Open Mouths and Open Mics


The Little Literati / Friday, November 15th, 2013

All that business about April being the cruelest month is true. (Eliot was right. Go figure.) I will add, however, that October and November can be incredibly hard on writers, too. Fall brings promises I cannot keep: a poem a day in October and a whole novel in November (visit NaNoWriMo.org for information about other crazies like me). If my day-to-day world didn’t look like it does, I might manage meeting an occasional high bar. Under the year’s circumstances, however, it looks like any influx of writing or reading is cause to celebrate.

I’m reminded this month of my brother and how I must have been an absolutely horrible big sister. I don’t recall ever losing a board game to him. It wasn’t because I was better at the games than he was. It was simply because I could read, and that made him believe I was telling the truth when I’d consult the instructions and “read” a new part we’d overlooked the first time, always an addendum to shift the game in my favor. Again, I was a horrible big sister. 
Elements of this sisterdom, no doubt, influence each semester’s syllabus redux, as I find it impossible to believe every grade issued is fair (whether high enough or low enough) and end up trying to rethink my methods so that students get exactly the grades they deserve, nothing more, nothing less. 
More elements of this sisterdom have also translated into my being exceedingly kind with my own deadlines and writing goals. Although NaNoWriMo has been a complete bust for me this year (only 4k so far), I have, in the process of procrastinating on this novel, ended up writing the starts of proposals for several CFPs, a few thank you cards to check off the never-ending list of people who feed and water me daily, a grocery list (which is hugely unlike me), and several buried emails and comments on late papers. Most days I’m lucky if I can get to a Facebook post–and even then, they’re usually the post equivalents of found poems, just words I hear in my house with my quarter-dozen children and Wayne Szalinski husband. Yes, that’s a hula hoop behind him. 
So, I keep moving the mark. Mothers, certainly, and writerly mothers, especially, must move that mark sometimes to keep from giving up entirely. Far more important than perfection is persistence. 
My twelve year old and I have recently parted reading ways. She has fallen in love with Dr. Who, Jericho, Heroes, and Supernatural; her shelves are filled with John Green, Veronica Roth, Rick Riordan, Christopher Paolini, and Suzanne Collins. I can’t keep up and, in some ways, don’t want to. She has reading worlds that are worlds apart from my own, worlds of apocalypses and made-up creatures, worlds of unlikely flirtations I don’t need anymore. 
I still crave the conversation, though. I still look for silent spaces so that I can peek into her world for a little while. Even if my own familiar narratives are not the same as her own, the love of a story translates, and I recognize the glow that happens upon her face when she emerges from the first chapter of a new book and has fallen in love, again. 
Until we meet back up on other aisles, I stay busy fueling her addiction by bringing home extra books, ordering surprise Amazon deliveries on Fridays, and taking the long way home from ballet to make impromptu stops at the bookstore when the babies are at home. When I see articles online, like one a friend posted about the Native American response to the celebration of Thanksgiving, I toss Daina an iPad and ask her opinion. Every day she is alive, she opens her eyes wider than she did the day before. But I want her to open her mouth, too–not only to relate, but to connect, to communicate, to do something with what she sees and what she knows. 
Tonight we went to an open mic night. I served as a judge, and she came to watch. Several of the pieces performed were poems, and so that gave us a chance to talk literature after the event. I asked her about the performance where the poet used two voices, yelling at himself to create tension through the dialogue. She said, “It was good but kind of scary. I told him I liked his hat last time I met him.” She moved right into telling me about an interaction with another writer in the crowd: “She asked me for a tampon one time, which means she must have been desperate. And it made me think she wasn’t afraid of anything.” 
I would have said something, but she kept talking: “That poem about the brother who died? That was a good poem, but I wouldn’t like it as much if it weren’t true. Do you think it was true? I’ll have to ask her sometime.” And then she said she wished another poet had been there, the one who writes about packing up things in her mother’s house. “She’s one of my favorites, and her daughter’s really nice,” she said. 
When I asked who her favorite tonight was, and her answer was “the flute player” who filled the gap when we were tallying up scores during intermission, I laughed and immediately realized that she gets it in ways I don’t. Far too often I worry about what she’s getting or not getting from the world. Is she reading the right things? Is she being challenged? Is she gleaning goodness from the people who surround us? When I told her the flute player wasn’t in the competition, she told me it didn’t matter: “I’ve never seen anyone play a flute that close to me before. It was great.” 
And so art finds her–music, beauty, books, the whole shebang. The conversations about hats and tampons and daughters are all creating the poem that she’s becoming. 
Life is happening whether I’m there during intermission or not. 
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