remember I got another for a gift that I didn’t like. So I think it was like, OK, that’s done.
But hearing pieces from his new book made me laugh out loud and my writing heart soar. He is about my age and tackling similar life things like midlife and aging parents in his irreverent, sarcastic, and sneakily self-effacing way. Yes, that’s how it’s done! He spares no one from his witty judging, especially himself. How could this love child get so lost on her own path? I could blame Cheeto flea, but really it’s more like my own smugness. Look! I write a blog! Every week! I don’t have writer’s block — I planned to have those cute hamster pictures in my editorial calendar. I have made it my friends. I don’t need writing advice. I am a writer. See my blog?
Somewhere along the way I went from being an insecure young writer to an overconfident older writer. Neither one is a good look, and everyone can use a role model. Especially one who writes like this: In the essay, “Jesus Shaves,” from the book Me Talk Pretty One Day, published in 2000, he writes about a French class he is taking in Paris with people from many other countries, and the students must explain Easter in their broken French:
”The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. ‘It is,’ said one, ‘a party for a little boy of God who calls his self Jesus and …oh shit.” She faltered and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
‘He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two … morsels of … lumber.’
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
‘He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father.’
‘He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here to say hello to the peoples.’
‘He nice, the Jesus.’
‘He make the good things, and on Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.’
Part of the problem had to do with vocabulary. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as ‘to give of yourself your only begotten son.’ Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.”
David goes on to describe how he says the rabbit of Easter brings the chocolate, but the teacher tells him in France that chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome.
“[The Easter bunny is] someone you’d like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It’s like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they’ve got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That’s the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there is no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell’s dog — and even then he’d need papers. It just didn’t add up.”
As soon as I got home from hearing David, I ordered his new book, Calypso, and one he published a few years ago, Theft by Finding. It’s like I discovered my favorite show just added two new seasons on Netflix. I can’t wait to binge. And this time, I’m not going to forget this most basic thing: I am the love child of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris and I’m going to make them proud.