I have a collection of writer’s notebooks I’ve filled since 2009 when I attended the a National Writing Project summer institute, and my life changed. It’s been a long while since I explored the thinking I penned there. I don’t know why. There’s some real gems.
In the front cover of a purple notebook I starting in the fall 2013, a couple months before my mother died, I found four quotes I’d written in different colored pens.
“If I waited until I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.”
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
“Write to the one or two people who would git it, not to “readers” or “the market.”
“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
William Butler Yeats
You’d think I was planning on (and hesitating) writing a book or something. Guess I still am.
The first mentor text idea I noted as an idea to use with students is “Little Things are Big.” I couldn’t remember why I liked it but had written a question to the side: Why is this event important to the author? I looked up the title, and found this fantastic personal narrative by Jesus Colon. Watch the story here.
Then, I flipped a little further and found my own Little Things are Big. It’s ragged and pretty raw, but you’ll get the idea.
“Quick as a bunny.” It was written on a scrap of paper, tucked in the antique secretary my mother got from her grandmother. We found it the last evening I ever laughed with my mother.
My father slept in intensive care with a machine keeping him breathing, and every day I’d drive my mother to the hospital, so she could stay with him throughout the day. This was harder than it sounds.
My dad had covered my mother’s illness in platitudes. She was not doing “fine.” Her dementia had advanced to the point that she was often angry and unreasonable — so unlike my mother.
Alzheimer’s is a wrecking ball, leaving chaos and confusion, not just on the person who suffers from this illness but on entire families. So many days, trying to drive to the hospital, as she tried to open the door “to get there faster.” So many days, trying to coax a meal, a bath, or even sleep. My dad was the calming balm, the light in Mother’s darkness. And I became the enemy.
Then, one evening I wasn’t. For a hopeful moment, I saw my mother happy. Without prelude she walked to that old secretary, and then walked the sore hearts of my sisters and me through a journey of loving memories. She pulled out pictures and trinkets and old church magazines — all things that represented little parts of my mother’s huge and loving life. And we laughed as she laughed deep girlish giggles.
The funny thing? This silly, rambunctious, talkative woman — she wasn’t like my mother either. No, my mother was mostly demure — a lady in every sense of the word. Sure, she’d pitch in the occasional pithy line. She’d toy with her grandchildren, even tossing one or two in jest into the backyard pool, but she was never like this brash, loud, gregarious woman who laughed with us for a few precious hours.
When Mother passed away several months later, that disease had corrupted everything. Her language. Her love for those who loved her.
And I still grieve.
But I have this tiny note tucked away in the jewelry box my mother gave me, written in my mother’s hand, and that evening sealed in memory.
She held that scrap of paper in her soft papery hand and said, “My mother used to say that to Jody and me when it was our turn to do dishes: ‘Get them done. Quick as a bunny.’ And we did. Mostly.”
What little big things do you have to write about? How will you invite students to write their little big things?
Note: I think I will be revisiting my notebooks for awhile. More to come…
Amy Rasmussen just finished refinishing the perfect desk, and now she thinks she may have solved the problem of her writer’s block. She is the daughter of incredible parents and the mother of six incredible children. She loves sharing ideas that help move readers and writers, and she’s grateful to you for reading this blog. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass