Last month I read Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. I’m still trying to find the way to write about it, about all the ways it has affected me. I’m not there yet. I think I need to read it again, need to have a few more conversations about it. I most want to have those conversations with my mother, with my sister. I hope it happens.
In the mean time, I am still writing 420-character stories, and Wilkerson’s book has inspired several. They are stories about — but not about — my mother, my father. They are fiction, only the smallest of details drawn from a reality I know. So I’m calling them “invented memoir.” I’m not sure, but I think they may give me the safe distance to talk about this book, this history, all the ways my point of view has shifted as I’ve thought about this history in my own family.
Here are two pieces:
My mother walks down 42nd toward Times Square, every bit the part – “glamorous starlet” – she has played since moving here. Lips a perfect red, black liner shaping a seductive cat’s eye. In this neighborhood she needn’t worry about women calling at her to clean their toilets, but must look out for men who think she’ll take their money, their filth. She exhales as she reaches the theater door, lifts her head higher.
When my mother and father meet, they don’t think about how the south connects them. They’re from such different places, after all. His North Carolina no mirror of her Texas. And they’re New Yorkers by then, lives turning on new axes. But it’s there, their old lives, the old hurts and shames. It’s what joins them even before they first speak of the past, before they tie their histories together.
I’m still interested in just how much room this tiny space gives me to express something. In some ways, it’s actually perfect for these created memoirs. I don’t, after all, know these stories — not really, not well. Having only a few brief lines to paint a picture gets me out of the story’s way, forces only a handful of critical bits onto the page.
You can find all of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.