Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Irrelevant

By Amy

I was picking up my children from school last week, waiting in the cafeteria in a clutch of other mothers, when one of the women said through nearly clenched teeth, “I had fun at your party, it was really good.”

She had attended the Liar’s Party I’d hosted for Patry Francis. All who were there agreed it was something different from the usual Silpada or Tupperware. Intriguing, thought-provoking, they said. More, though. Many of the women there were astonished by Patry’s ordinariness – they spoke easily with her, dressed like her, she was someone who could have been their neighbor or another mother from the school. Not someone who’d written a book, one they saw on bookstore tables. A real, live author.

“Aren’t you writing?” I said to the woman. We'd talked before about how she someday wanted to write.

“What do I have to say?” Her face twisted in frustration, her jaw still taut.

She assumed since she was living a quiet life, a mother’s life, within the smothering confines of suburbia, her thoughts, opinions, her musings on life were irrelevant.

Shirley Jackson didn’t think so. You know Shirley Jackson, the author of the most chilling short story of all time, The Lottery. Yes, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find is stupendous, but it hasn’t haunted me since sixth grade the way The Lottery has. Well, Miss Jackson was first and foremost a mother. To four children who no doubt would be diagnosed with ADHD by today’s standards. That quiet life she led as a housewife in North Bennington, Vermont -- tending to cooking and cleaning, mending and PTA -- was fodder for her best writing. Her memoirs on raising children were much beloved and The Lottery is said to be based on her observations of the cruelties of small town life.

Hilma Wolitzer didn’t think so, either. She’s so predictably brilliant, yet so completely unaware. For years, she regarded herself as a housewife, content with cleaning out closets and baking over-the-top birthday cakes. She swallowed the yearning to write until she stepped outside of her mental box and tried a class. The first time she read aloud an essay, a classmate shredded it. Boring, he sneered, essentially saying her topic of hearth and home was meaningless. The instructor disagreed, passionately. He wanted her to write more.

Oh my goodness, and Carol Shields! This literary darling, Pulitzer Prize winning writer, regarded herself as a mother first, careful to check her children's homework and comb their hair before they left for school. Only then, after the breakfast dishes were washed, would she sit at her typewriter and create. At noon, when the little cherubs returned home for lunch, she’d push aside her writing again until their break was over.

So what did they have to say? They all wrote about small lives...the smallness of life. Yet each brought something fresh, an entirely tilted perspective. Their words had – no - have meaning because these women have taken the universal and made it intensely personal. It’s what a writer does.

So what does that mother, my friend, have to say? Nothing, I suppose. Or anything.

19 comments:

judy merrill larsen said...

I just found this blog (through a link from The Debs site) and what a perfect time to discover it. I completely agree (and not just because my first novel--starring a really ordinary mom living through extraordinary events--was recently published). There is something so universal and powerful about our experiences as mothers--it is one thing that unites us through a myriad of differences. So, now that my kids are off to school and the house is quiet, I need to get back to work on my latest book. But thanks for the reminder about the importance of all that we do.

The Writers' Group said...

Judy, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I just went to your website and the description of your book, All the Numbers, gave me chills! Now I'll have to buy it. And huge congratulations on being a Target pick. Looks like you're following in Shirley's footsteps.

Amy

Melissa Marsh said...

Excellent post. We don't have to write about the "big" events in life - even the smallest things we experience are relevant to the world.

Maprilynne said...

Some of the smallest authors in the world write the biggest books.:)

Man, I'm feeling for the woman at the start of your post. My kids are extra-hyper today, I'm on day 13 of submissions, the only time i could get into the gym threw my whole schedule off, my house is a mess . . . and, well, I could go on.:) But I won't. But let's just say I'm clenching my jaw too.:)

Maprilynne

The Writers' Group said...

Melissa, I feel the same way. My first essay published was about going to the supermarket with my children. Hey, I know WWII is your forte, but have you read Charity Girl? It's a novel set in Boston during WWI. Great period piece.

Maprilynne, your email sent shivers through me. 13 days! Keep in mind, the average YA published book was on submission for 5 months. Just breathe through it. Yeah, sure, like that helps.

Amy

Larramie said...

At the risk of a shameless plug -- although it's not about me --, anyone interested in learning more about Judy Larsen and All the Numbers might check out my post from yesterday (Monday) at Seize a Daisy.

I thoroughly enjoy discovering and featuring debut authors, so for all of you who have something to say...please keep writing!

The Writers' Group said...

Larramie, you are quite the Renaissance Woman; how is it you know so much about so much. I love your blog! Everyone should go there now.

Therese said...

I'm late to the party today!

Amy, this is a terrific reminder about many things, not the least of which is that a close look at almost any part of life can yield rich views.

The Writers' Group said...

Fashionably late, Therese. What you say is so true. Think of The Stone Diaries; the protag's life wasn't particularly significant, but it was well-examined. Basically what it comes down to, I think, is that we readers (and writers) are ultimately voyeurs. We love to be privy to any detail about another's life. How else to explain tabloids? Still holding tight waiting for that Royal Mail. For those who don't know, check out Therese's blog.

Amy

Michelle Zink said...

I think one of the reasons I write fantasy is to escape from my small-town-mom life!.

To make matters worse, I'm pretty sure I'm drawn to YA fantasy because it lets me continue to live out the fantasy that I am not, in fact, a 37-year-old mother of four, but instead, an eye-rolling teenager bent on saving the world.

But yeah! There's all kinds of stuff under the surface, I think. Stuff most people don't see or think about. My life is probably pretty boring by most people's standards, and yet I find I'm never short of ideas.

Just the time to write them all down!

The Writers' Group said...

Michelle, that's such an interesting perspective. I really admire YA writers; for me it would be the most difficult genre to write.

Amy

Larramie said...

In about an hour, spring officially arrives. To celebrate, as well as thank you for the generous praise and link on your blogroll, please accept my virtual bouquet of daisies. Sigh..if only they were real.

As for what I know, Amy, my only explanation is a curious mind -- with a good memory -- that enjoys sharing the positives in life.

The Writers' Group said...

Thanks, Larramie. The first day of spring is my birthday. Your virtual bouquet of daisies are the perfect gift. We love your blog and were happy to link to it.

Lynne

Therese said...

Happy Birthday, Lynne!!

Shanna Thompson said...

Hi Writers' Group ladies, I'm tagging you to answer the meme "To Whom Am I Blogging?" I've already answered here: www.writefromthebeginning.blogspot.com

Patry Francis said...

All of your friends were so lovely and fascinating. I can't imagine a greater compliment than to hear they thought I was just like one of them.

And yes, we all have stories to tell.
AMAZING stories.

The Writers' Group said...

Thank you, Patry. The buzz around town is all about your book; the feedback has been marvelous.

wishy in az said...

Amy, I'm so glad you mentioned Carol Shields! She is one of my favorite authors. I especially love her lesser-known short fiction. Her collected short stories are really a must-read and they include the story "Mirrors," which is simply one of my favorite stories. It won an O'Henry Prize & is very relevant to your "irrelevant" post in that it follows the slow, ordinary, commonplace trajectory of a long marriage...but it does so in such an important way! I think I'll go re-read my copy now!

And as a wife and mother, thanks so much for this great post!

Warmly,

Amy in AZ

Lia Sophia said...

For me, writers write stories from their heart, their past experience, the life they live in, the people in their lives, and the people they see. Every books gives inspirations to the readers. -

Cheapest Lia Sophia