While helping my daughter navigate the graphic novel section at the International District Library, the cover of The Bathing Women on a nearby shelf caught my eye. I couldn’t resist a story about the intersecting lives of a group of women shaped by the Cultural Revolution. I read it almost in one sitting, gulping down the last chapter hours after my bedtime. I wish I had gone to bed instead of reading the last chapter. I would have loved the book so much more.
I’m ambivalent about books based on blogs. Part of me feels gypped; it’s just a a bunch of prewritten material lazily recycled. Another part of me thinks, “Way to go fellow writer! Way to build on a platform and add a book to your bio. I wish I was smart enough to do that.”
The Happy Atheist, by biology professor PZ Myers, was an unsolicited review copy that arrived in my mail one day. It is, as you may have guessed, a collection of blog posts on atheism. I read it anyway.
I think of myself as having come to the writing profession rather late. But grownups who asked me at eight years old what I wanted to be when I grew up received this answer without hesitation, “A writer. I have so many stories in my head that I want to share.” In fact, when I was eight, I was not an aspiring writer. I was a writer. I wrote stories all the time. It’s only as a grownup, after many detours and turns in life’s crooked road, that sharing the stories in my head has become intimidating.
In the movie Shadowlands, when C.S. Lewis meets his future wife, he asks to hear one of her poems. She responds, “I’ll give you an old one; that will be safest.” So, in that vein, here is a recently unearthed story I wrote when I was eight.
“Oh, yes, hi, I think we met before,” he said. The attractive Icelandic man was so tall he had to bend down a little just to shake my hand. Self-consciously, I thought I saw his eyes dart to my mouth and away. He was trying not to stare at the giant blister that had spread in glistening, pus-filled mounds across my face, leaving crusty yellow scabs behind as it traveled from the center of my bottom lip to my left cheek.
I remembered meeting him at a different music festival two years earlier; I had a blister then, too, and I wondered if the blister was how he had recognized me. It occurred to me that many of the Icelanders I have met more than once have never since me with a healthy face. There might be quite a few people in this country who don’t know that fever blisters (or cold sores) are a common side effect of air travel, jet lag, and stress, and who think of me as “that poor American girl with the deformed face.”
And then I wondered, Is this how my daughter feels all the time?
Historically, biographies were the province of Great Men. Only army generals and presidents deserved a biography, and any lesser soul, say a minor aristocrat or a scientist, who attempted to publish his own story was mocked for hubris. Then the 20th century came along, and modern literature determined that everyone has a story that deserves to be told. Suddenly, peasants and farmers were fair game. But you still had to accomplish something noteworthy to publish a memoir – farmers weren’t supposed to speak for themselves.
Maybe it was Seinfeld’s show about nothing that convinced people the minutiae of someone else’s daily life could be interesting, but the 21st century rolled in with a new genre of memoirs by young unknowns. The first of these I read was Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress, about growing up in a progressive Jewish family in New York, and I somehow found myself identifying with the protagonist because, well, I grew up, too. These quarter-life memoirs were strangely appealing, and proved that you don’t even really need a story if the story teller has chops. Continue reading
I forgot to ask his name. Didn’t even realize until after I left town that I didn’t get his name. But I got his story, and even without a name, I knew I’d never forget it. How could I, when it was also my own? Continue reading
I considered calling this post “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” or more accurately, “Shameless Self-Promotion.” But since I’m being shameless, I thought, “Titles that can be construed as sexual get the most hits, so what the hell, let’s go for the click-bait.” Anyway, I’ve been doing a little writing outside of this blog this summer, and I’m kind of proud of some it. So today I am reblogging myself. Below you will links to some of the things I’ve written lately.