I stayed up until after 3 a.m. finishing The Help. That’s not entirely accurate. I finished the book around 1:45 and stayed awake beating myself up for not coming up with the idea first, for probably never being able to write such a book, for not starting to write seriously until I was middle aged; despairing that it took Kathryn Stockett five years to write that book and I’m drowning in despair after being at it for five months…I’ve got no talent, no confidence, no hope…the internal tirade went on and on. Suddenly, I heard a woman’s voice.
Uh-oh, you know you’re in trouble when your mama (dead since 1988) starts advising you in the wee hours of the morning…
“Well, now…” Mama’s voice drawls. She sounds way more Southern than she did when she was alive (having moved north as a young woman, she did everything she could to lose her Texas accent). I guess those Mississippi accents from The Help are still in my brain. “I don’t expect anyone figures you can write a book like that. (Emphasis hers, not mine but since she’s in my head maybe it is me, not her – things are murky and confused at 2:30 a.m). “You just go on and write the best you can, honey.”
There it is: the soft-pedaled blow to the ego that my mother was so adept at. Drape a Southern accent on and it almost sounds encouraging until you stop and think about it. Like a lemon meringue pie that looks delicious but the aftertaste is way too tart.
I fall asleep somewhere around 3:30. I wake at seven with a bitter taste in my mouth and a 500 lb load of self-doubt on my chest. I move around waking kids and stumbling over the cat wondering out loud if I should just power down my laptop for good and give up. I get in the shower and ponder what career opportunities might be available to a 50 year old woman who hasn’t worked in more than a few years. And as it sometimes happens to me in the shower, I hear another voice.
Before I analyze this too much and check myself in to the local mental hospital, I have a listen. The voice is high-pitched, also Southern but there’s something else there too. I know the voice but I don’t know it. Oh Good Lord, it’s my grandmother. The something else is a slight brogue inherited from her mother. “Out of the Plains of Despair rise the Mountains of Hope,” she says to me. Women of her generation always said stuff like that, taught to them by their mothers and preachers, to get them through the hard times of drought and disease, to steel their spines when death came down on a family too soon.
A solution comes as the echoes of my grandmother’s voice falls away. No vision of a publishing contract from Harper Collins or Random House appeared in my steamy mirror (I will keep hoping for that one) but a solution to The Novel’s latest plot roadblock materialized. I hop out of the shower, thank my departed female relatives for stopping by and rush off to take some notes.
It may not be a Mountain of Hope but the road has scaled a hill; the view is better and I can see the valley before me. I wonder if I should buy a wet suit and a waterproof skin for my laptop so that I can just sit in the shower all day and be inspired by the voices that live in the spray. And, out of respect for my grandmother, I will not leave the house without combing my hair and putting on some lipstick (like a good Southern girl).