The Writing Family Life
Thinking it over in Suburbia
The days were all false, warm-gray. I love this line. Too bad I didn't write it. Lorrie Moore did. It does seem that all the good lines are taken. My version, my attempted rendition, would be that the days were all drab-gray, uneventful. It's the difference between my tomato sauce from yesterday, which my husband, Rob, said needed something extra, maybe some pecorino Romano, and my gravy two weeks ago that he thought was "great, your best yet." I guess it's about depth. Nuance. Subtlety. I'm working on it. Not easy in middle age, decades submerged in mothering. Such a distance from English lit class when you could cite Edith Wharton or Aeschylus.
So I read. I fit it in. Between the gravy, the chicken, the beds made. This self-study is all catch-up, eyes focused. It's not too late. It can't be too late. I will it not to be too late. I should have studied writing in college. No time for should haves. Just read.
My self-study has taken me to Woody Allen, Henry Miller, Mary Karr. It calls for vastness, the space for words, the calm of the heart's rhythm to take it in. A café, a quiet hole with the smell of musty books, some fragrant desserts. The Hungarian Café in New York City, or Grossman's on the Upper West Side, the windows foggy from warm glistening hamantaschen. In my thirties, I'd sit there, book in hand. But still there wasn't the ease, I had to meet someone, I could be alone someday. Always something. In your twenties, there's the devotion, not a threadlet to brush away. Now I have to return home, each day capped tightly as a prescription bottle.
I look up words. Once, twice, fifteen times, til it sticks. Bonhomie, bon mot, bon vivant. Some children remember the music in the home. Mine will remember the dictionary. The index cards. I guess it could be worse, the house could be a wreck. I try and push it all aside when my son comes home from school. I will myself not to think about it after three. But at times the pull is too strong. Like now. Sneaking around, writing. Guilty as a full-blown clandestine romance.
When I was five, my mother decided to go to college. To study art history, at Monmouth College. I got cramps, severe stomach pains, wound up in the hospital. The doctor told her to take me on the swings, buy me candy. She thought he was nuts, but it worked. So she dropped out. We both would have been better off had she stayed in school. I might have turned out less selfish, she might have loved art history.
And the muddle continues. There was a time when I wrote for a reputable newspaper. But it ended almost as soon as it began. The push was an attempt at gentleness: You'll get a kill fee, for the last two pieces. "Write a book," K. tells me. He's right, simply write a book. I once read that some guy sat in the kitchen of a friend's farmhouse and forced himself to write 140 pages, the full beginning of his book, in three weeks. And it turned into a best seller. Anna Quindlen, too, wrote all day, til her kids came home. "They never saw me write," she said.
It's a week later, a brisk sunny fall Sunday, which happens to be my birthday. We're taking a family stroll around Verona Park, when my husband turns to me and in an upbeat voice asks what I want to do on this, my special day. It's the perfect pretext for a day of reading, attending to the stacks of newspapers scattered around the house, finishing the short stories of Ms. Moore. But I look to my son and then to Rob, and, in a moment of excruciating denial, agree to the 3D "Megamind" movie.
If you've enjoyed this, stay tuned twice a month for Lori Sender's "Rue-minations" column.