To Write …Posted: January 24, 2009
It is six thirty in the morning and I’m sitting in my burgundy leather chair at my desk, fingers on the keyboard. I roll the tips in tiny circles over the ASDF and JKL; and think how good it feels. I finally got around to clipping my fingernails last night; I cannot stand to type with with a nail, and I had let them go too long.
Above me warm air rushes out of the vent, purring, lulling. I do not want to be lulled. I want to write an essay for my memoir, but I cannot think of anything to write about. The air stops abruptly.
I go downstairs for more coffee. The Cuisinart is set to go off automatically, and it is OFF. I stick my refill in the microwave for twenty seconds.
Is that it? Is my life over in 45,000 words? There’s not much to read about within that count. I did not have a colorful life. I didn’t lie much. I didn’t do too much that was illegal. Who wants to read about the adventures of a nice girl? I remember the words of the New York literary agent who looked me in the eye and said, “You must either have a platform … or it’s about the writing. You better have some damn good writing.”
I think back to my early years in the Mississippi Delta. My only “platform” is the Time and Place where I grew up. What’s left for me to write about? Dress fashions and stretching the clothes budget by buying patterns and material? Entertainment in a small Delta town? Looking for UFOs? Playing in a cotton trailer on a moonlit night with my boyfriend?
Or maybe the Sunday afternoon my best friend Gerri and I took her daddy’s 1949 truck for a spin up Highway 61. Her mama and daddy had gone to Winona to visit her grandparents. We were sixteen and out of things to do. I had Maybelline, my 1960 green Ford Fairlane 500, but then I had her all the time. No, we needed a little excitement, something different, a new look, and besides, the keys were in the old beige jalopy-like, barely-sputtering machine. There was just one challenge.
“It doesn’t have a second gear,” she said.
“Your dad gets to work in it.”
This was an old timey straight-shift vehicle that looked like a cockroach, only lighter in color.
Before we headed out of her driveway and down Memorial Drive and Boyle’s main street to the highway, we tested one of her daddy’s cigars from the glove compartment. We held it between our fingers, sniffed it, lighted it, took a puff. One was enough.
We bounced and lurched to the highway, and then as we built speed, Gerri had to pull over to the gravel shoulder to force the gear from first to third. In those days before seat belts, I rolled around on the padded and torn vinyl, laughing at her efforts. She had one hand on the steering wheel, one on the feeble gear shift, left foot on the clutch, right foot working the brake and accelerator, and she somehow punched the radio buttons, and she never stopped talking herself through the shifting and clutching. She never faltered as we hopped up 61 on a stretch between Boyle and Cleveland, cut back to Memorial Drive on a gravel road over the railroad track, kicking up dust behind us, windows down, static radio competing with our laughter.
Or maybe I should write about the day she got a speeding ticket on Memorial Drive in her Plymouth on the way to Youth Choir at the Baptist Church.
Alas. I should stop writing now. I’m meeting two friends for coffee at the Henpeck Market this morning — one friend at ten, the other at eleven. I should put some polish on my fingernails before I go. And stick my jeans in the dryer. And make my bed and scour out the kitchen sink. And I should go for a walk and eat some Cheerios and an orange. And empty the wastebasket that I didn’t have time to take out on trash day yesterday. My, how life gets in the way of writing.