Finding an Ear
Finding an Ear Ariele M. Huff
I love the ludicrous but Halloweenish imagery of that title. Of course, I mean “an audience.”
Recently, I discovered that my younger cousin died, and suddenly memories of her and feelings about her and her parents came flowing to mind.
I am particularly close to the son of my mother’s other sister. I informed him of the passing and over a few days, we exchanged some brief messages of shock (that we weren’t informed and just the reality of death in a close family member).
Soon, I found myself pouring out memories in a way I’ve seen in many memoirs. One thought leading to another, many times missing adequate explanation or closure on that topic before another incident or thought leapt in…often without enough introduction or transition.
Because Gene and I have a lifetime of familial continuity, it worked. I thanked him for being the “electronic ear I’m pouring all this into.” He thanked me for sharing all the things he hadn’t heard before. We mutually explored territories unknown to the listener but part and parcel of the speaker’s day-to-day life.
I’d watched Kristi attempting to climb the basement wall with her trike—little face red with ambition and frustration—she did it over and over, in spite of my older cousin cautions that it would never work.
Later, when I saw her performing on her Stradivarius cello on stage…international child prodigy…there it was again: that determined red-cheeked face as she masterfully bowed Joseph. Yes, Stradivarius cellos need a boyfriend-like name as you won’t be having any of those for many years as a “child prodigy.”
Gene and I expanded to things I recalled about him and his brother. The corrections in what I thought I’d seen and remembered were interesting. (I was only a few years older, so a child for most of those times as well.)
But I digress, as I’ve mentioned this seems to happen when you find an ear that can really hear you. How often does that happen for writers who want attention from the general public? Seldom.
When it does, it requires either a truly astonishing story—aliens DID land in your back yard, or an ability to bring your experiences into relevance to other people based on shared humanity.
What draws us into that sensation? Humor. Deep feelings well expressed. Adequate word pictures. Adequate but not extra transitions and explanations of how things fit together. Skipping anything that feels the storyteller is blaming.
So, when Frank McCourt was writing the heart rending story of his childhood in Ireland...Angela’s Ashes, he shared the mistreatments his family suffered, but didn’t linger and, from his child perspective of the time, just took them as what life was. He masterfully used the humor that had helped him survive the experiences.
Now Tis his second book about his adult years, misses the mark. By the time he was an alcoholic as his father had been and unable to cope with what had happened in his childhood…by that time, he had little to offer. Standing on a stage to accept a Pulitzer, his mind went to how the audience must not respect him…what with his bad teeth (which had been fixed) and his poor little Irish boy self-pity. Lame.