50-for-50 interview: Amy McCracken, storytelling crack

amy mccracken & perry

I don’t know if it’s the loopy sense of humor, the massive, bleeding heart, or just the Southern in her, but there is something about Amy McCracken that makes her writing almost frighteningly addictive. I came late to it, which apparently parallels her own experience, and which is a good thing, as I now not only drop whatever I’m doing to read anything new she has written, but have been known to compulsively click “refresh” around her online haunts in hopes of turning up a fresh morsel. And of course, Amy modestly (and earnestly) brushes aside any remarks about her truly astonishing abilities as a human tractor beam, which only makes her more irresistible. If it weren’t for the continuing acts of selfless generosity, I’d be highly suspicious of someone with this kind of drawing power. As it is, I happily succumb, and offer up my version of what should probably be her motto: “Amy McCracken: Your first taste is free.”

When did you decide to become a writer?

I guess it was yesterday when Colleen Wainwright asked me if I would like to be interviewed for her 50 for 50 project.

If someone asks me what I do for a living, my answer is that I work for the Richmond Animal League.  But if someone asked me what I do to live, the answer would be “I write.”

Who was your favorite teacher?

There were many, and there still are. Mr. Dias, my 10th grade Psychology teacher, made me keep a journal. I am ever grateful for that. I haven’t stopped writing since.

But my favorite teacher of all was my grandmother, Charlene Bash Dickerson. She was Neenie to me. If she were here today, and if she could read this, she’d say, “Law, child, me? I don’t know anything a’tall. I’m no teacher. ”

But she was. In all ways. When my son was deciding on whether or not he wanted to be born, she was with me the entire time. She rubbed my back and sang me songs and told the nurse I didn’t mean it when I got snappy. She didn’t sleep, eat, or sit down for more than 36 hours.  But when the time came, and they handed her a set of scrubs to put on, I understood that she’d have to leave me.  Women who loved the Lord didn’t wear pants. Ever.  Never.  And Neenie loved the Lord more than she loved anyone else.  I breathed through a contraction and watched her as she stood there looking down at the folded up scrubs in her hands. “It’s fine,” I told her. “I’ll be fine.” And she left.

But then she came back. In pale yellow scrubs. And she stayed with me until “It’s a boy” rang through the air. Then she was gone again lickety split.

I won’t even try to summarize the lessons in just this one little story. There are too many. And, plus, I trust that you get it.

She’ll always be in my stories, and she has several spots on 3x3x365.

What do you love to write about?

The connections I see in the smallest, seemingly disparate things all around us. I remember the day I bought my tenth burrito at Moe’s. That day, my punch card was full, and I knew that I had earned a free burrito on my next visit. The cashier congratulated me in the most sincere and enthusiastic way.   I was too excited to finish lunch because I wanted to get back to work and write a story about our need to constantly be rewarded for everything we do—even if it is something as lame as buying a burrito.  Why are we so weird? Are we really holding out for some great reward ALL THE TIME?  Was the Moe’s punch card really modeled after religions of the world that promise us life eternal if we just toe the line?  The truth was that I really loved going to Moe’s with my friends Katie and Boyd. They made me laugh.  And the queso was damn delicious. Wasn’t that reward enough? Why do we need punch cards, and rebates, and frequent flier miles? Or heaven?

Those are the kinds of things that come up in daily life. And that is what I love to write about.

And Buddy. Oh, my goodness, do I love to write about Buddy. That’s not his real name, and he’s not a little boy anymore, but my favorite stories will always be about my son. My Buddy.

What has writing taught you?

Everything in the world. Writing stories down is my way of processing all of the things in life. Do you know people who can’t do math in their head? I can’t do life in my head. I have to get it down on paper for any of it to make sense.

How has writing made you stronger?

Being connected to people makes me stronger. And writing has connected me to the most incredible people. Since January 1 of 2011, I have written and shared a story every day through a blog called 3x3x365. We are three friends, in three states, sharing one photo every day in 2011. I know the women I am writing with through story. The three of us have never been in the same place at the same time. It’s not always easy for me to write, but my commitment to 3x3x365 saw me through a very difficult winter, and I get stronger every day because of it.

Before that, I wrote a blog called One Person. Every Day. The point of it was to document one person, every day, who did something that made me happy. Sometimes, I had to choose from several people to feature. Other days, around 6:00 p.m. or so, I have to start LOOKING for someone. There were days when I had to force someone into doing something. But how awesome is that?  It was a way to create my own happiness.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year old you anything, what would it be?

I’m stumped.

What are your five favorite books, blogs, or things to read?

This is like being asked, “What is your favorite color?”  I can’t decide!  But I do love these things:

Amos and Boris, by William Steig

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss

Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close by Jonathon Safran Foer

37 Days, Patti Digh

Stories by Haruki Murakami

Bios of the members of ABBA.

Obituaries

BIO (by Amy McCracken)

“At 44 years of age, you’d think I could describe myself in 150-200 words. But I am deferring to information recorded in my baby book. All of it seems pertinent still. 

  • ‘Amy did not speak until 2 years and 9 months.  But then she memorized two songs while visiting Grandma Rita’s.  They are “Bill Grogan’s Goat” and “The Ghost of John.” She sings all the time, and so loudly, that Paul and Bubby have requested earmuffs.’
  • ‘Amy was completely potty-trained shortly before Stacy was born.’  I will not be disclosing the age difference between me and Stacy. 
  • And this, ‘When Joe the Bird died we got two new ones (Bill and Charlie).  Amy takes special pride in letting them out of their cage and then screaming because they are out.’

I’d like to add that a really handsome, hilarious, smart kid calls me mother. I’m the Executive Director of Richmond Animal League, and I’m the Richmond, VA part of writing collaboration called 3x3x365.  I like Saltine crackers, old cemeteries, and Dolly Parton.” 

 

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