By Candace Echols
Maybe you’d like to know what it feels like to have a column in which to share your thoughts and discover that you’ve come up empty. Just now, I started this space with this sentence: “I wonder if anyone else is grieving the death of the American childhood as much as I am.” I was going to go on about how people my age (43) had legit childhoods that involved bicycles and freedom and sunshine and sweat. I was going to wonder if children call each other anymore and say, “Hey. Can you play? Meet you at the corner!” But the whole world is grieving that, and no one seems to know how to fix it.
I considered writing about the funny ways in which people polarize themselves. Of course there are the obvious ones: dog people vs. cat people. But then there are the under-the-radar polarizations that often remain hidden. There are mothers who bottle-feed their children, and others who wouldn’t dream of anything other than breastfeeding. Later, when said children grow up and get lice from the movie theater seats, those same parents will separate into new factions: those who douse their kids’ heads in pediatrician-issued chemicals, or those who saturate scalps in natural olive oil every night for two weeks (I’m a chemical mom, in case you were wondering). There are Disneyworld people and people who prefer nature (it needs to be said that the Disney people are an especially committed lot). There are people who can give a shot in the arm and others who get the heebie-jeebies at the thought. Some people get carsick reading, others could read and roll all day. It’s interesting, the lines upon which we divide ourselves. Ah, but there I go again, writing about what everybody else is writing about.
I considered writing about the overlooked delight of rolling a fresh word around in the mouth. Words like troubadour, schlepping, archipelago, and flummoxed are so much fun to say, but are so often replaced with “easier” words that do nothing for the ear. I remember how an old friend used to say, “Why use the crayon box with only eight colors when the one with 64 is available?” Why say pretty when you could use idyllic? Why stop at interesting when you could go for mesmerizing? Why describe something as dumb when you could call it asinine? I keep a running list of delicious words and phrases so that I can drop them in here and there. One clip that caught my ear was “I love nothing more when I’m at the beach than fresh grease and salt.” Another was, “Gilmore Girls is good, yes, but culty.” And then there was that time I heard Mary Evelyn’s mom describe a friend’s age with perfect Southern grace: “Well, Abby, she was more adult than you are, less adult than I am.” But I skipped over that topic because, well, if we don’t have time to let our children play outside, we certainly can’t spare a second to say a sentence just because the sounds mix well.
The weather is always a topic that’s fun to pontificate about, because it keeps us on the edge of our seats. Fall has arrived; I don’t know of a Southerner who doesn’t appreciate autumn. It’s the break in the heat and the vanishing of humidity that makes us sing. Colors are brighter. Smiles are bigger. We can walk and breathe and dry our hair in half the time. But the weatherman talks about the weather and no one has offered him a column, so I’ll save us both and steer clear of that topic.
If I were a reader here, I would look for articles about things like the absence of anticipation, the fascinating culture of South Carolina oyster roasts, telescopes, how Jane Austen wrote the way she did, why the Dead Sea feels so thoroughly dead, and the reasons we need to feast together regularly right now. These are the types of things I like to talk about, but lately it seems hard to discuss anything other than politics and the dreadful news.
I wonder, if you were writing your own column, what would it be about? Would you write about the things that you remember from better days, like riding bikes at night? Would you craft your sentences with care, telling all about why you choose to drink decaf in the dark? What other topics have caught your attention lately that you’d love to tease out on the page? Have you stopped to wonder about things? I ask because without wonder, you cannot write. Without wonder, I’m not sure you’ll ever find yourself bothering about telescopes or oysters or anything at all on the other side of the world. Without wonder, a feast is just a quick bite to eat and that, my friend, is a sad state of affairs.
Reader, I challenge you to gear your brain in the direction of anticipation and delight, of freshness and fun—because what you think about, you might write about. What you might write about, you’ll find yourself talking about; and right now, our dialogues could use a little boost, don’t you think? As a rudder points a ship, they could stand to point us in a new direction; one that sounds more like, “Can you play? Great! Meet you at the corner!”
Of course, should you not be able to rise above, the perfectly maternal words of Jane Austen’s Mrs. Dashwood are reserved for you: “If you cannot think of anything appropriate to say, you will please restrict your remarks to the weather.”
StoryBoard features “The Yellow Chair ChronEchols” by writer Candace Echols. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine. Candace is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair.