September 2018 . . . .

“Indisputably, Part 2”

In a couple of weeks from now, my eldest is back to school. That is, she’s heading back to college to begin her sophomore year. I’ve been making deadlines since she was in third grade; in all that time we’ve been talking, she and I, about books, about writing, about art and music. She’s won a contest for writing a book (in fifth grade!) and she’s played keyboard and sung in public (at the county fair) and she’s performed at Carnegie Hall (with her high school a cappella group.) For all of those things I have enormous pride. But this fall she’s truly busting my buttons, for she’s taking a class in Creative Writing.

Yes, I know, you can’t push someone into it, nor can you pull. Writing is the thing that causes itself in a person. And I’m not sure I would wish someone into being a writer, because it is difficult, with long moments of extreme dissatisfaction. But I love it so much (that I’m probably doing it wrong), and I want her to have this kind of love for something she does.

I like talk with her about it. About imagery and developing characters. About sitting in public places and taking out your earbuds and really listening to how people speak to each other. About writers I like because their prose is . . . elegant, and writers I like because their prose is terse. I talk to her about rules, and breaking rules, and not breaking rules. And sometimes she shows me work, which is the most fun for me, but I cannot let it be so in front of her, because I think the biggest trap for a writer is being satisfied with yourself and having no reason to go on tomorrow.

A lot of these conversations are just politeness on her part. Sitting and listening to me talk. Nodding her head in agreement. Sure, Dad. Sure, sure. And only a crazy person would wish that she not follow her own roadmap to be someone doing something that has an actual, steady paycheck when she’s older. But there are days when I’m a crazy person.

Part of having a daughter who might, maybe, someday, want to be a writer, gives me secret joy. And fear, because writing requires thick skin and fearlessness and a bit of dumbass. Right now, she’s none of those. She’s sensitive and brave and stubborn. Still, and oddly enough, it’s when we’re arguing about something and she says, “I didn’t say that, I said this,” and she goes on to parse her actual sentence. She digs in her heels about the definitions and usage of words.

My God, I love that.

Reading a slap-dash news article: I pop-quiz her. So is it compliance, complacency, or complicity? That should be a simple question, right? Or is this my Rhyme of the Ancient English Major arrogance, rearing its ugly head? We’ve all seen click-baits where we are treated or subjected to a “look how dumb they are — they got that word wrong, ” moment. Social media is chock-full of misspellings, poor conjugation, typographical errors, and the occasional, singularly odd made-up word that we can only ascribe to having been originally misheard in a Rolling Stones lyric on AM radio. (Yes, I’m that old . . . .)

And although a selfish part of me wants someone to gripe with about bonehead grammatical mistakes, my daughter’s not the one. She’s much kindlier than I in that regard. Like her mom, she has a good heart, full of empathy for folks who say lesser when they mean fewer. And she doesn’t care that it is both flammable and inflammable and rub her hands together slyly imagining there must be a conspiracy theory hidden like an Easter egg in there, somewhere.

So when, when, is it actually time to fix our actual mistakes? Is there anyone out there who hasn’t typed a word then then typed it again accidentally? Do we correct this, or leave it because it’s not really important? Did that person mean sublimely or subliminally? I ask, although I must say that I’m pretty good either way on this one.

What I’m saying is that writing is not solitaire, where you can cheat or screw-up because it doesn’t matter, no matter how much it may seem so in the beginning. The goal of writing is to communicate with others. Root — commune: to converse or talk together, usually with profound intensity, intimacy, etc.; interchange thoughts or feelings. What I’m most interested in is the concept of profound intensity, and the interchange of thoughts and feelings. Where I come from an interchange is that frightening piece of the highway where other cars are trying to get on or off and must either speed up or slow down to do so. They hesitate, or just wing it — both actions highly risky. Collisions are possible, with no good coming from them.