Saturday marked another hour with my writing friends at the retirement center, reading stories and laughing about gaps of knowledge between generations. There was a story read about a young woman, and letters to a soldier overseas during World War II, and V-mail. ”What’s V-mail?” I asked, to which I got the same reaction I gave my niece once when we stood in the library and she dared to say, “what’s a card catalog?” Mouths fell open and someone said, “Oh. You’re so young.”
We have fun around the table.
And, what I love most about meeting up with these folks each month is their excitement at being there, even when, as I found out, last month’s writing prompt proved more of an obstacle than inspiration. Maybe there were too many choices. Maybe the prompts weren’t quite clear. Maybe they just didn’t click. Sometimes prompts are like that, but writers tackle them anyways.
And, that’s exactly what they did: they wrote anyway.
One of my favorite phrases came from a woman who’s been writing flash fiction. In her piece, she described an apartment ever so briefly but quite clear: with landlord-tan walls and scuff-board floors. That’s all I needed to see an exact image. Another favorite line came from a different story, written by a gentleman in the group, about a visit to an attic: You knew right away from the musty, stuffy smell, that you were about to reach the third floor destination. That’s immediate recall for me, the attic smell that lures you to the door and begs you to step inside. We talked about that, too, about how certain descriptions like that do more for a piece (and the reader) than just saying something is “old” or an apartment looks ”run down.”
We meet again in September at a time when we will be crossing into Fall, waking up to crisp mornings and watching the sun set a little too soon in the evening. This month’s writing prompt focuses on two quotes, by Natalie Goldberg and Russell Baker, and asks us to look back, then, on the season of summer.
Memoir doesn’t cling to an orderly procession of time and dates, marching down the narrow aisle of your years on this earth. Rather it encompasses the moment you stopped, turned your car around, and went swimming in a deep pool by the side of the road. You threw off your gray suit, a swimming trunk in the backseat, a bridge you dived off. You knew you had an appointment in the next town, but the water was so clear. When would you be passing by this river again? The sky, the clouds, the reeds by the roadside mattered. You remembered bologna sandwiches made on white bread; you started to whistle old tunes.
~ Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away
This paragraph from the introduction in Natalie Goldberg’s book on writing memoir not only talks about the way we remember, it also hints at summer. It’s late August. Three hours north of here, the leaves show signs of weathering. The tomato plants in my garden have grown wiry, so that nothing is left on the vine but a few remnants of (what could have been) prime fruit. My kids won’t turn any more tan or earn one more freckle; the sun sits too low on the horizon. Swim goggles have been broken or lost; one last romp at the pool leaves my son red in the eyes and full of heavy yawns. It’s time.
Time to move on to what comes next. We let go, of cool June nights and unbearable July days, of too much time at the pool or not enough days spent at the lake, of excitement in new endeavors and grief in goodbyes to a close friend. We move on, but memory stays with us.
Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.
Tell us about one summer when the suffering was worth it. Or maybe it was a summer when the suffering ceased.
* Photo credits: alvimann and melodi2 on morguefile.com.