Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lightening Bugs from the Porch

Dear Eudora Welty,

I told my children about sex in front of the rabbit pen. The bunnies were doing what bunnies do. The older children sensed the import of it all, but the youngest claims to this day I didn't tell her at all. Telling these top secrets at too young an age can, at times, result only in satisfaction to the heart of parents that the deed is done.

When my daughter told me in her late teens that I had failed as a mother, I immediately launched into an explication of the subject right there at the dinner table. The reaction: "Stop, stop. You are too late now." I received a similar reaction from my married children when I flew a trial balloon with them to test the wording for my next survey question. "What, do you think, is the most important element of sexual practice in the lives of committed partners?" This time the reaction was just, "STOP. STOP." (Oh, the life of the pure researcher is certainly a daunting one.)

I'm bringing this up with you because I'm reading your musings in a book titled, One Writer's Beginnings. I'm reading what, apparently, was originally a lecture entitled, Listening. You say,

"Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has never been a line read that I didn't hear. As my eyes followed the sentence, a voice was saying it silently to me. It isn't my mother's voice, or the voice of any person I can identify, certainly not my own. It is human, but inward, and it is inwardly that I listen to it. It is to me the voice of the story or the poem itself. The cadence, whatever it is that asks you to believe, the feeling that resides in the printed work, reaches me through the reader-voice."

You ask whether others hear that voice too. Yes, I do. And sometimes I must read aloud to hear the intonations in unison and test the sound to make sure that I am hearing it right. I hear it even more when I am writing. I think that is why I've started to blog, to get the sound out of my head and onto the screen. I write it down so I'll have it for later, so I can check it and make sure it is true. If it stays inside my head, I can't, as you say, "begin the process of testing it for truth."

When you interrupted your mother as she broached the subject of sex, and instead chose to talk of lightening bugs, do you think you weren't ready to test those words for truth? Perhaps, she would have done better to read the words from a book so the voice telling you those truths would have been one other than your mother's. There are words that mothers just aren't allowed to say because testing a mother's words for truth is almost a sacrilege. It is better to say, "Stop, stop. Look at the lightening bugs."


Betsy DeGeorge

P.S. I certainly hope your read my last letter to Toni Morrison. I haven't finished with you on that subject yet!


Conversely said...

Does anyone want to talk about sex with their mothers?

And I definitely hear the words; I'd never seen that Welty piece, either, thanks! Isn't it wonderfully reassuring that the voice is at once unrecognizable and so familiar. (I hear it right now!)

brd said...

Annie Dillard's "The Writing Life" is another fine piece of exposition on the internal light with which the writer finds their way.

Of course, admit it or not, much of the light or shadow comes from Mommy or Daddy, whether or not they talked to us about sex. And the voice we hear, may not be their's but it does speak their dialect.

Anne G G said...

I think you can learn to be able to talk to your mother about sex . . . just not in front of your new husband.

Course I did blurt out that thing about babies in the kitchen . . .

If you ask the survey question, I'll answer it. Heck, you can say anything via blog.