My 92-Year-Old Mom Reads Proust and Other Instagram Flash Stories
August 20, 2021 § 7 Comments
By Elizabeth Garber
I posted: My mom has seven pages left in Vol 2 of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Each day I visit, she starts off with an update: “Proust is mad at his mother because she misplaced his hat.” Then she’s puzzled and kind of pissed off. “I just don’t get it, why is he so famous?”
My most popular Instagram/Facebook posts are about my mom. There’s a photo and story of her crossing a meadow with her cane to pick fiddleheads in the spring or picking blueberries in the summer, or the three days she read and commented on my new manuscript. But the best received has been about her reading Proust.
To answer her question about Proust, I read aloud sections from a Lit Hub article on 6 Reasons Why You Must Read Proust by Joshua Zajdman. How he describes everyone from the duchess to the seamstress equally. This helps her. She says, “Proust watches young girls on a beach, and spends a whole page describing a girl with a mole on her chin.”
I show her my post about her on Instagram with responses from Paris (with photos of crepes suzettes and a Proust library at the Ritz), Cannes Film Festival, Sweden, England, China and local friends. She’s thrilled. Her face lights up, and her life is expanded from her compressing world. A little story can go a long way. People love stories, and are hungry for real stories that feed our spirits. I’d started writing these little stories because I love to collect the vivid details of what people say and the little stories grew.
I also have to confess the other truth. On the days I get restless or impatient helping my mom, writing little stories gives me a creative way to appreciate her more. In the midst of going to the grocery store for her, or changing her sheets, or changing a band aid, I ask her questions. She tells me a story. I take notes. I look up photos in the old albums.
I asked her about the Borges story she told me when I was sixteen, the one where the man realizes he is a character in someone else’s mind. That story was literally mind-blowing for an Ohio teen in 1968. She said. “I think I still have a file of our book lists.” She hunted through her files, hard to see as her eyesight dims, and I pulled it out. Her Cincinnati Book Club lists are all there, with the South American writers list on top and her notes on each writer, every year of the 1960s. We sat for an hour, reading through the books, and I found a photo from 1968. Now I have to make a post to share this story.
What I love about writing these Flash posts is the immediate connection. It’s heavenly to write a story and have readers read it right away! While I wait years for a book to move into print, here’s a way to touch readers right away! The immediate exchange gives me a taste of that writer/audience magic, like hearing my audience’s breathing change as I read to them.
If you post an image, and don’t write a little story, it’s a missed opportunity to nourish your reader, and yourself. In 2018-20, when InstaPoetry erupted, headlines blared: How Instagram Saved Poetry, (The Atlantic). Now it’s time to practice Insta-Flash.
Just notice the little stories that happen in your life, that mean something to you. Think of the situation. Notice a mini narrative arc. A story starts somewhere, ends somewhere else. Set a scene in a few words, a little dialogue, something happens. Something poignant, something changes.
As I left my mom’s that day, after we looked at her garden, she said, “I’m just so happy to talk about Proust.”
Elizabeth Garber, author of Implosion: A Memoir of an Architect’s Daughter, is pitching a new memoir of teens at sea on a disastrous ship. Find me on Instagram at @ElizabethGarberWriter and at www.elizabethgarber.com