My grandmother and I used to talk every Saturday. She lived on her own, in her own house until she was 94 years old. She was a feisty old broad, and the impetus for my book.
We would often talk about books, but our tastes were different, so I would sometimes buy a cozy mystery just so I could send it to her and we could discuss it. She lived during the Great Depression and thought it wasteful if a book wasn’t passed around. I sent her Harry Potter, thinking maybe something about that would catch her interest, but found out she passed it along to my cousin. I sent her a well-worn and well-loved copy of Love in the Time of Cholera but the time for that type of reading was past. Her eyes were going after a couple of strokes, she was losing the center vision although she could read the periphery if the print wasn’t too small. I couldn’t imagine a fate such as that for a reader like her and sent her a magnifying glass. She turned her interest to another of her loves, old movies.
As her memory was going, and our mode of communication, that of books, dwindling I started an idea for a book, one that I had, one that had something. I started to write. One Saturday, shortly before she was moved to a nursing home, I told her I was writing a book. I waited for something, a faint encouragement, a belief that she knew I could do it all along. I’m uncertain what family I thought I belonged to, but thinking back on that is comical. My family is a family who loves each other and has no way to communicate. We communicate with humor and sarcasm and it’s usually at your expense so from a very young age you learn how to take it, and how not to put yourself out there for the taking. We talk around things, nothing is ever direct, and you look elsewhere for support, for encouragement, for that type of thing. I never knew other families were different than mine, but that’s another story.
I told her about the book and she said, “Huh.”
“I didn’t know you wrote.” There was silence on my end. She wasn’t trying to be hurtful, just honest, from a family of people who never tried to be hurtful.
“Well good for you then.”
“What?” I said, knowing better than to push an honest person who is pausing to be polite. When someone in my family pauses, it’s best to let it drop.
“It’s just that writers, people I think of as writers don’t just start writing. They have to write. They’ve always written. They can’t not write.”
“Well, we’ll see. It’s just something I’m playing around with.”
I don’t think people should take themselves seriously, just the writing. And in one fell swoop, I had taken the one thing that I had always protected and kept from my family, and downplayed it because it hurt too much to try and take it seriously.
I had always wanted to get back to that conversation, but she wasn’t long in the nursing home, and really what else was there to say? I still think about that though, quite a bit, the idea that if you are to write, you do it because you have to, the idea of the obsessive compulsive writer.
What say you, is it something you do because you have to? Or is it something that drives you quietly, that you work really hard to try and get right failing all the while?
I miss her.