“There was a stream of babysitters during our Wisconsin period…..The only one I remember with any clarity is Eula, or maybe it was Beulah. She was a teenager, and she was as big as a house, and she laughed a lot. Eula-Beulah had a wonderful sense of humor, even at four I could recognize that, but it was a dangerous sense of humor–there seemed to be a potential thunderclap hidden inside each hand-patting, butt-rocking, head-tossing outburst of glee….
“Eula-Beulah would be on the phone, laughing with someone, and beckon me over. She would hug me, tickle me, get me laughing, and then, still laughing, go upside my head hard enough to knock me down. Then she would tickle me with her bare feet until we were both laughing again.
“Eulah-Beulah was prone to farts–the kind that are both loud and smelly. Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. ‘Pow!’ she’d cry in high glee. It was like being buried in marshgas fireworks. I remember the dark, the sense that I was suffocating, and I remember laughing. Because, while what was happening was sort of horrible, it was also sort of funny. In many ways, Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow! The Village Voice holds few terrors.” King, Stephen, On Writing, pgs. 19-21
Yesterday, I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and I have been reeling from the re-realization of why I don’t read books that successful writers have written. Today, I have been moping around–feeling that I could never be as witty and as perfectly on-target as Anne Lamott’s writing is. This morning, I saw the topic for today’s WordPress Daily Prompt, but I was simply numb–“Radical”–I had nothing to say that was radical.
But Anne Lamott had blinded me with some radically real reasons not to write, and that has been my focus until now:.
“And then I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, ugly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe, but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested. Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. xxix-xxx.
Today, I stumbled through my morning Story Hour, and I came home and tried to write again. I still had nothing to say. So I simply took a nap. When I awoke, I was thinking about the first time that I tasted a cream cheese croissant, and I had to acknowledge that this was a radical thought. The occasion had occurred over thirty years ago, and I have really not thought about the event since that time.
My first cream cheese croissant was hot, and the cream cheese was oozy, and the crust was flaky, and the first bite sizzled on my tongue. It was like a drop of dew on a hot, parched pavement. Although it sounds cliché, the crust and the cheese melted in my mouth, and afterward, the nectar dripped down my throat. That simple cheese croissant had changed my perspective on desserts, and I love desserts. That was a radical experience.
I had grown up in rural America, where chocolate cake and pumpkin pie were about as rich as the sweets ever got. But when I was about ten-years-old, however, my family went to a town that was forty miles away, and we bought a big bag of fresh doughnuts–one of every flavor and many of several flavors. That experience raised my bar, where treats were concerned. But when I ate my first cheese croissant, the bar was lifted even higher.
The croissants that I buy now are no match for the ones that my friend and I bought in Jackson, Mississippi. The ones that I buy now are a little too much like Little Debbie cakes. There is something fake and unflaky and stiff and cold and slimy about them; and now that I have tasted the real thing, I know how to judge what is good and what is just a wannabe.
After my nap and my visions of cream cheese croissants, I felt slightly renewed. Maybe I would read ONE more book that was written by a famous writer. I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing, and a couple of pages into the text, I read about Eulah-Beulah. Now, that was a radical read for me. You have to understand that I am 66-years-old, and I grew up in the Deep South. I don’t say the word “f-a-r-t,” and if children in my school room said “b-u-t-t,” I made them miss recess. But I had to admit that there was something real about the way that King had described Eulah-Beulah. I decided that I needed to make a notation of Stephen King’s excellent character study of his babysitter, and I began to type the text into a blog post. When my Grammarly Spell Check questioned whether the word “farts” was really supposed to be “parts,” I laughed until my sides hurt.
Clearly, Grammarly and I need to get a life–or perhaps we simply needed to have something radical happen–something fresh that would change the ways that we have been taught to see. I remembered that Anne Lamott DID say a few good things about writing, too. I timidly opened Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, and like the Phoenix, rising from her ashes, I sprang upward and scrawled this post–bird by bird.
©Jacki Kellum September 13, 2016
I’m ready for another day.