Tripping with Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinciAfter my first book was pub­lished, one of my friends gave me a know­ing look and said, “I’ve figured out exact­ly what your sto­ry means.”

Not Enough Beds!I nod­ded wise­ly, two of us in on the same secret togeth­er, but truth­ful­ly? I was eager to hear what she had to say. Because in all the time I’d spent writ­ing, revis­ing, and talk­ing about the book to oth­er peo­ple, it had hon­est­ly nev­er occurred to me to ask myself what the sto­ry meant. In my mind, Not Enough Beds! was a sim­ple tale about too many rel­a­tives show­ing up for Christ­mas Eve, and the fun­ny places every­body finds to sleep when it turns out that — wait for it — there are not enough beds. I thought it was a fun­ny fam­i­ly alpha­bet book, not a com­men­tary on the human condition.

Which just goes to show how much writ­ers know about their own work! Appar­ent­ly, as my friend explained, the 224 words of my sto­ry are actu­al­ly a mov­ing tes­ta­ment to the fact that we’re all just going through life look­ing for where we belong in the world, and fam­i­ly are the peo­ple who make a place for us no mat­ter what.

Usu­al­ly in my pieces here I talk about things that you can sug­gest to young writ­ers to give them an entrée point to more pow­er­ful writ­ing. This week, I’m sug­gest­ing some­thing that you might want to avoid sug­gest­ing: don’t put too much empha­sis on what their writ­ing means. Do we real­ly have to dis­sect the “enig­mat­ic smile” of the Mona Lisa? Some writ­ers may have a clear inten­tion for their mean­ing as they write; but just as often, based on the writ­ers I know, that isn’t the case. In fact, my friend and poet Lau­ra Pur­die Salas talks about just that in a guest blog.

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Laura Purdie Salas
Laura Purdie Salas
6 years ago

Thanks for remind­ing me of that post, Lisa! I’m think­ing now that maybe it’s a good thing we don’t know the big WHAT we’re writ­ing about when we write. That would be so intim­i­dat­ing! And even when I think I know the big WHAT, it morphs into some oth­er WHAT as I write, any­way. A lit­tle mys­tery is a good thing:>)