My brother had a book with an orange cover called The Jet.(Disclaimer: book pictured is not my actual beloved book, but a similar looking one sold on Amazon.) We were both in Montessori preschool, though he was a year older. I wanted that book so badly it hurt. It had a jet that knocked a man’s hat into the mud, for goodness sake—what could be better than that? I begged them to teach me to read so I could have my very own copy. They made me wait until I was four (and probably passed my alphabet test or something) and then I was finally allowed into the beginning readers group. Every book hunger I’ve ever felt traces back to The Jet.
Beyond that, though, I wrote a college admittance essay on The Jet and according to the interviewer, that was what clinched my acceptance to The New School, which I still regret not attending. The interviewer said everyone else wrote about Tuesdays with Morrie. Now, I have never read it but as far as I know, Tuesdays doesn’t include a toy plane knocking someone’s hat into the mud, so it wasn’t really a fair competition.
The first book I became obsessed with as a child was The Hobbit. I read it at least once a year for most of my childhood. All of that reading and re-reading and reenacting came in handy, though. When my son was ten years old, he spent a few nights in the hospital with a hip injury, and when he began to freak out a little in the MRI tube, I just started reciting, “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…” and we got through it. By the time he left the hospital I had recounted the entire story.
As a writer I fell in love with Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir, The Chronology of Water.
She had me right from the Acknowledgements:
Her prose was heartbreakingly exquisite—Yuknavitch put words together in way that made me repeat over and over, “yes, that—exactly that!” She didn’t apologize for being wounded, nor did her scars make her any less beautiful. She wrote words that made me ache:
“I didn’t know yet how wanting to die could be a bloodsong in your body that lives with you your whole life.” (48)
She writes unapologetically about abuse, nonbinary sexuality, about making mistakes and living through them. Her writing is lyrical but not pretentious, nor is she afraid to be gritty:
“When I hold the photos, my father isn’t the abusive fuck. He becomes a different story…” (80)
She has chapters of traditional narrative and she inserts prose poems and she write chapters that are stream of consciousness run on sentences that go on for pages, but it all works. I had never read a book that played with structure so beautifully, and it gave me permission to let my own writing unfold in the whatever ways it needed to, without preconceived conceptions on how writing was supposed to work.
This book gave me courage to write and permission to tell my story in whatever form my story needed in order to evolve. I wrote an unsolicited Rabid Fan Review of The Chronology of Water, wrote about it in my critical essay for grad school, have given away several copies to people whom I think really need them, and teach it in every seminar I have the privilege of leading. I’m a self-appointed Lidia Yuknavitch evangelist. This book changed everything I thought I knew about writing a memoir. As always, she said it best:
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