In this slice, I take pause to think about how my mother unknowlingly influenced my desire to write. That coupled with an innate desire to be heard is why I have kept journals my whole life.
“Long before I could really write, someone must have known that this was all I needed.” (“Composition Notebook” by Jacqueline Woodson)
It was my mother who knew that writing would be an outlet for me. Long before I filled diaries with adolescent angst, I had always been curious about the physical act of writing. After watching her sign my name on family Christmas cards – Dominick, Ann, Michael, Joseph and Laurie Ann – I was intent on imitating the swirling loops of the letter “L”, until I got it just right. In contrast to my mother’s free-spirited cursive, my father, a draftsman, wrote with sharp lines – precise, exact – the opposite of my mother’s, and in hindsight, a reflection of their personalities as well. One was able to “go with the flow,” while the
other required order and routine – both influenced me greatly.
Although I could write in both ways, in kindergarten I insisted on writing using only capital letters arguing, “What’s the difference? It’s still my name.” That’s the kind of lawyering I brought to every moment of injustice I faced. Every single paper that came home that year was corrected from LAURIE ANN to Laurie Ann. Was I too stubborn to change, or were those early indications a felt need to express myself, a desire to leave my mark on something?
Growing up in a home where praise was not regularly dispensed, somehow I sensed my mother’s pride in my writing. One memory I can recall is when she shared my 5th grade writing with her friends from work. Our teacher, Sister Patricia Mary, a fan of creative writing, asked us to write the autobiography of an inanimate object. My character, a Swiss watch, aptly born in Switzerland, was put through grueling trials in order to prove her worth. One morning she woke up in the chilly air and was submerged into the icy waters of a pond, mirroring the famous 1970’s ad-line, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking?” It’s funny how the motto of my watch-friend is shared by writers… those who take pen to paper every day struggling for acceptance, facing criticism, all in the hope of getting published some day.
Despite the fact I only have that one public memory, I do know my mother revered words and language. She herself, an avid reader, was rarely seen without a book and cigarette in hand. She honored reading, respected libraries, and on the rare occasion we got something outside of a birthday or Christmas gift, she bought us books. Beyond the popular titles of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery series, two books she encouraged me to read as an adolescent were Ann Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, the extraordinary life of a girl living in hiding, and Go Ask Alice, a lesson on the perils of drug abuse – memoirs of tragic lives which remain with me till today.
Pieces of their stories showed up once in a 7th grade paper I wrote reflecting on the Sounds of Silence, an assignment from Miss Joyce, who had finally had it with my incessant talking, calling out, and general rebellious behavior. As a punishment, she told me to go home and write about that topic – a brilliant move on her part. Later, after my mother passed, it showed up in one of her drawers alongside another piece I wrote reflecting on the death of Aunt Ida, my mother’s best friend and neighbor, who died of cancer leaving three young daughters. The fact that she treasured those pieces speaks volumes of her approval.
How did those books influence me? Why am I remembering them now when I am “writing about writing?” It’s not that those books are the reason I write, because I was too young to notice, but reading about Ann and Alice helped me to discover that I prefer the raw truth that emerges from tracking a life.