"You Should Write About That"
of Aunt Lynne, lilacs, and other stories
Early Friday morning, Aunt Lynne was upstairs in my home, brushing the previous night’s side dish of fresh garbanzo beans from her wonderfully white teeth before padding down the stairway to meet me in the kitchen. We had plans to walk the Good Friday steps of Mt. Adams.
I too was upstairs, saying goodbye to my husband at that moment. We laughed over how Aunt Lynne made us feel, as if we too could live forever, like she most likely will. She, who would eventually climb 150 steps that day, meditating on life. “It will be a grand morning,” I said.
“You should write about that,” he joked, knowing that was my pet peeve. When someone suggests a topic for my writing.
Every writer I’ve known has fallen prey to this propensity of others to make this statement. It happens without those persons understanding, and sometimes without inquiring about the myriad other subjects one might currently be writing about—my recent list included zucchini, Italian citizenship, robotic pets for people with dementia, an old house and its ghosts, a novel set in 2000s, and a food memoir about my mother’s cooking.
Instead, they might expound on the topic of say, the growth of lavender on feudal farms, and note to the writer, “You should write about that.”
I’ve learned several lessons from this occurrence.
I don’t like people telling me what to do. Early in my writing career, I resisted when prompted to write about writing. I didn’t know enough to know what I didn’t know. Now, every day reveals a little more that I don’t!
People are fascinated by writers, asking them, “What are you working on, what have you published? There are others, including some close to us, who never ask, for fear the answer might be, “I’m writing about you.” Or “I’m writing about family—again.” Or “I’m writing something that will blow your socks off and might quite make me Stephen King-level famous in which case I would move to Maine.” Perhaps they don’t want me moving to Maine.
Mainly, I don’t want to write about someone else’s suggestions simply because I don’t want to ruin the moment. Aunt Lynne and I have been “doing the steps” since 1994 (she has the photo to prove it). The tradition brings forth special memories to us: when her nephew (my first husband) was playing golf while we stepped, when we toted her great nephew around and up the steps (for donuts), when she was yelled at for picking lilacs (you’ll want to know more), and this past week, when we could finally be together after quarantine. Some moments are too personal. I can only hold them in my heart.
Growing up, my father was the storyteller. This was before I knew to write his stories down. Later in life, he would ask, “You gonna write about that?” He both desired and feared what I might write when it came to our family, to our relationship, to him.
The thing is, while I’ve not written a book about or for Dad, and while poems line up at my door to write themselves about him, my writing is imbued with his presence every day. I’m inspired by his nonstop work ethic when I’m at my desk. And yet, our most cherished times are not quantifiable.
Truly, none of ours are.
In this same way, I don’t write much about most of my experiences in a blended family. There’s a reason the Brady Bunch television show spanned 117 episodes. There’s too much living to contain within a single blog. Too many hopes and hurts, too much love lost and found. So many intricacies, someone would ultimately feel as if they had become lost within the maze.
Recently, I met a woman who was related, not by blood, to Marge Schott, former Cincinnati Reds owner. Folks have a negative view of Marge. I do too as it relates to her racist perspective and remarks. I also would be curious to review at her life, to better understand her upbringing, the isolation she felt as a female owner, and how that environment might have influenced the many outcomes in her life. I told her relative to contact me if anyone wants to take another dive into her life story. Based on my own curiosity about how we and our perspectives are shaped by those who shape us, I would consider it a worthwhile project.
Most of us do not have the trained ear or eye or even heart to tell someone else what they should write, (unless it’s from a work assignment, a writing partner, or editor). Creative writers tend to follow their instincts honed over many pens and pages. Telling them, “You should write about that,” is akin to telling John Grisham to write romance novels.
As for my aunt, she’s the only person I might tolerate saying, “You should write about that.” She convinced me to read a bible passage at her father’s funeral when I felt still new to the family. With Lynne at my side, I’ve been coerced into snowshoeing in Wyoming and days at the zoo when it’s sweltering. She persuaded my son, Davis, when he was little, to jump two fences. It’s hard to say “no” to Aunt Lynne—because she does make you want to feel alive.
However, when it comes to writing about Lynne, she cannot be contained. One of the true lessons that comes from my aggravation regarding, “you should write about that,” is there are some topics in which I am not worthy as a writer to elicit on the page.
P.S. Shout out to the husband for telling me to write about “you should write about that.”