I don’t remember when I started writing things down. I always had paper. I always had pens. I always didn’t say what I really wanted to say at the time. I always wanted to show them, just wait and see. My revenge. And then I wanted to write because I wanted to figure out what I was trying to say.
My mother writes poetry. Not always great poetry. She definitely suckles at the teat of Emily Dickinson. The influence is overbearing and my mother refused to go to college or even take an adult ed explore your hobbies sort of class to improve her craft. So, not unlike Emily, she stays home and writes her poems in semi-sequestered conditions and unleashes them on her answering machine. Or leaves renditions of Emily Dickinson so that the caller must sit through the dead and dying despair in order to leave a message.
“Because. I. Could. Not. Stop. For. Death. ––.” delivers my mother in her slow staccato on her answering machine while I scream in my head, “I feigned death on my answering machine!” Most of Emily Dickinson’s poems are short but my mother makes them sound like epics. Most people hang up before the end.
But I wasn’t there at my mother’s beginnings. I don’t know what put her pen to paper. I just know this is my lineage and that I’m actually kind of grateful for it.
My daughter is a writerchick too. Before she knew how to write she’d sit with a notebook and crayon and scribble page after page of wavy lines and tell me that she was writing. She was frustrated early and needed the alphabet by age two. I taught it to her. Her teacher perfected her reading and writing, and now at age seven she has emerged, a writerchick.
Not long ago I asked my daughter why she writes. She shrugged at first and then told me:
“The world can get boring. Stories make it better.” She went to her room and came back down.
“I thought about what you asked, mom.”
“Yeah. I’m a girl. Girls write.”
“What do they write about?”
“Whatever we want to write about.”
“Why do you do it?” She looked at me like that was a ridiculous question. “Because I’m a girl. And I think about stuff and I write it down.”
I wondered. Had I not been a writer would she have seen this all differently? Would writing be some thing we do at school? Would she not rush into my office and pull her secret notebook out from behind the tall green bookcase and write a few words down thinking it is entirely a secret in a secret sacred space? I think about my students who hate writing and assess into community college with the writing skills of someone my daughter’s age. What do their mothers do? What did their grandmothers do?
I think of the other women my daughter knows: writers, painters, musicians. She sees a world where women create things. At my office she often runs upstairs to my 69 year-old office mate Jane–an environmental journalist. So my daughter every day sees two writer women with an office next to the pharmacy and across from the police station. An ordinary job. An extraordinary calling.
Recently, my daughter finished her first full-fledged short story. She said I couldn’t read it until she did a second draft–but then she said? I could edit it for her and for that she’d clean the cat box for a week.
When she finished the second draft –a story of roughly 500 words based largely on the mysterious adventures of our cats when we are away from the house–she looked up at me and sighed.
“Do you want me to read it now?” I asked her.
“Yes. But I have a question…” she looked at me with her signature scowl that always makes me hesitant.
“Sure…” I said.
“Where do I send it now that I’m done? Who takes stories from seven year olds? Do they pay you anything?”
There were many ways to respond. All ways I had to do without smiling, without giving away how funny and sweet and sad that all seemed to me at the same time.
“Well, Paloma, we can look up children’s stories on the writer’s market and see what comes up. But maybe you’d want to just share it with us first? We’d love to hear your story.”
“It’s not your kind of thing, Mom. Besides, I want to see it published.” What could I say? I totally GET that. I want to see my work published too and I certainly don’t want to read my work to my mother…
“Sure it is.” She was skeptical and like any budding writerchick, she had every reason to be. I’m glad she is building that skin. It will come in handy during rejection time.
A couple days later–the next time Paloma was in our office–I called up to Jane and told her that Paloma had a story completed and needed readers. Jane and I had her read her story to us up in our conference area by the big picture window. The warm afternoon sun light was a great backdrop and though she is a writer now, she did not seem the least bit depressed. We gave her suggestions on where she might want to tighten up language and where she might want to expand the story. Jane suggested the best way to approach this was to treat her like one of us.
It might mean that instead of the child-centered exuberance usually bestowed upon children’s creations that we took a smidgeon of her childhood away by treating her like a ‘real writer.’ But the look of earnest on her face while we made suggestions followed by this wry smile when she saw how an issue she had in the story could be resolved was beautiful. My baby girl is still my baby girl, but she is her own writerchick.
To read Paloma’s first piece, proudly published here at Outside In, click here.
Margaret Elysia Garcia writes memoir, essays, fiction, and poetry. Her recent work can be seen in GirlBodyPride, Brain Child, The People’s Apocalypse Anthology, Huizache Journal, Catamaran Review, and other literary places. She lives in the remote northeastern Corner of the Sierra Nevadas where she teaches for Feather River College and hosts an alternative women’s radio show and book club show on Plumas Community Radio. She’ll be making her directorial debut for the national Listen to Your Mother Show this May. You can follow her adventures and links to publications on her blog Tales of a Sierra Madre.