Lisa Reiter is an amazing and brave woman. (You’ll need to visit her website to learn why I believe this to be true.). She is also a creative writer who is generous enough to invite us into her world and share our memories.
Friday, May 2, Lisa initiated a weekly writing invite on her site called, BITE SIZE MEMOIRS. Lisa wants us to spend a few moments reflecting on the past and recording those thoughts to share with the world. Telling your story is soul-cleansing.
Northern California Author Anne Lamott has spent nearly her whole life writing about her family and self. Kind of like running a marathon on a treadmill – you race hard but never reach a finish line. It can be exhausting, but it can also be exhilarating.
In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne says: “Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.” (Lisa asks us to be kind and leave out last names; she doesn’t want to deal with libel at all).
I’ve taken up this week’s challenge: Using the theme SCHOOL AT SEVEN, write 10 lines of “I remember” or 150 words. Check the website for the official unofficial rules. Whether you choose to share with the Lisa and us or not, you will enjoy remembering your childhood and all the crazy nonsense that comes along with growing up.
“School at Seven” by Ellen Plotkin Mulholland, b. 1963, California, USA
I remember my long blue flowered dress with the gathered bodice.
I remember swinging higher than my best friend.
I remember hearing the f-word from ginger-haired Tommy Something.
I remember creating Barbie towns and using our shoes as cars.
I remember recess and the large expanse of black asphalt, the kickball zone, the sandpit.
I remember sitting in rows, alphabetically.
I remember the green chalkboard and waiting for my turn to clap dusty black erasers on the pavement outside after school.
I remember waiting for my big brother and little sister at the chain-link fence.
I remember walking home and not taking candy from strangers and worrying about strangers and slow moving cars.
And I remember wanting to be 8 because that would be better than being 7.
If you are alive and breathing, you will have come across the plethora of quizzes saturating your favorite social media sites. “If you were a character from a Jane Austen novel, who would you be?” “Which sister are you in LITTLE WOMEN?” “How many of these great novels have you read?” and on and on. The question remains: are we reading the classics? Or, are we simply sticking to the 140-character count headlines, quick blogs by Joe Blow and Jane Idunno’s?
Who’s reading great literature?
If you are over 35, you recognize the literary connections, and you’ve probably read 25 or more on that list (Dickens, Vonnegut, Austen, Salinger, Updike, etc.). If you are in high school honors English classes, you will read ten or more of them before you graduate. If you are in general classes, you might read six or so of them. You will still read good books. You will be reading!
Unfortunately, most of us won’t pick up a Hemmingway or Toni Morrison or old Russian lit classic unless we find ourselves in a rented bungalow on the beach with no Internet.
That’s sad. It’s not that everyone’s missing out on great stories. It’s more that we are missing out on the evolution of the written word. How we write stories today varies dramatically from our high-minded predecessors. (For the most part.) We don’t sit with the beauty of a sunrise for ten pages. We don’t take half the book to reveal our character’s major defect.
Instead, many writers deliver fast-food lit to quell the short attention span of today’s multi-tasking reader. Whatever happened to the old adage, ‘stop and smell the roses’?
Today’s reader wants action now, answers yesterday, solutions quickly. Today’s reader is missing out on the gentle transformation of our hero, the slow transmogrification of the antagonist, and the sweet sweeping flow of plot in time-lapse spectrum.
If you’ve not read Hemmingway or Bronte, if you avoided Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky, if you slept through Shakespeare or Wilde, take a moment to step back in time. Return to your carefree 20s; buy, download or borrow a classic piece of lit, and find a quiet window seat, warm layer of beach sand, or shady patch of green, and simply read.
Read to fall in love, to despise, to anticipate, to question, to immerse yourself in another world, time and place. Read because you can.
As a child, my first favorite literary characters were detectives. Child detectives. I wanted to be Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. I didn’t love the books for the esteemed literary merits. I loved them because I wanted to be those characters. I wanted to be smarter than them. Nancy was so clever. And she was kind.
Encyclopedia also shared those characteristics. He always put friendship first. He wanted to get the bad guy, not to punish him but to rid the world of cruelty and dishonesty.
These two teenage sleuths shaped my reading habits first, but they also were the essential ingredients to my writing. I don’t write mysteries today. In fact, I don’t read them anymore. What I read and what I write are stories with real characters. Stories with people who want the world to tilt more toward the good. My characters sense injustice, but they really want is to simply add more goodness to this world.
Life is a mystery, and we are its most important detectives. We are the heroes who see what’s wrong and seek to make it right.
Thank you Donald Sobel and Carolyn Keene (all of you!). You infused me with a love for reading, but mostly you inspired me to write stories with characters who care.
Who inspires you? Who are your childhood favorites? Share them here.