This week’s writing challenge: Practice the power of observation. http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/writing-challenge-details/#more-13485 Whether writing non-fiction essays, poems, short stories, novels, or memoirs, observation is key to creating a scene in the reader’s mind, setting the tone, and evoking the mood to tell the story. Take any person, place, or event, and write three paragraphs that invite your reader into that space.
I learn a lot from other writers. In Understanding Personal Essays: Short and Sweet, Abigail Green writes that short essays only have room for the “meat”. Whittle. Whittle. Whittle. Then focus the lens and find the details that deliver the emotion.
The large is present in the small, says poet Ted Kooser, the details make experiences unique and authentic.
I took a memoir class given by an extraordinary writer/teacher/editor and this piece was the result. Thanks, Lary.
Grandma spreads the whitest of linen over the tables on the sun porch and smoothes the nests of wrinkles until they lay flat. She sets the rolling pin, flour canister and jelly jar within reach. Then she dons her apron and worries the wispy gray strands on the nape of her neck into the black hairnet.
“Guardi,” she says .
Grandma makes a ‘well’ of flour in the center of a large wooden board and, in the middle, cracks the eggs. She beats the eggs ever so gently, blending the inside wall of flour as she goes. Soon the dough is ready, the creamy ricotta is drained. The scent of freshly chopped mint and grated nutmeg hangs in the air. Grandma moves in and out of the kitchen, gathering a few utensils, a fork for crimping and a bowl of water. It is ravioli day.
I watch as Grandma smoothes the dough into a circle, comic blue veins dancing across her hands. With pronounced thrusts of the rolling pin, she creates an unplowed field, a large thin rectangle of dough ready to receive the ricotta mixture. Her deft movements leave rows of milky mounds which she skillfully covers with a fold of the dough. With brisk moves of the knife, she cuts the mounds apart. As she works, she hums and Caruso croons, the faint echo of his wedding canzone coming from the Victrola. Then it is my turn. My job is to seal and crimp. Grandma watches as I invert the jelly jar over each mound and twist it a few half turns. Then I press the tines of the fork in the edges all the way around until the ravioli is made fast. We work together like that for hours, sealed in quiet. Washed in velvet light, the porch cools as the late day sun rests its face on the window sill. The afternoon’s work lay around us, each ravioli the size of a mouse’s ear.
I loved being on the sun porch with Grandma. I worked at her elbow, I pressed against her side, I leaned into her thigh. The shape of her lay like a promise between us. I don’t recall if we talked much during those long afternoons. All I remember is that she hugged me tight and called me Bella.