I have been a writer all my life, but I never thought of myself as one, not in the way I grew up thinking about them. Charlotte Bronte. George Eliot. Edith Wharton. Henry James. Virginia Woolf. To me, they were writers! As a freshman at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, when my preceptorial professor and default academic advisor Robert O’Clair (then editor of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry) told me that I “should be a writer,” I imagined myself penniless, homeless, lifeless in a gutter before I had gray hair. I fled–the school, the image, the aspiration–by the end of my first semester.

Three and a half years later, I graduated from a small women’s college close to home (where I had never wanted to go) with a BS degree in English (along with business and economics), and after several years in advertising and public relations, in Manhattan and Albany, writing about things I didn’t care about and answering grammar questions from people in corner offices, I fled again, this time to grad school, first to American literature, then to rhetoric and composition studies. Literary and rhetorical analysis was routine, and that was where I spent my writing life.

It wasn’t until I opened a spiral stenographer’s notebook my mother had used for grocery lists and phone messages that I began to write nonacademic prose again, in order to cope with and somehow to preserve what turned out to be the last three weeks of her life. I could not bring myself to open the notebook for more than ten years, but when I did, I heard my mother’s voice again.

It’s a lot to ask of black marks on a white page or screen, making time and distance  and experiences disappear into memory–an eternal present, like painted scenes on a Grecian urn. And yet, it’s all we have.


3 responses to “Home

  1. There is a story of a Russian sailor, Dmitri Kolesnikov, who was in the explosion of the Russian submarine Kursk. Before he died, he wrote a letter to his family as well as reported on who had survived the initial blast. There was an essay we read in Meisner that referenced this…it talks about the fact that one of our urges is to write, especially when things get bad. Much like your mother’s stenographers pad, we all want to be heard, to be remembered, and to leave something behind after us.

  2. So true that it is both a lot to ask. . .and all we have. As Zora Neale Hurston writes, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”

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