Go On Home Now And Get Your Topic

It is very important to go home if you want your work to be whole. You don’t have to move in with your parents again and collect a weekly allowance, but you must claim where you come from and look deep into it. Come to honor and embrace it, or at the least, accept it.

—Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

I think of tennis at this time of year, when the weather is right. I think about the springs and summers I spent walking from my house to the tennis courts a mile away, swinging my wooden racket, lugging a book-bag full of lime green tennis balls, a water bottle, a soft old towel to wipe away the sweat. For a while, until college led me in other directions, tennis was my good-weather passion.  I even spoke ‘Tennis’ with other racket-wielding friends, using words like set, let, and net–a whole Dr. Seuss-y rhythm of words–as  metaphors for our young-life challenges and victories.  Sometimes, we mused, it was good to rush the net, and sometimes, you needed to vanish backward, ready for the strong forehand volley you just knew was headed your way.

Tennis makes me think of Anne Lamott, that witty, unrepentant God-lover; I have a collection of her earlier books.  She shares her journey from drugs and alcohol to Jesus; she writes about the church that saved her; she creates a vibrant portrait of one kind of joyfully muscular single motherhood.  But the first Lamott book I ever read was Crooked Little Heart, a coming-of-age novel about a girl who played tennis.

Lamott herself was a girl who played tennis; she wove her young passion into her writing, and it seems to me that opened all kinds of doors.

Here’s another one: Pat Conroy.  I remember reading The Great Santini, loving it and cringing at the awful father-son relationship at the same time.  The background music in that book was the thwack of a basketball on the driveway cement, the churgle of the ball on the rim as it circled, deciding; the rare but satisfying swish.  Conroy’s young life was infused with and defined by basketball; it surfaces in his novels.  His boyhood obsession is the basis for his memoir, My Losing Season. Conroy tapped into his youthful passion and came up with written gold.

Tennis was a passion for me, early on; so were drawing and painting and knitting.  Going back even further, there was religion–that created a firm scaffold for my childhood, delineating and defining it.  To understand my past, I have to dissect the experience I had of growing up, a Catholic girl-child in 1960’s small town USA.  I loved, too, reading and eating chocolate and playing yard games in the gloaming; I gloried in the rare campfires and lake visits, and in the process of learning to bake. Because we moved so many times, I learned to be amazed by the possibility of transformation that painting a room, arranging the furniture a new way, changing up the window treatments, made possible–and the effect that surroundings have on their people.

I sit in this advanced seat and I look at all those things–those passions and past-times–and I realize they are the vehicles that brought me to this particular chair. I need to take a pencil and poke around in the remnants of all of those things–the things I buried and left behind, the things with powerful glue that stuck with me.  I need to suss out the nuggets. Those are the me-shapers.

What are the you-shapers?  What childhood passions consumed your time?  What was the reward at the end of a stint of diligently doing what you were SUPPOSED to do so you could go on to doing what you WANTED to do?  What, when you were a child, brought you that total and unmitigated joy?

Natalie Goldberg, in her wonderfully inspirational book, Writing Down the Bones, sends us home–home to our childhoods, home to our first place, home to where all the seeds now flowering were planted.  The odd and the ordinary, the victories and disappointments, the strange and the strained relationships, the unfailing love and acceptance: whatever it was, whoever we were–those days set us on the course to now.  We spread them out. We pick one thread. We pull.

That thread is a mystery unraveled, a clue leading to solution.

That thread is a topic for a wonderful post.

Happy blogging, my friends!