I went to get my blood drawn at the local lab in town. (And now I’m thinking about how best to draw blood; pen and ink? Colored pencils?) It was soon after my pub date, so I was giddy with the newness of being a published author, and maybe slightly lightheaded from the pre-bloodwork fasting. When the 20-something technician asked me my occupation, I blurted, “I’m a writer. My book just came out!” She was sweet and said, “That’s cool! How long did it take you to write your book?”
“Fifty-six years,” I answered.
The picture to the right was in a stack of photos I came across the other day when I was straightening up my desk. (Read: Avoiding writing this post.) Lots of years ago, my brother, sister, and I were preparing for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and we gathered and sorted photos for a series of photo albums we were putting together. This picture was in the “reject” pile as it only had me in it and we couldn’t really tell where it had been taken. When I found it the other day, I realized it showed clearly that I was destined to be a woman of letters...a writer. (It also foretold how I would feel about footwear.)
As I held the picture in my hands, a flurry of images flew through my brain and in each one, I was writing. Or preparing to write. Or teaching others to write. And in one unforgettable memory, getting out of writing: My ninth grade English teacher gave our class the assignment to keep a journal for the semester. I wrote the entire thing one sunny afternoon in my backyard a day or two before it was due, a calendar in one hand and a pen full of teenage angst in the other. I got an A.
I have always depended on writing to get me through my life. And, it seems from the photographic evidence, it began early on. My brother and sister and I used to write plays we performed in our basement for the neighborhood kids and variety shows we put on for my parents. Together we wrote songs and poems and menus and thank-you notes. As I got older (and I was the eldest) I passed contraband notes to friends in class, I wrote short stories that showcased my incredible talent for mystery, and corresponded with love notes to non-existent boyfriends. I wrote in square, faux-leather diaries I kept locked with a gold clasp and in black-and-white composition books I used as journals. (When I actually kept one for real.) I was incurable in so many ways, and I documented most of it in writing.
I have always understood that writing is a means for people to understand and process the experience that is their lives. I believe in writing for its power and its powers. I have yet to teach a class where at least one person doesn’t discover something about his or her self that has been hidden behind years of inattention or overwork. That’s what writing means to me.
So, back to that young writer in the picture, holding on to the blank paper, not even knowing what to do with it - as I still sometimes feel. It has taken me all of my fifty-six years to make this book happen, and hopefully, I’m not done yet. It is the call of the writer to seek meaning through combinations of words. Over and over again. Not that it always makes sense, but that’s what calls do; insist that you keep at it. I liberated that young writer’s picture from the pile under which it sat for years and have given it a prominent spot on my writing desk. When I feel like I can’t make sense out of anything, a glance over at my younger (and barefoot) self reminds me that there will always be blank pages to fill. If I’ve been at it this long, it’s a good bet I can keep going.
What keeps you going? Is your writing a call? How would you describe it?