That used to be one of my mother’s favorite expressions. ‘You have to be on top of the wave,’ she’d say; ‘that is, if you really want to enjoy New York.’ Translation—you have to be really ‘up’ to succeed in New York. I thought I understood what she meant, but often wondered how she’d come up with the phrase. She was neither overtly passionate nor verbally descriptive, and an idiom describing something as exhilarating as surfing long before it was considered a common sport was an anomaly, coming from her.
I hadn’t thought about my mother’s metaphor until very recently, a span of a half-century separating then and now. I’m sure the reason it came back to me at all had something to do with a book I’ve been reading by Dani Shapiro titled, ‘Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life’. A chapter very near the beginning of the book is called, ‘Riding the Wave’, and it not only sparked an old memory but set me to thinking about how I may have totally misinterpreted my mother’s meaning. Odd that I never discussed it with her further, but too late now, a recurring truth in connection with many family mysteries that might have been solved long ago had I thought to ask. So why now?
Now that I’m older, I certainly find it easier to admit I got things wrong in my youth. It happens with greater frequency these days. And of course, my return to writing has opened me up in so many ways; I can question things with a whole new acceptance of where the answers might lead. But this thing of my mother’s about the wave…was it more than a comment about needing to feel good to enjoy New York? Reading the chapter in ‘Still Writing’ again, I note the reference is to energy that fosters creativity, an essential component of art. It has nothing to do with learning the skills of the craft. The author suggests that like most things that are exhilarating, this flow of energy can be frightening in its inherent risk.