Photo by Lucas Pezeta from Pexels
Ellen Santasiero ` November 2019
In August, I visited my mother in upstate New York. For me, and her, I brought along poet Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights: Essays. Each very short essay extolls a delight the author experienced. Simple moments, mostly things he noticed by staying still and paying attention. The book was a hit with my mother, and we decided soon after she skimmed several essays that we would both write a delight each day, à la Gay, during my visit.
I am my mother’s daughter in many ways, not least of which is my indefatigability when it comes to second-hand shopping. I’m talking a packed lunch, a bottle of water, comfortable shoes, and clothes easily whipped on and off in a dressing room. When I visit, we make the rounds: Divine Consign, The Bargain Box, and “the Sal”, my mother’s name for The Salvation Army.
Dumpy, very dumpy, is the Sal, but we go every time. The linoleum floor is dirty, the white walls escape consideration. Putty-colored metal shelves proffer one undistinguished ceramic mug after another. The dressing rooms are devoid of hooks and graced with stern warnings. But, we ignore all that and focus on what’s important. After all, a few years ago, I found, on one of the racks, my favorite dress.
When I shop, I pay attention to fabric: linen, wool, and silk. Color: blue, blue, and blue. Wear: no stains, tears or pills. Fit: perfect, perfect, and perfect. And then there’s the tag color of the day that means half-price. The August day my mom and I were there, it was yellow.
But that day because I had agreed to write a delight, I thought I should pay attention to something else.
I cruised the VHS tapes, the furniture, and the forsakens on the putty shelves. No, no, and no. Then I saw a framed print of a Chinese scene. A gesture, really, in the Asian tradition. Strokes of black ink. A wash of atmosphere. In the foreground, there were two individuals in a boat, behind them a clutch of simple buildings on shore, and then three understated trees in a line that led the eye to, I guess, infinity.
No doubt it was the daubs of the most beautiful blue—on the shirt of one of the figures and in the buildings—that drew me in. They certainly did delight me. I wrote the thing up and while writing I enlarged the photo I’d taken so that I could see what the people in the boat were doing. They were so tiny. When I enlarged it, I could see the one in blue hauling something up out of the depths and the other one packing something—the same thing?—into a container.
The writing was a way to connect with my mom, who I have limited time with because she is 90. But it was also a reminder that those who pay attention need not write, but those who write need to pay attention. Who knows, maybe I’ll use the observations and reflections on the Chinese print in a piece of future writing. Maybe as a metaphor for me and my mom. If so, I will be the one in blue, hoping that I can haul something worth preserving up out of the depths.
Reading can lead to writing. Promising someone else that I will write is more likely to lead to writing. When most everything in life conspires to drive me from my writing desk, I’m glad for any strategy that pulls me back.
P.S. Well, writers, I did it. In my January blog for this site, I committed to scheduling a public reading of my work before the end of the year. On Thursday, November 14, at 7pm at the Workhouse in Bend, I will read from my memoir-in-progress. Gulp. Let me know if you have a reading coming up!