I am using the last of my precious winter break Metro time to do some pleasure reading. Having sated myself on crime fiction, I got Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan from the library (which I thoroughly enjoyed – highly recommended to people who like YA, adventure, steampunk, alternate history, or breathing) and ripped through it in about two days.
Waiting in my pile was a book on writing my wise mother handed to me during her last visit, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I’m pretty sure she refrained from saying “You’ll love this,” and I think we may have discovered another way around my reflexive filter. Just hand the thing to me without a deadline for completion. I’ll happily get to it in my own sweet time.
I have had this book (along with “Writing Down the Bones”) recommended to me at length, and often enthusiastically, which is probably why I hadn’t gotten to either of them before now.* Predictably, I am loving it.**
As much as I am loving Lamott’s book, one of the charms of getting to read it in the way I did is the scattering of a few tiny post-it notes my mother tucked among the pages. These notes have cryptic remarks jotted on them which I understand well due to our shared history but might well be written in Urdu for all the sense they would make to a stranger.
Lamott’s book is especially good in one way because it offers you interstitial assignments – they’re not listed as such, but if the reader decided to take them that way, it is very possible to pull literal instructions from every chapter. In the early going, there is a section on writing about school lunches to break a mental logjam. Lamott is right when she says that this topic is fertile ground for stories and descriptions. She herself writes a few humorous paragraphs about the “code” of lunches – what was acceptable and what labeled you as “other” in the eyes of your classmates. I recognized exactly what she meant, even if the specifics were different when I was growing up.
My lunches, I am afraid, were never up to code. Mom made lunches that a 40-year-old foodie would swoon over: homemade multigrain bread, real cold cuts (no bologna in my mother’s kitchen), and often bean sprouts. These were thick, hearty, character-building sandwiches in every sense of the word. Once, a classmate snatched a tangle of sprouts out of my sandwich, screamed, and flung them away from her as if they were alive. They stuck to a window high over our heads and remained there for the entire school year, closely resembling the desiccated corpse of a spider.
The other thing I remember about my school lunches were the notes. Mom’s missives, often illustrated with quirky doodles, were like a quick squeeze of the shoulder or a warm smile. I remember them as full of love and humor and topical information like, “Christmas Tree decorating tonight!” or “5 more days until vacation.” Mom’s handwriting somehow manages to be both loopy and strong, so finding this note tucked into the pages of Lamott’s book was like something out of a time capsule:
“Sprouts! Marred for life.”
I laughed like an idiot on the Metro and didn’t care who noticed.
*See above re: “You’ll love this”
**I only said I have a reflexive reaction to over-enthusiastic recommendations. I didn’t say it was smart.