Monday, February 2, 2015
Letters from Grandmother
This blog has become a bit like a letter from grandmother. Most of you younger than 35 probably never received these kinds of things. You've barely lived your adult life without email.
Grandmother's letters include - not necessarily in this order - a run down of her health; grandfather's health, the health of the family and extended family including neighbors you might have met once; the weather; cattle futures; oil patch news; land sales; and in my case, unusual bird sightings. We are a little strange in that the whole family is filled with amateur naturalists. My grandmother was a first rate ornithologist.
We also get dinner descriptions, future dinner plans, social plans, bridge game results - if positive - and the ever popular sewing/knitting progress report. Deaths and the dying figured heavily in the narrative too because when you get a little old, everyone dies. When you get a little older, that part drops out because they're all dead.
I'd get these things in the scrawled hand on onionskin from someone crippled with arthritis. The narrative was a kind of code.
Now, letters like these were not mere missives for one person. You put them in the pocket and shared them. At college, a bunch of us who came from "the sticks" would get these sorts of letters and would read each other's on the weekly basis. I'd invariably have to translate various phrases because she wrote in two languages simultaneously.
If I wrote to my grandmother, I'd get money. Being the grandchild often with the modifier added as a praenomen "stubborn" or "wild hare," I wouldn't write because I couldn't be bought.
These rambling missives told you a great deal about the people and family in a way that the facts of the letter never would.
If a pregnancy of one of the cousins was listed in the first paragraph or so, grandmother thought it time. The couple could manage a child.
If it came at the end. Well, she had doubts about the marriage or the financial resources or the timing with career and school or - you get the idea.
What mattered most in those missives is that I could tell from her words what she thought. If she went to dinner and commented that the meal consisted of a "sort of grainy, cold ham" then you knew she was disappointed because in our family: the food you served said something about the care you held for the guest. I never once had anything out of a can in my grandmother's house.
People you care about don't eat someone else's food under your roof.
So. The nuance was the thing. Knowing her mind was the point of the letter. No one cared about the grouse hunt especially. I cared that she cared because it was a tie back to her father who was a great sportsman. World class famous sportsman, sort. When she mentioned grouse to me, it meant she wanted me to know she was thinking of her father.
I'm a little sorry that this blog has evolved in that way a little more than it should. I want you to know my mind and so often I don't want to come out and say it.
I never warned you of that and you , probably not having the grandmother letters, never learned to do that sort of interpreting.
I think that is our nature as fiction writers.
We take a character and create a conflict and a worldview and cast doubt into the continuity and comfort of that character (if we're doing our writer-ly jobs) with an eye towards saying something without coming out and saying it.
We trust the reader to understand how we loved that character even as we twisted their soul with conflicts and problems probably much larger than their psyche allowed. We want the reader to care because in that emotional journey, we think we'll impart a little of our thoughts on the reader.
We think we'll let the reader know our mind.
That's something important to a few of us. If you read this, it's probably something important to you.
I like a good formulaic pulp read.
I love when that pulp read on the surface is constructed in such a way I know the writer's mind about some aspect of the life I've just read.
Isn't that reason to write: so that you might be able to show someone else your mind on some topic you'd never otherwise be able to say in conversation?
It snowed sixteen inches here yesterday. I worked extensively from my library on concerns of the day job. Today I did some clean-up, ate, and washed some clothes. I also was a little lonely today. Louis and the cats and I are alone this week. I'm thinking of buying some flies for spring trout fishing. I talked to a couple friends about trout.
I'm imagining standing in a river and feeling the current pushing on my legs. It's like a small child pulling on you to come and play even when you have work to do.
I have a body to introduce in the WIP.
Pay the piper, call the tune.