Writing Problems

by jkatejohnston

This is my unsatisfactory solution to the blog problem: Write my diary as if the blog didn’t exist and say whatever I want, then go back later and find stuff I can put in the blog. Enzo doesn’t want me to write about him, and I’ve decided that’s too bad, it’s my life too. But I won’t put in stuff that’s just straight quotation from him. I have to be in it.

I don’t think it’s the fact that other people read it that bothers him. He doesn’t like me writing about him at all. He doesn’t like being reduced to my idea of him. Fair enough. It’s the job of all kids to get out from under their parents’ stupid ideas about them. Now if I could just figure out what the job of all parents is. Maybe to not make their children into an extension of their own ego.

January 14

Dear Max,

At the parent meeting on Monday, Mr. Larson was telling us about the writing they’re doing in class. He said they’re working on punctuation, parts of speech, capitalizing proper nouns and most importantly getting their thoughts on paper.

Rising panic as I pictured all Enzo’s classmates punctuating away. And what about the most important part, transferring mind to page? I remembered how, one time, Enzo dictated a long story to me, which I typed word for word with no corrections, and how it was instantly recognizable as writing. And I thought we should do that more often.

I began my campaign by talking about Winston Churchill, who Enzo knows from the 39 Clues books. I said that some writers write by talking while someone writes down exactly what they say, with no changes, like Winston Churchill.

“But he wasn’t even a writer! I was like—a person in parliament.”

“Yeah, and a prime minister”


“Prime ministers and presidents write all the time. They write speeches, so they can talk to the people.” I don’t remember what he said, but the feeling in the room was skeptical. “I’ll show you what I mean.”

I got out my computer and looked up Churchill’s beaches speech. I figured, It’s war, his favorite thing.

“Mom. I do not care about this.”

“I know. Just humor me.”

“Can I play the Jeremy Wade video game on your computer?”

“Hang on.”

I found the speech, gave a short background—Nazis bad, France occupied, America not yet in it—and read aloud, feeling a little stately and a little silly and a little moved:

[W]e shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

“We shall fight in George Washington’s underpants!”

I laughed but couldn’t help adding: “He wrote that by saying it. You can write like that if you want to. I’ll type what you say, and I won’t change anything.” And then I took a shower and he played the Jeremy Wade fishing video game.

I had writing and talk on my mind more than usual because that morning I’d read this in My Brilliant Friend (that unbelievable fucking masterpiece):

I tore open the envelope. There were five closely written pages, and I devoured them, but I understood almost nothing of what I read. It may seem strange today, and yet it really was so: even before I was overwhelmed by the contents, what struck me was that the writing contained Lila’s voice. Not only that. From the first lines I thought of The Blue Fairy, the only text of hers that I had read, apart from our elementary-school homework, and I understood what, at the time, I had liked so much. There was, in The Blue Fairy, the same quality that struck me now: Lila was able to speak through writing; unlike me when I wrote, unlike Sarratore in his articles and poems, unlike even many writers I had read and was reading, she expressed herself in sentences that were well-constructed, and without error, even though she had stopped going to school, but—further—she left no trace of effort, you weren’t aware of the artifice of the written word. I read and I saw her, I heard her. The voice set in the writing overwhelmed me, enthralled me even more than when we talked face to face: it was completely cleansed of the dross of speech, of the confusion of the oral; it had the vivid orderliness that I imagined would belong to conversation if one were so fortunate as to be born from the head of Zeus… .(Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend, Chapter 34)

If I were still a teacher, I’d read that to my classes and then try to scold them into doing it. Homework assignment: perform a miracle.