Write a True Thing: Let the Zing Knock You Slobberjawed

Did you hear about the toddler who was served alcohol at an Applebees restaurant in Michigan? Apparently, some left-over mixed cocktails ended up in the apple juice. Now there’s a zing for your tyke to put a little extra giddyup in his roll!

How interesting that when I first typed the last sentence above, I typed, “Now there’s a zing for your type. . . .” Maybe I was tapping into something that I have to say about adding some zest to your typing, as in bringing some energy to your prose. By the way, how did the parents notice that their toddler was tipsy? Don’t all toddlers seem drunk?

But I digress.

The issue relevant to the writer is one of becoming awake to your work and to the world around you. I’m reading the memoir, Townie, but Andre Dubus III right now, and I love the passages where he talks about what it was like for him when he first began to write short stories. After an adolescense and young adulthood of violence, in which he boxed and got into a number of street brawls, one night Dubus picked up a pen and a notebook instead of going out to train for his upcoming Golden Gloves bout, and he began to write. The experience left him, more aware of himself and the world around him:

And I felt more like me than I ever had, as if the years I’d lived so far had formed layers of skin and muscle over myself that others saw as me when the real one had been underneath all along, and writing–even writing badly–had peeled away those layers, and I knew then that if I wanted to stay this awake and alive, if I wanted to stay me, I would have to keep writing.

I talked with my students today about the importance of writing the true things, the things that are genuine and true because they are inextricable from us.  I had a teacher once who said he thought that we all had at least one sound that was wholly and purely ours. One of mine is the sound of a wringer washing machine, the kind my mother used each Saturday on the wash porch of our farmhouse. She taught during the week, and before I started school, I stayed with my grandmother during the day. The sound of that wringer washer woke me each Saturday morning and filled me with such a comfort. I knew it was Saturday. I knew my mother was home. For me to write about that sound is an act of faith in the integrity of memory. I don’t have to think about how to choose the words or how to shape them. I only need tap into the deep connection that I have with the sound of that wringer washer. It holds so much that makes me feel awake and alive. It will allow me to write another true thing and yet another, until finally I’ll have an essay, or a story, or a novel. All built on the foundation of something that’s mine, that sound so connected to who I am. Let one true thing create another until, finally, something knocks you all slobberjawed, and there you are, awake.

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