Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writing my life

After a quick trip across the Sound to check on Grampie and Thyrza yesterday, we stopped for dinner with some friends at one of our favorite locally owned Italian restaurant (local to our friends, that is.  It's in their town, not ours).  The talk wound around from Glo to Grampie to Beve to the price of tea in China (what is the price of tea in China, and why do we always care so much about it, anyway?).  At one point, Beve was talking about how Grampie talks with his hands.

Grampie, it's important to know, used to be the chair of a department at a state university.  He spent his career not just teaching, but managing people, soothing ruffled feathers, mediating between factions of professors in his rather divided department.  In short, he spent an inordinate amount of time in meetings.  What makes this odd to me is that his youngest son is positively allergic to meetings. When Beve became an elder of the church we attended with the kids were chublets, he was horrified to discover that this position had very little to do with any spiritual mentoring and a great deal to do with sitting around a conference table, talking ad nauseum about business matters.  But Grampie, who was also an elder of that church at the same time, thrived on it.  He thrived on clearing his throat, gesturing with his oversized, broad, nails-bitten-to-the-quick fingernails.  He'd slice the air with those hands to make a point, draw complex graphs and flow charts in the air and exclamation-point to his words.  And people listened.

These days, even though Grampie's confused and forgetful, he still seems addicted to meetings. He's always trying to sit the family down to talk through his investments, will and other less clear agenda items.  Actually most of his family meetings have no clear agenda items.  But he keeps clearing his throat, waving his hands through the air, and talking in undulating circles that are very hard to follow, let alone get to the bottom of.  And when he takes a blow--like the expected but painful one Glo's death brought him yesterday, his words and punctuating gestures are a corn maize so high and complicated it would take better person than Beve or me to get out of them.

So Beve was telling our friends this last night, his equally large and oversized (but not bitten) hands waving madly in the air.  And our friend J said, looking at me, "You do know how much you talk with your hands, don't you?"  And thinking a moment, I said, "Not really."  I've never really thought about it.  Then both Beve and J began waving their hands in imitation of me.  J put his first two fingers together with his thumb and said, "Like this," and they all nodded.  And I thought, I do that? Really?  It didn't seem one bit familiar until a few sentences later in the conversation when I began to make a point and realized I was holding my left hand in precisely that way.  J said, "I think you're writing in the air."  And that was one of those "Ah-ha moments" people often speak of.  Writing in the air as I speak.  The fundamental truth of me hovering right (I almost wrote 'write') there in the air of that restaurant.

This morning, as I send off a few emails, including an incredibly rough and shabby 0-draft, as writers call it, of Glo's obituary, I thought about that ah-ha moment of our meandering conversation last night.  I thought about how, even when I'm just speaking, I'm also writing my life.  Many--exceedingly countless--times in my life, upon hearing that I'm a writer, I've heard someone respond, "You should write about my life, my family, my... whatever."  And my knee-jerk answer, culled from some source too many years ago to remember now, but I think it was a creative writing prof in my first sojourn in grad school (pre-marriage, pre-everything), "No, you should write it yourself.  Only you can write your own story.  I have to write what's in me to write."

And thinking about this apparent default gesture, and the trouble I'm having writing someone else's vision of such a simple thing as an obituary, it hit me how true my own response really is.  I have to write what's in me to write. And it occurs to me that even as I'm living, even when I'm having a casual conversation with someone, I'm writing it in the air.  Life is meant to be lived, the saying goes.  But for me, it obviously isn't lived unless it's written as well.

This is who God made me to be.  No matter what.  But He made me to write what He gives me to write.  Now, obviously, I managed to write papers in school--a whole lot of school, actually--and write them competently enough, but even as I was writing them, even if I was paid to write such things every day for the rest of my life, such papers, such articles would barely count.  I'd still be writing my my life, by any means available. And where there is no computer, I'll write on paper.  And where there is no paper, I'll write it across the air of my life.

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