Monday, November 3, 2008

How to Break an Ankle, Part 11

It can be brutally hot in the desert just east of San Diego in August, but not in town, where the breeze passes over the cool waters of Mission Bay and sways the tall palms on Bancroft Street, and wafts over the dahlias coming into bloom in the front yard and caresses us in the shade of the porch.

We were sitting on the swing, Gram and I, in the early afternoon, drinking lemonade and talking about my future.
"So after college, what?" she asked.
"Well, it's not like I have much of a choice. Can I have one of your cigarettes?
"No, dear, I'm counting these."

She was always trying to cut down on smoking, restricting herself to a certain number of smokes per day; either that, or trying to keep people from mooching cigarettes from her. They were Parliaments, in a blue and white box.
"Well, I suppose I'll be drafted, and then shipped off to Vietnam, and then shipped back in a box," I said, trying to be flippant, even though my post-graduate prospects were scaring me to death.
"Oh, don't think that way," she said, waving her bony hand dismissively. She had been a Navy wife for many years, moving her family all over the country and to Panama and back. She said the military was a vast place, and a good place to accumulate life experience, and if I really wanted to be a writer, I would need lots of that.
"You're so young," she said with that deep, halting laugh of hers. "What have you got to write about?"

She talked about her mother and her grandmother and their writing regimens. And she told me I had to read more if I wanted to become a good writer. "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" were a couple of the books she suggested.

(Just the other day, I found in my box of mementos a list she had mailed me later, written in her neat, left-leaning script on an index card, 10 books to read right away. "The Black Rose" and "Green Dolphin Street," are among them. Regrettably, I have yet to read any of them. But I will.)

"Here, go ahead, have one of my cigarettes," she said. "I'll resume quitting tomorrow." She watched me smoke, smiling contentedly, her head cocked to one side.
Read the good authors and learn from them, but don't pay any attention to what is fashionable and contemporary and novel, she said.
"Write about what you know."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sound advice and you are doing a great job following it. -DBH