For a couple of different reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about I why hunger to write. Both reasons are related. 1, I’ve started work on my memoir about my childhood, and 2, I’ve been reading memoirs to get a good sense for the genre. It’s remarkable (perhaps not surprising, but still somehow worth noting, for me) how many writers write in their memoirs about having loved writing as kids. It feels amazing to see that. I thought I was the only one. But it turns out that love of writing leaves clues, even if you only pick up on them and string them together many decades later.
Reading Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, I came across a passage about him writing to a penpal in a faraway state. I too had penpals as a kid, back in those glorious days before emails, and I’d hand-write them letters several pages long. I remember one, in particular, who was in Mexico City, and whose letters I had to wait for excruciatingly long weeks. I had several others I found through the James Dean club and other fan magazines, people I never met but who got all my teenage thoughts and angst splattered all over neatly-written pages of loose leaf.
But perhaps my most intense letter-writing campaign came when my best friend from childhood went to spend the summer in Italy with her father’s family. She was the kind of friend to whose house I went every day, and she spent entire weekends at mine, so the loss of her seemed monumental. We were maybe twelve years old, one of the last years we would be as close, before we both left to different high schools and went our separate ways.
Although we’d met at a playground at two years old, twelve was probably one of our years of most intense association, because we’d both developed life-and-death crushes on the same boy band, and spent every waking moment communicating about them. I filled notebook after notebook with fantasies about the high romance that would ensue when I met them. She talked about the fit of their pants. Together, we were a two-girl obsession machine. What would I do when she was gone for a whole interminable summer?
I knew what: write to her. I would narrate my life to her as if she was still here, as if I could talk to her. I wrote her about the gossip magazines I bought and clipped without her. I told her the news about our favorite stars. I recounted the weather and my loneliness. I sent them all off to the address she’d given me before she left. I waited every day for the mailman who would bring her replies.
They never came. After what seemed like several centuries, when she came back, I asked her, indignant, why she didn’t write back. “Oh, I was busy. Plus… what would I say?” was her only answer. (Which, of course, made sense. She was on vacation). Her mother quipped: “Everyone thought she had a lovesick boyfriend back home. Who else would write her every day?”
I was hurt. It was an early lesson that my writing zeal was not matched by my peers.
Who knows how many tomes’ worth of words I’ve subjected friends and lovers to in my time here on Earth. Lots. More than any of them have wanted, probably. And yet, it’s like an extension of my fingers, another voice. I couldn’t dream of losing it. I’m glad to know Tobias Wolff and Augusten Burroughs and so many others feel the same. It feels like they’re giving me a little corner of the blanket on a cold night.
For some reason this Anne Lamott quote has been rumbling through my brain:
Tell it, girl– that we evolve; that life is stunning, wild, gorgeous, weird, brutal, hilarious and full of grace. That our parents were a bit insane, and that healing from this is taking a little bit longer than we had hoped. Tell it.