Brie and Pineapple and Me

We had our favorite Sunday evening meal: baked brie, fruit — apple slices, strawberries, purple grapes, pineapple chunks — French sourdough bread, and an Australian wine. My first bite was a piece of fresh sweet pineapple. I’ve always hated pineapple, never eat it, it makes me shiver. My husband gets the pineapple for himself and the strawberries for me. But this time, I wanted to be different … because after surgery a week ago, I feel different. Everything has changed. True to my expectations the pineapple was delicious, and I didn’t shiver. Not one teensy little bit.

Also, I wanted to force something different. I’m trying to build up my nerve. I’m trying to take my writing to the next level. I’ve been reading The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, thanks to Sarah Einstein at Hilltrash who pointed me in that direction. I keep shaking my head and asking myself Why can’t I write like her. I want to do a piece in that style, her style — employing the specific, though perhaps reconstructed memory, the incredible details, the stunning laying down of the words. All day Sunday I planned to write an essay out of my past. I never had the nerve to bring my fingers to the keyboard.

The pineapple would help. If I could eat that, I could do anything.

It’s not the best piece in the book, but it’s one of my favorites. A segment from Beard’s essay “Cousins” begins as such:

“The sisters are making deviled eggs. They have on dark blue dresses with aprons and are walking around in nyloned feet. No one can find the red stuff that gets sprinkled on top of the eggs. They’re tearing the cupboards apart right now, swearing to each other and shaking their heads. We all know enough to stay out of the kitchen.”

Five short sentences let me picture this entire scene as though I’m right there looking in the kitchen door. I can take on the mood of something important going on. I can feel the vibes, the angst, of the sisters, transferring the problem to where it doesn’t belong. Beard told me enough without telling me everything. I know how this family is like mine and not like mine.

Second paragraph: “We’re at my grandma’s house in our best dresses with towels pinned to the collars. Our older sisters are walking around with theatrical, mournful faces, bossing us like crazy, in loud disgusted whispers. They have their pockets loaded with Kleenex in preparation for making a scene. We’re all going to our grandfather’s funeral in fifteen minutes, as soon as the paprika gets found.”

In my family the women work like mad in a crisis and assume greater responsibilities and threateningly throw down the rules, which might be accompanied by looks that kill or pinches. I love Beard’s next lines: “Wendell and I get to go only because we promised to act decent. No more running and sliding on the funeral-home rug. Someone has died, and there’s a time and a place for everything. We’ll both get spanked in front of everyone and put in chairs if we’re not careful. And if we can’t keep our gum in our mouths, then we don’t need it….” I have heard this and said it. And pinched a lot, too.

Monday, I started laying down the words in an essay about being at my grandma’s house. Maybe, just maybe, I can pull together enough details to create a scene that will stay with the reader, much like the taste of the pineapple that sat fresh against my tongue.

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5 Comments on “Brie and Pineapple and Me”

  1. John says:

    Good luck, Kathy, in your new essay. I like your analogy of trying pineapples to breaking out and trying something new with your writing. The small juxtaposed with the large. Very nice.

    I have to say that I love Jo Ann Beard. She is one of the finest writers I’ve ever had the experience of reading. I read a bunch of her stuff in a Creative Nonfiction class a few years ago and just really felt transported by it.

    But, be careful. Don’t lose yourself in an attempt to model the style of another.

  2. John says:

    Oh, and brie is one of my absolutely favorite foods of all time!

  3. Nancy says:

    I agree with John; it’s nice to admire another author’s style, but don’t try to copy it. That’s too much work! 🙂

    When you find your own voice, the writing will be easier (not easy). Just keep writing until it feels right; you’ll recognize it when it does.

    Good luck!

    PS- My daughter’s name is Bree, and people are always asking her if I named her after the cheese!

  4. Kathy says:

    Thanks, you guys! The “copying” will just be an exercise, although I do love the simplicity with which Beard lays out the thoughts of a child and the recycled commands to a child. And the way she can capture a scene and a mood in a just a few sentences. And the way she is so informal. And… Oh well, my style is a little more formal and a little more wordy. OK, a lot more. But I think I will enjoy the practice! Bree, a pretty name.

  5. Sarah says:

    Kathy,

    I learned a lot about style and detail from Jo Ann Beard, too. And her work is also the one that sprouted this pet theory of mine: in fiction, you want the reader to identify with the main character; in nonfiction, you want the narrator or main character to be the reader’s “aspirational friend.” Nobody in their right mind would want to BE Beard in “The Fourth State of Matter,” but we all kind of want to know her, to be among the people milling around her house while she’s in the bathroom with the dog waiting for news, or maybe the red-haired beauty queen. We don’t want to be her, but we are certain we would like if she lived in our town and hope we’d be cool enough to have her like us back. This may not sound like much, but it really opened up a whole new set of writing possibilities to me. She showed me that it’s okay to take the reader to places s/he wouldn’t want to go on her own, or to let things remain unfixed and unresolved at the end of a piece, because the reader isn’t “in there” in the same way as s/he would be in fiction.

    I’m really glad you enjoyed the book, too! Her child-voice is so compelling, isn’t it? And pineapple is lovely, too!


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