Question for the week
Each day a different chapter from The Square Root of Someone is featured. Readers often ask if the essays are true. Every single one is.
What I Didn't Write
When it comes to writing, call me a procrastinator. I tell myself the moment isnít right, that I am too busy with other things, that I need a flaming sunset for inspiration. I want to believe these things are true, but really they are all excuses. The moment will never get any better, and I can always fill my hours with activities that work against the quiet task of writing.
The truth is that good writing, even modestly acceptable writing, requires sitting down and doing it. Now. Regularly. With commitment. Itís like the hour a day at the piano that is the foundation of the recital. Or the one thousand sandlot hits that give a batter his eye. Itís the repetitive, over-and-over assembly of stitches into needlework that creates a whole from bits.
What have I put off writing?
There is the essay about returning to the farmhouse of my youth to find it inhabited by strangers. They thought I was the strange one when I asked what had happened to the porch that once spanned the front of the shabby shake shingle two-story structure. The porch had been the ancient houseís saving grace. Without it, nothing softened the harsh brown shingles and dirty narrow windows.
The current tenants were renters who were just passing through, waiting for their luck to change, then moving on. They knew nothing of the porch. In the dullness of a gray afternoon, I walked around the outside of the entire building pointing to a window here and telling them that was the living room, pointing to a window there and describing the dining room. Here was the wall where the stairwell, steep and dark, went up to the second floor landing and the first of three bedrooms. The one at the top of the stairs had been my room.
I was six years old when I went to live in that house. At the time, my mother had no place to put me, and the elderly aunt and uncle who owned that farm took me in. Now my mother, my aunt, and my uncle are all dead, and I am the last person in my family to have lived on that farm. If I donít put down what it was like, a little piece of history will meet the same fate as the porch.
Then there is a story that runs around in my head based on the ten years I spent living with stepchildren. I say story, because I want to write about the experience from the older stepdaughterís point of view rather than my own. Iíve already written unpublished reams on what being a stepmother was like. But how did two little girls feel when the court decided they should come and live with their father and me and visit their mother only at predetermined times?
The summer they arrived, the older girl was ten in human years. She had already mastered the role of mother to her younger sister, and she had been a parent to her own mother whenever that woman became ill. Slender, almost wispy, the child was street smart, yet a dreamer. Wise and innocent. Incredibly old at a young age.
We had difficulty hitting it off, and I suppose it was because neither she nor her biological mother could find room in their hearts for one more parent. Yet this girl reminded me so much of another little girl who went to live in a shake shingle house on a fifty-acre farm. I never told my stepdaughter that we were more alike than it appeared, because it would not have altered our relationship. But I could have written it down for later.
I could sit down now and begin either of these projects. With quiet introspection, I might recall exactly how I felt in the situation and why it was important. Then I might put the effort on paper; because, as long as there are fingers and pens and loose leaf and determination, words will eventually come.
They may not have been sculpted in the white heat of the moment when passion is high and the senses are alert. They may not capture the initial thought, but only its shadow. They may not come from the reality, but only from the remembering of it.
But, with care and concentration, they can be as good.
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