Writing: On Living Up and Going From There

It’s been longer than I meant it to. That happens in writing. In the interim I intended to write a Valentine’s Day entry from which you can thank God for sparing you, and an entry on my trip to Staunton to see Shakespeare, which would’ve mostly been gushing, so if you imagine “!!!” and “!!!!!!!” you’ll about have the jist. But I’m not writing about either of those things tonight. That, too, happens in writing.

I find it hard to explain myself, and what I do, and why, without talking about my family. I’ve noticed since being at college that people either are a product of their home, or strangely, simply, they are not. I am my parents’ daughter. I cry more than they do, I need more hugs, and I am lazier, but I am theirs.

There is no poet I love whom they did not love first. They are responsible for the dear and the unread portions of my bookshelf and for my ability to find a book fast on the library shelves. For my first few semesters here I sent them every paper I wrote. I do not remember who taught me my letters, but my mom and my dad taught me my words.

On school mornings my small-town-Midwest-raised mother told us, without pretense, to “make haste!” and now in her many emails she tells me to “persist” and to “strive.” My mama is a verb person. My daddy like adjectives, I think. The first time he called me “svelte,” he made me look it up in the dictionary. We read Shakespeare and Thackery and Dickens and Rosetti. We sang and we talked and we were silent.

Every birthday, a parent (usually my dad, who’s into that sort of thing) writes a poem in cramped black ink. One of my favorites, from my sixth birthday, is a chronicle of all the things they’d like to give me, most of them extravagant, all of them silly. I easily remember the last lines, I’ve read them so often.

“But I am a dad and I mainly have words

And they say that we love you and though it’s absurd

That little black marks could do something so hard,

They’ll always, yes, always, smile up from this card.”

And so, even three states away, they do.

And so, years and miles later, I write. I have been given words, and I try to use them.

I had a little crisis yesterday. It occurred me for the first time (I like being sure, so I’ve never given myself much a chance to change my mind) that I might not want to teach. I might want to write. Really write.

I will not sit here and tell you that I love learning. I hope I do, but I’m simply not sure. I will tell you that I love words, that I love stories, that I love a bound book for what it is, a blank piece of paper for what it can be, a pen for the smudge it makes on the side of my hand. I love going into the shower starry-eyed, and coming out a half hour later with a subplot. (I did that last night.)

So what I am doing, at the moment, is being a student (after some tears yesterday, I confirmed that with my mother.) What I will be doing in year and a half is unsure. (Oh, oh, oh, how I like being sure, though…) I may be teaching, but I will be writing.

I am not always sure that I know how to become a better teacher. But I know how to become a better writer. When I graduated from high school my parents gave me a volume of C.S. Lewis and my Dad wrote on the inside “Always say what you mean.” That is the best advice for writing that I know.

So here is what I mean: I do not know if I can teach. I do not know if I can live off my writing. I do not know if I can live up to my parents as my imaginings tell me I should. I do not know, in fact, if I can live up to any of my imaginings. But I am learning what grace means. I am learning all the adjectives that make it visible and present, and I am learning my place among them. And God willing, I will spend the rest of my life writing them out in cramped black ink, as my parents have taught me.

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