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Sometimes I wonder why in the world I feel compelled to write, and in that manner of someone prone to over-analyzing things, I say to myself, “Vanity, vanity. All is vanity,” fling my pen (or push my keyboard) away and think writing is a silly thing to pour myself into; to suck up time and resources I could use for other things.
There are probably lots of reasons I write, some I don’t even know, or at least don’t admit to myself. I do know that I’ve figured out how to feel about a lot of things by writing about them. These flickering moments of insight are invaluable. But one reason I’m sure of, I write to preserve things. Handwritten journals fill a bookshelf in my bedroom. I feel driven to save my parents’ memories as well. Nothing prompts my Dad to share a memory with me like driving down Hog Mountain Road here in Watkinsville and seeing a field of cotton in all its glory. He gets this far away look in his eyes and tells stories about picking cotton that make it sound like a trip to Disney World. I”m sure it’s the brain fog called nostalgia that makes him look back so longingly on something that I believe was pretty torturous. I’ve never picked cotton, never hoed cotton, but when I hear my Dad’s stories, they fascinate me, and I must write them down. Many such memories made their way into three books I wrote called The Homegrown Series. Writing the books was a way for me to preserve many of my parents’ stories of their early lives spent on Georgia farms.
Memories of my very sheltered childhood wove themselves into a book called The Romance Readers’ Book Club. Now I’m two more books down the road (I just found a new agent and they’re with her, and I’m hoping for an imminent sale) and I’m once again tossing novel ideas around in my brain. I’ve got several, but today I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom waiting for my daughter and her boyfriend to clear out of the “family room” because number one, I didn’t want to interrupt their cuddle, and number two, I needed some space. I was bored until I spied my bookshelf full of journals. “Maybe there’s an idea for my next novel in there,” I said crawling over to look at the spines. But I shouldn’t have done it. It was like opening up a high school annual. I could not put them down. I sat there way too long, kept reading just one more entry, fascinated in a strange way, at these events of my life from five, ten, more years ago. Many were mundane; like treating the kids for pinworms and learning to cook a turkey, and some I’d totally forgotten. Many still struck me as stranger than fiction, which was the reason I’d recorded them in the first place. Here are a couple that had totally slipped from my memory:
“October 2, 1995: KITTY AUSCHWITZ. You think you know somebody and they tell you something you feel is totally out of character for them. Today Ruth called and told me about her and Joe’s new house in North Carolina. There were 10 or so feral cats living in the backyard with unchecked breeding – reproduction gone rampant. She and Joe decided not to feed the cats so that they would leave. But they didn’t – they only became more desperate, more bold, darting into the house when they could and pooping literally everywhere. You couldn’t step without squishing down into a steaming, stinky pile. The males sprayed the entire backyard. Their wild eyes made Ruth scared to pick them up to haul them away so Joe borrowed a big Hav-a-hart, and using this they lured them in with bits of meat. They bundled them into pillow cases and hauled the writhing mess to ‘Kitty Auschwitz’. Days later as Ruth was outside gardening, she found two pathetic mewling week old kittens with raw behinds and maggot-filled ears. Ruth flew into the kitchen and filled up her spaghetti pot with water and flung them in. They splashed and clawed and mewled and sunk. Some time passed, and then, filled with remorse, Ruth frantically dug the pair out, clutching them to her bosom and crying. One died anyway, and the other Ruth is currently medicating its butt, and stimulating it with a Q-tip to induce defecation per the vet’s instructions.”
Ruth and I have been best friends, closer than sisters, ever since winter of 2nd grade (we’re 46 now). We know each other inside and out. She adores felines. Always has at least one special house-kitty, sometimes more, that she literally dotes on. I can see at the end of that entry where I was trying to gain some insight into the harrowing scene I had recorded. I had to reach way back into long-ago conversations, and what I knew of Ruth’s upbringing until I recalled her telling me “Used to, my granny would regularly bag up new kittens and toss them into the creek. That’s just something they did on the farm. It was like pest control.” Then, in response to that, I had written; “Maybe this is just some family legacy Ruth has to carry on. A latent tradition.”
Here’s another entry from that same journal, a bit over a year later. I read it this morning, lurking there, waiting for Iris and her boyfriend to go out of the house, and ever since I’ve been turning it over in my mind in regard to a possible ‘novel idea’:
“FREEZING CHILDREN. November 13, 1996. What do you think about freezing children when they are five years old? I met this guy at the High Hat on Saturday night when Anne’s band was playing and I told him I had a 7 year old girl and a 5 year old boy. He said that if he had his druthers, he’d freeze them at age 5 since that is when they are absolutely perfectly wonderful. Well, he added that his two sons are 12 and 16, pretty ornery ages for the most part. We talked on and I could see that inside he was a pretty pathetic guy in many ways, very needy. Maybe starved for the human physical touch because he kept patting me, hugged me once, then offered me some liquor. I told him I don’t touch the stuff at all and tried to excuse myself. “I want a child,” he said in this pleading voice, “who’ll love me no matter what. Like a 5 year old.” But after I finally got away, I thought about it, and I decided I would definitely not want to freeze Gus in at any one age, even a pretty good one like he is now, 5. He’s mostly independent, reads, can entertain himself, and can converse to an extent. It’s a lot better than babyhood and toddlerhood. Sure, I love it that he’s currently in this uncynical not-too-big-to-kiss-Mama stage. But, wouldn’t it be really, really odd, not to mention selfish, to lock a kid in? To keep him 5?! Time will pass and he will change, I realize, most likely become embarrassed of me in his teen years, do some objectionable things, but that’s all part of life’s journey. It’s fascinating to watch a human grow, to change, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll become.”
Well, it’s January 8, 2009, and Gus turns 18 in 2 weeks. I now have to bribe him to get him to hug me. Here’s how that works: he yells downstairs and asks me to bring food and drink upstairs to him as he sits at Facebook, or… and I holler back up, “Only if I get a hug!” Then I carry food and drink and bend over to hug his resentful, teenage self. Our conversations are mostly one-sided, with me talking away and him responding in these monosyllables, “Yeah” and “Huh?” Yes, I know he’s no longer a cuddly, innocent boy who thinks I hung the moon, but I cannot imagine wishing away all those years, those TIMES we’ve shared.
So, I’ve been daydreaming today, playing the author’s favorite game of What If? “What if?” I keep asking myself, “What if there were this mother who froze one of her children, at say, 5, and she just hungrily had this kid remain that age to adore her while she grew older and older and …
Well, tomorrow I’ll probably wake up and toss that novel idea right out the window, but if I don’t toss it around in my mind first, how else will I find out who I am and why I’m here, and on another level, what I’m supposed to be writing?
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