Jan 11, 2014
First day of sabbatical. I'll write more on that another time. For now, I'm just going with what's on my mind this morning.
I just finished reading Delia Ephron's Sister Mother Husband Dog and am completely in love with Ephron's writing style -- simple, plain-spoken sentences that just try to get out of the way and tell you a story. A good story, usually a funny story, sometimes touching, too, like when she writes about losing her sister, or about her mother's alcoholism.
I believe having an alcoholic parent is not only something to write about, but that there is an obligation to do it. Growing up as that child is lonely, isolating, confusing, and damaging. There are lots of us. If I have the power by telling a story to make an isolated person less alone, that is a good thing. Besides, I don’t believe in protecting parents who drink— sympathizing, forgiving, but not protecting. “I hope you never tell anyone what happens here.” Tell everyone. You might never get past it otherwise. The obligation of a child is not to protect their parents. Obviously. Obviously. A mom is supposed to protect her kids. Which doesn’t happen when she drinks.
That's an important passage to me, and I'm glad to have recorded it -- and I expect to write more about it soon -- but it doesn't really capture the style I'm talking about here. This one's better; Delia has just gotten divorced and has been living on friends' couches for a few months:
When I was down to my last $ 300, which would have been $ 500 except I fell in love with an orange coat, I was sitting at home one night eating chocolate pudding. It was the kind of pudding you cook— the kind that has skin on the top. I was eating it the way I always had: making a little hole in the skin, scooping the soft pudding out from underneath, saving the skin for last. I was eating like a child. I wrote about it— five hundred words about how children eat food. It was in the form of instructions. I was good at instructions. I sold “How to Eat Like a Child” to the New York Times. It appeared on the back page of the Sunday magazine, and magically, unimaginably, on Monday I was offered a book contract.
I love the orange coat detail.
This morning I started an old collection of essays written by her more famous sister Nora, who I have also always liked. This collection has writing in it that starts in 1972. Quite a flash from the past -- the essay I've stopped at for the morning is about the feud between Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan. Her style is similar, written the way a good friend would speak if she were sitting next to you on your couch with her second glass of wine just about finished.
I considered staying in bed all day. I considered getting out of bed and into the bathtub and staying there all day. I wondered if even considering these two alternatives constituted a nervous breakdown. (Probably not, I decided.) I contemplated suicide. Every so often I contemplate suicide merely to remind myself of my complete lack of interest in it as a solution to anything at all. There was a time when I worried about this, when I thought galloping neurosis was wildly romantic, when I longed to be the sort of girl who knew the names of wildflowers and fed baby birds with eyedroppers and rescued bugs from swimming pools and wanted from time to time to end it all. Now, in my golden years, I have come to accept the fact that there is not a neurasthenic drop of blood in my body, and I have become very impatient with it in others. Show me a woman who cries when the trees lose their leaves in autumn and I’ll show you a real asshole.
It's similar to the feeling I get when I read (and re-read) Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking. Like you're just sitting in the kitchen chit-chatting with your very best friend. Except Colwin isn't particularly funny. She's warm and welcoming, and a little bit conspiratory. I'd add a quote or two here, too, to demonstrate, but damn Goddamn Harper Collins hasn't digitized her books yet and I'm too lazy to go run upstairs and dig up my cprint opy. (Lost sale! I would have made an impulse purchase here, simply to copy and paste a few lines.)
I want to work on writing like that. Without grand ambition to make beautiful sentences or to win accolades, but with the very difficult goal of simply telling a good story.