A writer writes. I tell people this. Like a broken record when my husband asks why I’m sending so many pieces of mail or spending so much time emailing stories, I give him the look that needs no explanation. The look that means, “a writer writes.”
My daughters are patient people, but even they tire of the pages of stories I send them to proof or comment on, and because they’re busy mothers now, I keep those efforts to a minimum. Just tell me what you think, and sometimes they do.
Did I always know I would be a writer? No. I wasn’t even much of a reader in school, but somewhere down the line I began typing the stories my husband was hand-writing for a course he was taking and in that long hot summer of plunking away on a very small and old-fashioned electric typewriter, I fell in love with words.
And I began to write. Long letters home, little stories, submitting articles to farm magazines since we were farmers at the time. Nothing happened. And then I sent one story to a magazine that asked for submissions on the subject of “sisters” and they not only printed it, but they paid me $100. I was hooked. And now I know myself even better. I would write if nobody ever paid me. Words are my way of finding out who I am.
Sixty-one years of life, and I’m still discovering who I’m becoming. My kids tease me that they are still getting to know me and I tell them that’s because I’m still getting to know myself, and it was the writing that did this for me. In 1999 I self-published a memoir of my crazy life and our move across the country to live in a bus with my two small children. Hodgepodge Logic: One Woman’s Journey through Marriage, Moves, and Motherhood struck a nerve with many women of all ages. My husband wasn’t too keen about it when he finally got to read the book, but it opened the door for us to begin the hard work of working on our marriage. Not a bad thing for a menopausal woman and a middle-aged man to do.
But I don’t just write about marriage. I write stories about people, and connections, and just about anything that moves me. I write in my sleep. When I wake up I write it down. I’m making notes on my napkin or my notebook or my paper plate when I’m on the phone and the person on the other end says something profound. Who knows? You might appear in one of my stories.
My first piece on Sisters was a slice of life that I had long tucked away from the day before I married. I was moving out of my parents’ house, boxing up the bedding, the clothes from my closet I shared with my sister, my books and record albums, my posters and knick-knacks. I was eighteen, my sister Diane was fifteen and she was not going to miss me. When I came back for my last two loads I found the bedroom door shut with my stuff set outside in the hall. Emotional for the very first time in my relationship with her, I felt a stab in my heart.
We had not gotten along mostly, and I get it now, but back then I remember how crushed I was. I suppose a movie could be made about the ups and downs of sharing a room with your sister and in two paragraphs I wrote one scene, submitted it to a magazine, and they printed it. I think when I got the check I sent my sister a portion of it with a copy of the story. It started the conversation going in a good direction. We get along now, but there are days when I think about that closed door and how easily that can happen in a family.
One of the big door openers for me, has been letter writing. As Marja Mills writes in The Mockingbird Next Door, “I began to get a deeper appreciation for the way in which meaningful friendships once blossomed via letters. It allows time to reflect, and to reveal oneself gradually.”
\i0 With my sister, I didn’t need to write letters as much as I needed to give us time to just be apart. After all, we are different, and there are growing pains when people are growing. With other friends it was in their letters to me over the years, some surprisingly open and heart-rending, where I was given a glimpse into secret pains and deep burdens. Some are surprisingly quiet and reserved and I respect their privacy. Sometimes they don’t write much but if one reads between the lines like I do, the words are there just waiting to be heard. I get that too.
My mom was never one to write anything personal. She was old-school and proper, far and away from the diary-tell-all-blogger-people-magazine-memoir-autobiographer. And sometimes I wonder if she would approve of my frankness. I leave very little left unsaid. But this I do know, she would probably keep her opinions to herself and love me just as I am. If a writer writes, and a painter paints, and a poet pens his poetry. . .my mother mothered. And she mothered a writer and so on this quiet morning with my laptop open and my heart full of gratitude, this writer is putting words together to help or encourage or lift up another soul on the journey of life.
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