By Susan Silver
“My mother is a poem
I’ll never be able to write,
though everything I write
is a poem to my mother.”
– Sharon Doubiago
My fingers moved furiously across the page. Moving with strokes trying to stay between the grid in front of me. I remember tracing these figures for hours with an urgency to learn how to print my letters. I was young then, too young to remember all the small details. Yet, the memory was imprinted in my consciousness as I studied my hands on the page.
My teachers had often chided me over my handwriting. My penmanship was not up to their “ideal”. My writing was not legible, it had no flow, there was something wrong. I was not progressing as well as my peers.
At some point a teacher or a parent looked at my hands. They noticed the way I gripped the writing instrument.I was holding my pencil all wrong.
I held my pencil like a Calligrapher, straight up. My tiny fingers gripping the sides. Making movements with my wrist. Holding the pencil upright and stiff between my fingers. I would move my arm in sweeping motions, which would have been fine for pictograms, sumi ink, and rice paper.
I was taken to a store. The kind with the generic posters, the lesson planners, and various instruments of educational torture. I was a kid. This was not my favorite place to be. I felt that I would run into my teacher at any moment. If I could have stayed in the car I would have, but my mother needed my opinion on the color of pencil grips.
We bought some funky looking ones. These weren’t the traditional triangles that you may have encountered.These were globs with indents. Your fingers were meant to slide into the grooves.
Even after the purchase, I still remember working late into the night tracing figures. Until the pressure from the grip left a mark on my middle finger. A deep and dark purple bruise that stretched beyond the flesh.The alphabet was etched into the memories of my digits.
Today, If my hands are idle, they will occupy themselves by writing out the alphabet on the nearest piece of blank paper.
* * *
Like many of the Millennial generation I found myself returning to the nest. My youthful dreams shattered by a failing economy and student loan debt. It was during this time, when I felt the most lost, that I turned to a familiar friend. In 2010, I took on my first paid writing assignment. Within the year I was able to save my money and move out of my childhood home for good.
I traveled for a while and then settled into the town where my mother was living. I began to heal. I felt contentment, an aching happiness that hurt my sides from laughing too hard.
The transformation that had overtaken me when I began to write was now a focused beam of energy. It was if every rain drop that fell on me in this sleepy Oregon town was voltage charging my battery. I become more open, loud, and quick to start conversations. Ideas came easily and I wrote constantly. I was eager to hear more about my grandmother, my mother, and her sisters.
I began to ask my mother more questions about her childhood. I heard stories about my Grandmother, a writer as well. During her lifetime she had worked on a manuscript about a colony of Jewish families that disappeared from China during the revolution. These were not holocaust survivors, but descendants of merchants from the original diaspora. I also learned that she was well educated in literature and wrote poetry inspired by the bible and other great works. When she passed on, this treasury was lost.
During these conversations, it became clear that my mother saw us as cast from the same mold. As a child she must have seen my suffering. She had offered me the same tools of escape she had learned from her mother, escape through reading and writing. These skills were passed on from generation to generation to children seeking solace from dysfunctional families. She had unwittingly impressed upon me this lineage. I could no longer doubt that my love of the written word had come from myself alone. It was motivated from a deep well of feminine intuition.
My mother never stopped writing, but she never saw the success from it that she wanted. Once, she was asked to write a manuscript about a particular set of Native American artisans. She had completed most of the research on her own and had an oral contract. One that would have been replaced with a written version if she had followed through.
She gave up. One reason why she had taken the assignment was to be closer to my father. She had to go to the Library downtown every day to complete here notes. Conviently, the office my father worked on was across the street. Every day she dropped by to eat lunch with him.
She came by a few times, until my father had a little talk with her. He politely asked her to stop coming around the office. My mother took this as a hint and stopped in her tracks. She never completed the manuscript.
The stories of the women in my family play out so similarly. The same beats.
Dysfunctional childhoods, escape through reading, a proclivity for words, and a male figure that holds a certain power over us.
Now my hands fly over the keyboard, I type out my next blog post with a flurry of movement. My fingers have the accuracy of a B-52 bomber. They hit their targets, the keys, with a deadly accuracy. I begin to notice that my “e” sits a little lower than it did before. Its frequent use has made it less resilient.
Any day it will take flight from the keyboard and disappear. A casualty of the war I am waging against it. The blitzkrieg has only begun and I will be writing for at least another 30 minutes.
I stretch my arms, they ache from the marathon writing session. I catch a glimpse of the silhouette on the wall and spy the profile my grandmother. No, it is the obviously the sturdy chin of my mother. I think of them and remember that purple bruise. It has marked me as a writer. I thank my shadow for its gifts.The cacophony of clicks becomes louder as I begin to type again.