Monday, May 15, 2006

A daughter reminisces: the making of a writer

Here's a beautiful piece by the Anchoress, an honest and complex tribute to the mother who gave her her love of words.

It would be interesting to uncover the heredity/genetics of what makes up a writer and reader. And by "writer" I don't just mean professionals, but amateurs as well, all those who love words (remember, the root of the word "amateur" is "lover") .

The Anchoress's mother was brought up by deaf parents, which may have made her love of words even more powerful. As the Anchoress writes:

She gave me that - the love of words - of the very sound of words - the ability to take delight in a well-turned phrase or a crafty sentence, the ability to sense something beyond vowels and consonants, something that sounds like real music and gives almost as much delight. Drunk or sober, angry or gleeful, the stuff that poured from her mouth would routinely stop me in my tracks for the sheer glory of her word usage. I revelled in her immense vocabulary, her flawless diction. If some surprising, or obscene, words occasionally found their way into her soliliquies, even those were rendered inoffensive thanks to the plucky, affectionate way she inserted them.

Some people are just drawn to words from the start; I was one of them. And, as with the Anchoress, it did seem to run in our family. I grew up with a mother to whom I automatically gave all my school papers to edit, just as my father was in charge of checking my math homework (at least for a while). My mother loved taking the old blue pencil (metaphoric, in her case) to my childish efforts, indicating grammar corrections and the like, and then explaining them to me in a teaching moment. Didn't everybody's mother?

And didn't everybody's brother read poetry aloud to them in-between bouts of teasing and various other forms of torment? Some might call the poetry readings themselves a form of torment--but not me.

The answer, of course, is no. But I wasn't aware of that at the time; I thought such skills went with parenthood, and maybe even big-brotherhood.

My mother used to have a newspaper column, and she was a child prodigy as a poet. My mother's father was a writer also, although he worked in advertising, and her entire family used to compose funny jingles for all occasions--birthdays, weddings, any small excuse--set to popular tunes of the day. (Perhaps that's why I appreciate Dr. Sanity's lofty skills in that particular arena so much). I carried on the blue pencil tradition for my son when he was growing up. And now he's a better editor and writer than I.

Which is as it should be, right?


At 6:16 PM, May 15, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...

I am reminded of a particular phrase that always delights me...a line from the film "Far and Away", which is one of the better put-downs I've ever heard. I've told my daughters, when they're angry, to remember the line, and instead of resorting to the common epithets most young adults use (mother***er, a**hole, etc.) to use the beauty and utility of language to better effect.

The line is uttered by Nicole Kidman's character, Shannon Daugherty, as she labors away in a chicken factory, plucking chickens. The supervisor is a martinet, hectoring the workers day in and day out, threatening them with docking their pay when they upset him.

Shannon has offended the supervisor, and he's docked her for Thursday. She hesitates for a moment, judging her anger, and then responds with "Take Friday as well, you spineless little fraction of a man."

"Spineless little fraction of a man." How much more devastating and elegant than "mother***er."

At 2:19 AM, May 19, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

If you have children, surround them with books. Have them see you reading. They'll figure out by osmosis that there is something interesting and valuable there. It's also good to read to your children, but it turns out to not be nearly as big a factor as just having books around.

Perhaps the 'genetic' or 'heredity' analogy is a poor choice of words?


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