I wrote it in the bathtub

3 01 2008

I have found that writing is very much like practicing for a sport. When I don’t take the time to maintain my writing life, I find myself having to really dig deep in order to write anything. I can also get out of practice with different kinds of writing. When I spend a great deal of time working on an academic piece (such as the one that sucked the life out of me the last three weeks of December), my creative muscles begin to atrophy. Certain episodes will spark a piece in my mind and I’ll begin to chew on it like a piece of beef jerky until it is soft enough to digest. The experience I had with the old man in the grocery store yesterday was singular in that I actually began crafting that entry in my mind when I got in the car on the way home. The writer sees an opportunity to reinvent an experience so that it can be relived in HD… of course, the fact of invention requires that some of it be made up. Although I am not always conscious of my “making it up,” I know it happens. I read or heard somewhere that memory is shaped by emotion–that is, we remember things, situations, events to the extent that we feel them. It makes sense. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast last Sunday morning, but I can remember every word the doctor said as he sewed me up after my C-section (despite the drugs).

Joan Didion says that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I agree with her. We are very much like toddlers in that way. My grandmother tells the same stories over and over again. When I was younger, I would beg her to tell the story about her twin sisters, Marie and Larue, and how their heads were small enough to put teacups over them. I also like the story about her job as a secretary at Sears where she made like $1.25 a week or something like that. She learned that the world was round on the Christmas Day when her father gave her an orange. These stories are my grandmother–they define her history and they reassure her of her identity. The accuracy of her stories is less important than their truth.

So the trick is to recognize a good story and to write it down whenever it hits you… Merle Haggard said to one NPR reporter that he wrote several of his new songs while he was in the tub. When she expressed her surprise, he said, “Well, I guess it was in the bath tub. There was water all around.”

Little Women and the Honda, or “Yo, Ma! Nice Jet.”

26 10 2007

As many of you may know, I have been haunted by a certain gold Honda Accord, given to me by my parents on my 16th birthday, which has refused to rid itself of me. Fortunately, Adam drives it now. This car was the best birthday present I ever received because it was a car. In its earlier days, it smelled nice, had a decent stereo (which blared my very favorites cassettes), and sported pinkish-purple tinted windows. Gradually, things began to deteriorate, beginning with the stereo that apparently wasn’t built to handle Ghetto Cowboy or Strange Fire at full volume. The tinting began to bubble up, so I took a razor blade to the windows in a painful attempt to de-pimpify my car. I succeeded in getting most of it off. I rebelliously smoked cigarettes obtained from the Midtown Market during the final years of my high school career, resulting in several cigarette burns throughout the car. Then, my freshman year in college, a young gentleman caller (whose name will remain undisclosed) threw up hot pink something or other all over the back seat. Unfortunately, the pledges could not scour the fabric enough to rid the car of that mild odor and patches of the seat are still darkened and hard. When my parents gave me the beloved Maxima (the most beautiful car I will ever own in my life, which I totalled just last year–a feat which triggers nausea every time I think about it), my brother inherited the Honda. He drove it back and forth to Texas long enough to let his special blend B.O. permeate the upholstery. My dad was so mad when he brought it home, the back seat submerged in hamburger wrappers, coke cans, and God-knows-what-else, that he forced Philip to wash the seats. This he did. And then he rolled up the windows. The car remained parked in the garage for 2 months or so until the fated ice storm when Dad asked me to crank up the Honda to avoid banging up our other cars. It was then that we discovered a hazy fuzz had covered the steering wheels, the gear shift, the seats, like moss might have grown over Rip Van Winkle. I think my dad cleaned it out that time. So now my beloved husband drives the car, grateful for the transportation and for the space to house his fishing gear and his spray skirt (which smells like B.O. and muddy water).

So what does all of this have to do with Little Women? you might ask. Well, dear reader, I have been reading this didactic novel for class and I have suddenly found myself in much the same predicament as Meg March, the eldest of the sisters, who is always mourning their poverty ( which isn’t really poverty since they have a servant and all). There is one scene in which she goes to a ball or something and wears her best white muslin with flowers. She looks pretty, but all the other girls are swathed in French silks and bound by their corsets. Meg always struggles with her “lack” of finery when she’s in the presence of wealth, but at home, her wardrobe does not look quite so drab while it’s not in direct contrast to Sally’s beautiful things.

Tomorrow morning, my parents are flying into Auburn on a jet. Some friends of theirs who own one and who are also coming in town asked, “You going my way?” and thus, my parents became jet-setters. The catch is, we have to pick all seven of them up from the airport, which means that the Honda will be enlisted as a part of the convoy. I am embarrassed to admit that I am embarrassed by the Honda. I wish I were one of those people who was completely above being defined by the things that they own, but I will be the first to own that I am a bit of a material girl. Lately, I have been haunted by Suze Ormon’s question on Oprah (yes, I know. I am lame, lame, lame), “Who are you trying to impress? You are buying all these things to impress people you don’t even know.” A penetrating truth.

For some reason, my dad is extremely proud of the Honda. I think the car’s sheer endurance has made an impression on him. It’s as though they have survived the teenage years of both me and my brother together. I’ve overheard him say things like, “I drove that thing back and forth to work all the time. Gets great gas mileage. I guess Whitney and Philip don’t need to worry about things like gas mileage.” Then he’ll stick his chest out and proudly declare, “It’s a great little car.” And so it is a great little car. Sensible. Practical. Tough.