“Blow and suck!”
“What?” I said, red in the face and dripping sweat from exertion.
“I said, blow and suck.” She wasn’t red in the face. She wasn’t breaking a sweat. Things were happening on her end.
“Are you sure?” I asked as I caught my breath.
“Yes.” She said demonstrating easily. No panting. No dripping. No wasted effort. Calm face like the Madonna.
“Okay,” and I did exactly as she said.
“Aren’t you glad you followed my directions?” she asked.
I nodded with my mouth full. She looked on with pride, a small smile on her lips.
Those were my friend’s instructions for enjoying a pineapple milkshake through a straw. Despite the mostly creamy goodness, little chunks of pineapple would get stuck halfway up the straw. Blow and suck. Doesn’t it make sense now?
Her words sound vulgar out of context but I love the precision and brevity. Clear, pithy directions are few and far between. They are difficult to write. But when I screw up the courage to face what I honestly need or want or desire, the words come easily.
This is how I feel about writing. I can be all red-faced and stumbling, wasting time with trying to make it pretty or I can put myself out there. Concisely. With chunks of acute vulnerability. Sometimes my writing blows or sucks (depending on your generation) but I keep trying for clarity, for the honest words that could be off-putting but are true and direct.
At my writing group of many years, I read a story around the repercussions of my mother’s adolescence during the Holocaust. It’s not a pretty story. Neither my mother nor I look loving or smart or kind in the narrative. After reading the last sentence, I looked up from the page – into silence. Within a minute, one member rushed to the bathroom to throw up. More silence.
I put the piece away for a year but the value of the story kept pulling me back to it. I submitted the piece to an anthology for children of Holocaust survivors. The editor loved it but the anthology folded. He said that his authors had difficulty being brutally honest about their families’ histories. I submitted the story to other anthologies and publications. A flurry of rejections arrived.
Two years later, I tightened up the story and submitted it again. I believe in the story – a good story but dead of night dark, scalpel sharp, and so honest, my teeth ache, scraped raw. Waiting for a reply, I am gobbling down pineapple milkshakes. The calcium can’t hurt, it might be a long time before it is published, but mainly to remind myself about the need for and value of honesty, directness, and clarity in my writing (and life).
Now go out there and practice on your pineapple milkshake. Once you have that, risk honest words on paper. Blow and suck.