Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cubicle Slaves Unite! In praise of grandmothers

An actor I know said to me,
"I hate those guys who are waiting tables and say, 'But I'm really an actor' . No buddy,  I'm an actor. You're a waiter who wants to be an actor. An actor is a person who acts. Not a person who wants to act. I used to be a real estate agent. Then I got work as an actor. Now I'm an actor."

I like my actor friend but I think he's a bit harsh. Is it true that you're defined by what pays you? I sure hope not, because that means I am Julia, Cubicle Drone. (Sounds like a sci-fi character.)

Where he's right is that if you DON'T act (or write), if you just keep talking about your great American novel, then no, you're not a writer.

I was reading a book by Madeleine L'Engle on the plane. I love her books, especially A Wrinkle in Time. When Madeleine was writing her first book, before she was published, was she not a writer? The book, by the way, was the Summer of the Great-grandmother. It is about her mother who is swiftly becoming senile.

I'm feeling like I'm not a writer this week because I haven't written anything. I was sent away for training, which really was not terrible but it took place in the middle of nowhere, scratch that, nowhere would be a rocking metropolis compared to this place. You can't even see nowhere from here. I couldn't write on the plane or in the airports, usually a good place for me to get some writing done, because I had to read these huge manuals in advance to be prepared when I got there. Added to it all, my own grandmother needed help so I have been with her a lot.

Speaking of grandmothers, here is something  I wrote a couple of weeks ago:


Gram is Dead

It was precisely because she was not the rebellious type that Mamie had run off with a gypsy. Gram herself had been a strong woman, but somehow that blood never made it into her daughter. Mamie had always been scared of her own shadow, going along with whatever the loudest,pushiest person in the room told her, whether she agreed with it or not. So, it was no real surprise when the gypsy insisted that she come with him when the band left town that she packed her meager possessions and went right along.

Fifteen years went by, years of traveling from town to town, doing as the gypsy bid her, before Mamie came through again, bringing her children, a girl of fifteen, a boy of ten and a toddler. Her mother welcomed her without much comment, hugged the children, and sat up evenings rocking and talking, catching up on their now separate lives. She hadn't bothered to remonstrate Mamie. She was what she was, and no amount of lectures, well-meaning as they might be, would turn a rabbit into a wolverine. A few weeks later, the gypsy came back for Mamie and she left, as she had before, in the middle of the night, taking two of the children with her.

The next morning, the grandmother had been sitting in her rocking chair, stirring her tea with a cinnamon stick, while she waited for the toddler to awake. Sylvie was sure now that wherever she went, the smell of cinnamon that filled the cottage would always remind her of her childhood.

“Well,” Gram had said dryly, “your mother seems to have forgotten something.”

She had been a bit taken aback when the child did not carry on or cry, did not even seem surprised, really. “She didn't forget me. She left me here on purpose.”

It had started to rain and a chill was settling over the small cottage. The grandmother walked slowly over to where the logs were laid in the fireplace, sprinkled something from her right hand and the wood burst into cheery flames.
“Hmm. Did your mother ever tell you that I'm a witch ?”
“No. Did she ever tell you that I'm thirteen years old?”

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