Thursday, April 9, 2009

Writing Life, Part Two: A Literate Lineage

In an email last year, my mother intimated to me that she didn't feel that they had contributed significantly to my writing skills. (Such as they are.) I wish to say here and now, in front of God and these witnesses... Au contraire!  

I'm still trying to decide if she meant she didn't want credit for all this... (it's a bit late for that, don't you think?)  

We'll set aside the fact that dad accidentally taught me to type partly because he didn't like my messy handwriting and simply point out that my upbringing (as previously noted) was quite literary. 

Both of my parents tattooed the love of reading into my psyche. Mrs Robinson and the English teachers that preceded her may have taught me to care about the difference between "it's" and "its", but that doesn't get mom and dad off the hook.  

My friends will tell you that I talk about my parents a lot and with good reason. They brought to me the worlds of Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, The Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, H. Rider Haggard, and the rest. I came to be aware of a wider world than that of our small town in Missouri. Mark Twain alone (who was also coincidentally from a small town in Missouri) made me believe that this was something I could do too. We went to libraries instead of sitting at home watching TV. 

I wanted to be well read because it looked like A Good Thing To Be. In our house, it was the only way to be.  

Mom & dad also taught me funny. But that's more than how to tell a joke. I was introduced not only to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but to Red Skelton and Jack Benny. I learned that being funny didn't require a four-letter vocabulary and that clever was better than brassy (the most important lesson any writer can learn in my opinion) and not to bite off a subject I can't chew. 

It's appropriate that my first published short story was a humorous lark about daylight savings time being used to avert Armageddon. 

I also learned that "neatness counts" and if I can't write it neatly, then type it. I got all that somewhere, and I don't really think I got it at school. I couldn't have because honestly, I wasn't really paying that much attention in class. (ahem)  When my fourth grade teacher challenged my authorship of a paper, dad went to bat for me. "Yes, a fourth grader really can write like that..." Incidentally, I began my first novel that year. (I recall it later caused trouble with the administration because it was an action-adventure kids-are-smarter-than-adults kind of novel and they didn't approve of such notions.)  

Most writers I know are readers who read something somewhere along the way and say "Psht! I could do better than that!" This is generally followed by someone who says, "Really? Then maybe you should." For me, it was my parents, who told me it was ok to be a writer as long as I got my homework done first. (Not that I ever did...) 

Parents who make it a Good Thing to be well-read, literate, and well-spoken are forming adults who hold the same values even if we don't seem to be getting it at the time. I'm not sure my parents appreciate how rare they were when compared to the parents of my friends in highschool and college. No matter how you cut it, parenting as much as anything made me a writer. 

Sorry, mom. You're just going to have to accept your share of the blame... er... credit.


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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).