How acting like a writer made me a act like a better granddaughter

My relationship with my Grammy is not the strongest, most patient relationship. I think she’s very high strung, and demanding. She complains about being in pain a lot, and it makes me frustrated. I don’t always think kindly about her, even though I know that her depression and physical pains makes it hard for her to be the type of grandmother I think I want. I know she loves me, and I appreciate the things she does for me – but sometimes I just want her to leave me alone.

I went home for the day yesterday, which is a rare occurrence in itself. I got there around 9am and had planned on doing as much homework as possible before my parents and brother came back from his rodeo that afternoon. But my Grammy kept talking to me. I was sitting at the kitchen table, and she kept distracting me and trying to engage in conversation.

But instead of thinking about ways to get her to stop quickly, as I often do, I thought about it like we were conducting an interview. I began thinking of her as a character that I wanted to write about – and here was an opportunity to learn the backstory, delve into history and motivations.

What kind of writer could say no to that opportunity?

So instead of the talk being the one sided, long winded, bore that it shames me to admit I was expecting, I started engaging and asking questions. Every detail could build scene, develop character.

I found out when she was born, and how old she was when she was married (the first time). I try to understand a society where getting married at 15 or 16 is “what everybody was doing”. I think of characters I’ve read about who married young, too young, or married the wrong person first. The remembrance of my compassion for them helps me feel compassion for Grammy.

I learned where she met my Papa, and how quiet and reserved he was – until they got in his car. It makes it easier to consider my grandparents having sex when I imagine how I would write the scene. It sweetens the scandal when I do the backwards math, from the birth of my mother to their wedding, and come up with less than nine months. But I don’t ask her about it, because when I imagine the character these events paints, I consider her feelings. And I don’t want to hurt her feelings.

Talking with my Grammy like she was a character allowed a fascinating conversation to develop. When I acted like a writer, I found undiscovered depths and motivations that cast her as a more complex character than I had imagined. It’s easy for me to connect with characters, think kindly about them, be generous with their stories. When I consider Grammy like a character, it’s easier for me to be generous with her too.

I felt like the granddaughter I want to be when I was acting like a writer. Interested in her stories, patient, and generous. Especially when she commented that she didn’t know how much longer she would be around to tell these stories. I can see the guilt trip as that, but also just as a statement. It’s time to learn her story.


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Chicana, feminist, writer slugging through grad school with a job teaching composition.

2 thoughts on “How acting like a writer made me a act like a better granddaughter”

  1. This is beautiful. I never thought of considering a person/character in this way. Too often, I’m short with my mother, and have little patience, but if I think of her as a character, she’s fascinating.


    1. Thank you! And that’s what I’ve found – the patience that I have with characters, waiting for their stories to unfold, looking for their motivations, all are useful tactics to help me with family.


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