Writing Prompt Reader Response: Everything Counts
Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Jennifer Hollis’s Literary Reflections essay, “Everything Counts.” We invited readers to: “Share your writing process, whether it’s daily or sporadic. How do you fit it in, and how does it compare to your ideal? What are the mantras that motivate you to keep writing?” Here’s Elizabeth Bastos’s response:
by Elizabeth Bastos
As a bookish kid into unicorns and fairyland, I kept a Dear Diary-style journal complete with a little heart-shaped lock and a KEEP OUT THIS MEANS YOU notice to my little sister hand-printed on its cover in blocky Sharpie. I wrote every. single. day. Like a monomaniac. Such things as, Dear Diary, do you think there are such things as dragons? Is Alchemy real? And, Asaf Gordon (CRUSH! HEART HEART HEART!) Why doesn’t he, like, ever say hi to me? Is there such a thing as a love potion (look into this)?
Oscar Wilde said, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” That’s how I felt. My diary was a place for my id; my superego could shove off. The diary was for the pressing inner questions and desires of my seventh grade geekdom, which was in full flower. Who else could I talk to? I was the nerdiest nerd in my school, with the deeply unfashionable sweater that my grandma had knitted for me pulled around me like armor.
As I grew up, I dropped the Dear Diary habit, as A Lame Thing One Gives Up In The Pursuit of Cool. Instead, I hung out in coffee shops, got caught up in the ’90s Swing dance revival, smoked clove cigarettes, and did not write. Writing was for weirdos, hunched over their Moleskines, chain-drinking chai. I silenced that call to put pen to paper, and to chew on the pen cap, musing about time travel or what it must feel like to be an octopus and to fit snugly and gracefully into slim places.
But then it became cool again, not to diary, or to journal—lame words—but to blog. To web log. It was a new word for an old habit. I was in my 30s, with two kids under five, and all the laundry in the world, when I heard the mermaid of writing singing to me sweetly: “Come back, come back. Everything you have to lose you have already lost: youth, strong Kegel muscles, wrinkle-free fabrics.” I looked at the ruins of the kitchen table—the milky-sticky layer of Trader Joe’s Os a geologic time stamp, and my son, then four, asleep in his bowl of spaghetti—and I felt compelled to study it like an anthropologist. It must be recorded! This strange civilization with birthday party cupcake rituals, and mom jeans. I wrote, “Tjhjhjhjfgfgfoday I licked peanut butter and jam off my infant daughter’s head while I was breastfeeding.”
I named my blog, Goody Bastos, after the women in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Goody, short for the Puritan honorific, “Good wife,” and goody for goody, which is how my grandmother referred to anything sweet.
Goody Bastos took over for Dear Diary. I write not every single day, but bi-weekly like clockwork and not about my crushes (well, sometimes about my crushes—hello, John Malkovich), but also about my life as a mother, as a person with early-onset spinal osteoarthritis, as a beginning Zen practitioner, and as a lover of nature. I write about pain, and blossoming, and the moment my usually silly and hambone son, ten, told me he needed deodorant and said, very somberly and seriously, “C’mon, Mom—smell my pits.” My goal is to be present to all life throws at my feet.
The things that preoccupied me as a 12-year-old remain. I still think about dragons. But my writing no longer has a lock and a KEEP OUT sign. Instead, I hope it is welcoming. Come in. Welcome, you’re home. Have a sweet.
Elizabeth Bastos is a freelance writer mother of two in the Baltimore suburbs. Her work has appeared at McSweeney’s, The Boston Globe, Tricycle Magazine, Book Riot, and The New York Times’ Motherlode blog. Her personal blog is Goody Bastos. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethbastos.