annotation by Marianne Woods Cirone
- 1. I remember the exact moment I stopped playing…
- 2. I like to say the earth shook the day I met him…
- 3. How can I explain to my mother that despite all her pleading with me to grow beyond my homosexuality…
No, these are not writing prompts, as inspiring as they would be. Each of these lines begins a section of Bia Lowe’s essay, “Mothers and Others, but Also Brothers,” from her book Wild Ride: Earthquakes, Sneezes, and Other Thrills. All of Lowe’s nineteen essays in this book stimulate the sensation centers of the reader with their tantalizing smells, sights and sounds, as she connects her personal experiences from the innocence of growing up in Northern California in the 1950s, to her years as a San Francisco hippie and finally as a writer and an Angeleno. Each of the sections within each essay is divided by a simple three dots, and each new section grabs the reader with entry lines that introduce topics that are different enough to be intriguing, but with connecting threads that bring the reader along for a “wild ride” of illuminating associations.
“In media res” describes Lowe’s technique for drawing the reader into her essays, finding the exact point of tension in the story which she is about to tell. With her compelling first lines–of each essay as well as of each section within the essay–Lowe draws the reader into her stories, weaving vivid worlds that crisscross like vines. The following lines open three different essays in the book:
“The bed is too large (65).”
“It’s a mass on the left ovary,” the doctor says, “roughly the size of a grapefruit (113).”
“One summer night, a few years ago, I was awakened by a wrenching snap (35).”
Each of these lines sets up a situation describing a person, place or thing which is not quite “right.” As such, a sense of tension and curiosity develops in the reader, who reads on to find out if or how the situation resolves.
In her simply titled essay, “Allergy,” Lowe introduces the book with another compelling opening line: “Like orgasm, 90 percent of a sneeze is sheer anticipation (1).” Such an introduction piques the reader’s interest and Lowe doesn’t disappoint. After she starts the essay comparing sneezing with sex, she then weaves together facts about breathing, early memories in the hay mill on the family ranch, a description of asthma, an explanation of histamines, a report on cruelties on the ranch, musings on the Industrial Revolution, smog in Los Angeles, and body image; and, finally, the fantasy of allergy-free environment. Each section contains poetic imagery that carry the topics to unimagined places: “Gone are the streaming mornings, my forehead at the belly of the cud chewer, my fingers pulling her teats like a rapacious lover (4)” or “I envy those who thrive on Twinkies and car exhaust, marching heartily into tomorrow, their eyes a deeper shade of Blue Number 2 (7).”
The opening line of Lowe’s final essay in the book, titled “About Being Awake While Driving From My High School Reunion,” starts with an economical and direct sentence: “Interstate 5 slices California’s Central Valley headlong (171).” She segues from the landscape to her past with lines including “I had seen my father’s tantrums detonate our kitchen like a test site in Nevada and learned not to speak of it,” to “…when I suspected I was queer—a booger on the family tea set—I was already on my way to becoming invisible (172).” The next section of this essay opens with the vivid line “Making the drive in the winter months, when the Valley’s moisture clots into a tulle fog, your headlights bore barely a car’s length into the custard (173).” Lowe’s metaphors and descriptions create a constant tug on the reader’s interest, in this case, the marriage of a ballerina’s tutu and a creamy dessert to paint a picture of fog.
Lowe’s sharp turns of thought and dense imagery serve as brilliant examples for writers who hope write essays that dazzle. I intend to keep this book close at hand and refer to it often.