Friday, April 26, 2013


When I was 11, or maybe 12, my mother and I went to a bookstore.

It's not exactly a notable beginning for anyone who knows us in real life; my mother and I always go to bookstores. Always.

Barnes & Noble is the place we inevitably find ourselves at the end of the day that we go into town when I am visiting Illinois or they are visiting here, and for most of my childhood a visit to the bookstore was a sign that my mother and I had gone out to get the groceries alone. It was our final stop; the groceries in the car gave us a time limit on how long we could stay, something we desperately needed, as otherwise we could easily lose an hour in there.

In this particular story, however, we went shopping in Champaign; I don't remember why. This was before the days of my obsession with Hot Topic (at the time of my teenagehood, the closest one was in the Champaign mall, roughly 1 hour and 10 minutes from our doorstep - not that I counted) and we didn't go to Champaign all that often.

This day, for whatever reason, we did.

There wasn't a Barnes & Noble there that I remember, but there was a Waldenbooks inside the mall. Generally, there was a rule to these things; we went to a bookstore, I always got a book. Maybe not always always, but Mom and I are Book People. She is where I learned that you never have enough books until you don't actually know how many are on your shelves.

From the moment I learned to read, I would usually prefer books to anything else we might buy anyway. Except for toy horses. But that's another story and shall be told another time.

(Name that reference, get imaginary internet prizes!)

In any case, we hit up Waldenbooks before we left the mall. Waldenbooks were small places, crammed floor-to-ceiling, which I kind of liked; I've always liked the way books smell, and picking through a haphazard pile only to find the perfect book I didn't know I was looking for is one of the great Zen moments of my life. There is a victory to be had in rumpled messy bookstores. Although that's not really how I would have put it at the time.

Keep in mind that in this story, I am 11 or 12 years old.

Mom said for me to pick out one book for myself. I lost myself in looking around; by this point I mostly bypassed kids' or what passed for young adults' books entirely. Young Adult sections at bookstores are huge now, but at the time you might find a shelf or two, with a few Francesca Lia Block books, maybe some Lois Lowry or Cynthia Voight. Beyond that, I either had to make do with kids' books, which didn't interest me any more, or try and convince my mother that whatever book I picked up didn't have anything in it I probably wasn't old enough to read.

In one of the nonfiction sections, I came across a book that I was interested in. I spent some time flipping through it, then took it up to my mother as she looked at magazines waiting for me, and told her this was the one I wanted.

She looked at it; a trade paperback with a white cover, with How to Write & Publish Your First Novel scrawled across the front. To her credit, all she responded with was, "Are you sure?"

I told her I was, and that was that; we purchased the book (along with a couple of other books for Mom and a magazine maybe) and left. I didn't wait until we made it home. I pulled the book out of its bag right away and started flipping through it as soon as the van was headed back.

"So you want to be a writer?" Mom, navigating a couple of intersections to get us back on the Interstate, headed towards home.

I nodded, skimming a section on genres. Sci-fi/fantasy looked right, I thought; it matched the stories my best friend Rikki and I had often told each other, it matched the kind of stories I made up on my own, and the books I liked best.

"What do you want to write?" Mom asked, and we started to talk while we drove home.

She never said 'no' to the book, or that it wasn't a responsible purchase. My mother's reply was not to tell me that she didn't think an 11 or 12 year old needed this adult reference book, or to start telling me about all the hardships and reasons I shouldn't want to write books. She didn't try to talk me out of it, never made me feel for a second as if it might have been the wrong choice to buy it.

Instead, she asked me about being a writer, and we talked about it for most of the ride home.

It's my mother's birthday today, and I've spent about a month going back and forth on a story that might explain what my mothe is to me.

What I've come up with is more than a little bit inadequate, but it is this; when I told her I wanted to be a writer, her response never even hinted that she didn't believe I could. In the same fashion, when I told her I wanted to go to art school, she never said that wasn't an option. Although she may have hinted at more practical Bachelor's Degree pursuits now and then. When I got on a plane by myself for the first time at 19 years old to go spend two weeks with a family in upstate South Carolina and she had only met their son that I was dating, she saw me off to the airport, hugged me goodbye, and I didn't realize she worried about me until long after I got back in Illinois safe and sound.

Besides, it was a book. Your children can never read too much, or have too many books. Which is another thing she taught me, one among the thousands of lessons I've learned from her.

Happy birthday, Mom.

P.S. does it count as being a writer if I just write stuff for free on the internet?


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