An important component of Carpe Annum – claiming the year – is claiming the past. Taking stock and acknowledging how we got to this point in our lives as writers. Identifying the layers of the bedrock we’ve built upon, including great books, great writers, mentors and encouragers great and small, who steered and cheered us on. This segues naturally into a Mother’s Day appreciation since next Sunday is THE day. (Get those cards in the mail today, if you haven’t already.)
My sweet mother just turned ’91 or 90, whichever.’ I chuckled to myself when she said this. It was so similar to the opening of Water For Elephants. What’s a year when you’re approaching a century? I credit her for introducing me to a lifetime of reading.
I remember the excitement when a package came in the mail for me at the age of five or six containing three books by a new children’s author named Dr. Seuss. I assume The Cat in the Hat arrived first, or whatever, as mom says. Every few months another package arrived with more books until we had a small collection. I think I had first seen them in the dentist’s office. I had soft teeth, and having bitten my old dentist (not soft enough, apparently), he had referred me to a new-fangled pediatric dentist who very wisely prescribed a pre-appointment sedative and filled his waiting room with children’s books. Later, reading them to my own children, I realized my mother must have gone nuts repeating those nonsensical rhymes over and over, but she never quit, even after I could recite them by heart. My particular favorites were Put Me in the Zoo, Go Dog Go, and One Fish Two Fish. Interestingly, Dr. Seuss credits his own mother with inspiring him to write books. You can read about his journey (27 rejections for the Cat in the Hat) at http://www.catinthehat.org/history.htm.
When I was older, mom took me to the library and signed for me to get my own library card. It was the first official card in my plastic wallet. The children’s books were located in a snuggly, low-ceilinged basement that muffled all sounds of outside civilization. I could have brought my sleeping bag and settled in. I overheard mom telling the librarian that my teacher said I was ahead of my grade in reading, and the librarian showed me the stacks for more advanced reading. It was something mom never would have told me, not wanting my head to ‘get big.’ Parents had to keep their kids' feet on the ground in the 1960s.
Later, mom and I read Victoria Holt’s books until we could predict the endings, and moved on to Agatha Christie and L.M. Montgomery. The day came in my adolescence when I picked up a paperback novelization of one of my favorite shows, The Avengers. Not the Marvel Comics superheroes – I’m talking John Steed and Emma Peel, the British agents. I argued hotly for it and she clucked her tongue and shook her head before allowing me to buy it with the caveat that if there was inappropriate material, I would stop reading. Now we were swimming out past the buoy into unknown literary waters. She trusted me and I felt mature enough to handle whatever it contained. I had no intention of getting rid of it. I read the book in my room, anxious that ‘the passage’ might appear. And, of course, it did – not even a scene, but an offhand comment that shocked me. By today’s standards, it was mild, but I felt chagrined and tossed the paperback with my favorite actors on the cover in a place where she would never find it. To her credit, she never asked about it until a year or so later. I simply acknowledged that she was right and she never said another word. Good form, mom.
Then, in high school English class, we read West Side Story. I was a bit shocked and disturbed by one scene in the book which I felt was inappropriate for high school, and I skipped over it. Mom, of course, managed to pick up the book and flip to THAT scene, which triggered a tirade and a threat to call the principal’s office. I talked her down from the edge, assuring her that it was the only book that had anything offensive in it that we had read and she cooled off. I mean, if you overlooked Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace, which she didn’t need to know about.
Mom and I continued to swap book titles until our tastes parted ways. She even read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But she loved a good mystery best of all. She read so many from her local library that she had to make a small mark inside the cover when she was done so she wouldn’t check it out again. I was shocked that she would be so bold as to mark in a library book. Well, maybe not.
I think the thing I appreciate the most is that she didn’t discourage me when I said I wanted to write. Mom was never overly demonstrative – so not her generation. But she proudly took my first book into the library where the librarian added it to a display case for local authors. I dedicated that book to her and my family, but the dedication page was inadvertently omitted (stuff happens) and the page made it into the next book.
Whose shoulders do you stand on in your writing journey? Who has helped you build a foundation to Carpe Annum? We’d love to hear!