Writers and Duncecaps – I. Batsheva

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Jan 18

Dear Mother,

I hope you read this letter before you read the story because I’m telling you now that the main character is not you. And don’t worry about anyone you know even supposing.  None of our relatives read Lapis Lazuli! (They limit subscribers to people who don’t eat the wax on the gouda cheese – remember cousin Ernie at my graduation party?) Anyway, I just want to set this straight for all time. The main character is most certainly NOT YOU. She’s a woman who wants more, who asks for everything. (You never asked for anything.) She’s a woman who demands what’s possible.

The other day a woman like her was standing in front of me in line at Whopper King. The counter girl gave her one of those giant whoppers in a box.  With me and twenty other people waiting behind, she carefully opened the box, looked inside and said, “Could you please cut this thing in half for me, darling?”

Now, mother, you never would have done that. You would have waited until we sat down. And then you would have said: “Can you please tell me why they don’t cut these things in half? You can hardly squeeze them into your mouth.” No, the mother in my story is definitely not you, so you shouldn’t worry.

Love,

Philip

P.S. I sent you a copy yesterday. You should get it soon. My story starts on page 97. It’s long, so you don’t need to read all of it. The important stuff is in this letter anyway.

Jan 30

Dear Philip,

Two days after I got your letter they delivered the magazine. It wouldn’t fit into the box so the mailman left one of those little yellow slips. But since I’m working five days I couldn’t get to the post office to pick it up. You know how it is to ask your relatives for a favor? Uncle Rubin couldn’t get it for three more days! What he’s doing all the time since he stopped cutting meat, I’ll never know. And last week I made him and Tillie such a dinner. I cooked them a nice brisket and your favorite jello mold, the one I put in the dark pitted cherries and a little sweet wine.

Thank you for explaining about the story. (For your information, I read the whole thing. So why wouldn’t  I read the whole thing?? I’m your mother, not a duncecap.) To tell the truth, after  I read THE WHOLE THING I didn’t think it was me,  but then I wasn’t exactly sure. Because in the story she’s a mother and I’m the only one you’ve got. So where else could you get such information?

Now tell me how a magazine like that is making a living? I didn’t see one advertisement and not a single picture. Your story is very long and only words. So why don’t they illustrate? I’m going to write them a letter. (Should college graduates who publish a magazine need an old lady like me to tell them how to make a magazine interesting?) Heaven forbid they should sell a few copies and make a few dollars. And what kind of name is this? Lapiss Lazooli? Some kind of Indian tribe that’s popular today?

In the print Philip, your name looks beautiful. I’m so proud. It’s a great excitement to me that people all over are reading your name. I showed the girls at work and made some copies of the first page on our Xerox. I hope you don’t mind that I sent one to Uncle Morris so he should know at least that you’re doing something.  Did I tell you his Sammy graduated from law school with a summa come loudly and is already engaged to be married? He’s no duncecap your cousin, to catch himself a nurse with a master’s degree yet.

A young lawyer in our office showed me the part in back where it tells about the writers. So why didn’t you say a little something, that you went to college even? It’s such a secret that you’re ashamed about? It says only you have a dog named Josephus and you’re working on a novel. So what does that mean? You’re not planning to get married? Remember to call Sandra on her birthday. Did you send her a copy of the magazine or should I send a Xerox? Your only sister also should be proud.

Love,

Mother

P.S. Only one thing you didn‘t tell me. How much did they pay you for this?

Feb 12

Dear Mother,

Called Sandra today. Everything is O.K. with her. I don’t have an extra copy of Lapis for her, so go ahead and send her one of your Xeroxes.

I’m happy you’re pleased that I’m now a published writer. But from now on, just tell people about it. You don’t have to show them. They’ll believe you.

I hope you’re not angry about my last letter. You are my only mother and I will always love you just the way you are.

Love,

Philip

P.S. By the way, Lapis Lazuli is not the name of a Native American tribe. You might be thinking of the Zulu people – but they live in  South Africa. Anyway, it’s LaZULI,  not LaZULU.

Feb 26

Dear  Philip,

So why should I be angry with you, my only son, the writer yet? Just because you think I’m a doormat? (And who knows this better than you, Mr. Writer?)

I heard from Uncle Morris in Florida. He asked me to get him the rest of the pages. Your cousin Sammy wants to read the whole thing. Did I tell you he already got married? Morris and Mildred flew out for the ceremony, so there won’t be any big wedding now. Please write them something nice. (His wife’s name is Laura.) I already sent a gift and put Sandra’s and your name on it, too. A beautiful  set of steak knives I got on sale at Halle’s downtown.

Love,

Mother

P.S. You didn’t tell me what the Lazuni people paid you for the story. I hear sometimes they pay by the words. It’s a good thing then it’s so long. I counted 6,248. Do these novels then also pay by the words?

Mar l0

Dear Mother,

You can tell Uncle Morris that if Sammy wants to read my story, he can buy a copy of Lapis Lazuli in a good bookstore. There are plenty of those where he lives. The journal publishes only three times a year, so it will probably be on the stands until the end of April. But if you think they should be selling magazines and making money, why are you giving out Xeroxes?  Anyway, my story is protected by the copyright laws. Why are you Xeroxing? Do you want to get yourself in trouble?

Love,

Philip

P.S. For your information, the novel I’m writing is going to be very long — about three million words.

March 26

Dear Philip,

What do you mean copyright laws? I only did a little Xeroxing. They can put an innocent mother in jail for this? The police should have better things to do. And you still didn’t tell me if they pay by the words. Three million is a lot of words! I always knew you would be a great success.

You know, soon is coming Pesach and I’m cleaning up your old room. There under the bed I found some of your old college books. So dusty! I had to use the special attachment on the Hoover. So meanwhile,  I look inside a few and see how you marked them up! When I was a girl we respected books – what’s all this marking up?

But because of your marking up I saw in one book by this William Butler man something  you made bright yellow!  “I WAS ALWAYS AT THE BOTTOM OF MY CLASS.”  So why did Philip mark this up I ask myself.  Is this where he got the idea for writing? Is this why he didn’t need to come loudly likes Sammy?

Then in the small print on the back cover, it says  this Irish duncecap is yet the greatest poet to write in the English language!  Imagine — from the  bottom he came. So I’m busy thinking that if that’s what happened to him, then my only son can at least become a big hit in writing the novels.

Yet there is more to tell about this dusty book I’m cleaning up for you. I saw written something else that caught my eyes and I’m copying here the words exact:  “My thoughts were a great excitement, but when I tried to do anything with them, it was like trying to pack a balloon into a shed in a high wind.” You marked that up too. In bright yellow.

I may not be so brilliant like my children, but when I read those words of the Butler man I knew exactly  what he meant. I had that too when I was young.  Ideas, dreams, all kinds of things jumping like fleas around inside my brain. But when we came over here, I had to pack those excitements away, instead to learn the English, to make a living. Then I married your father, may he rest in peace.

I know exactly what he means, this duncecap you were so busy underlining. But me, I packed my balloon away, even with such a high wind. Packing away – at this I’m an expert. So it’s a good thing Pesach is coming and I’m cleaning your books. This bottom of the class William Butler Duncecap gives me something to think about. It’s coming the time to take my balloon out of the shed. You should be the only writer in the family?

Love,

Mother

 

I. Batsheva  (b. belfer wiesner) has lived in Israel since l993. First in Mizpeh Ramon and now in Jerusalem since 2001. 

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