One Writer’s Beginnings

 “I do things like get in a taxi and say “The library, and step on it!”
{ David Foster Wallace

As far back as I can remember, I have always had a passionate, voracious, insatiable appetite for books. When I was little, the local library would only allow each person so many, so I would use my two younger sister’s credits so that I could get 30 books as opposed to ten. This is when my mom put my first “big girl” book in my hands–Charlotte’s Web–and, in addition to the library, I began raiding the family bookshelf, and, when that wasn’t enough, scrounging in dusty old crates of books in our attic, finding such treasures as my grandmother’s double sided books of fairy-tales, Arabian Nights, Huck Finn, boxes from my dad’s college days brimming with authors like Asimov and Bradbury.

It was reading Bradbury that made me a writer. I was in bed one night, reading far past my bedtime, the golden glow of the lamplight illuminating the yellowed page of Fahrenheit 451.

I want to see everything now. And while none of it will be me when it goes in, after a while it’ll all gather together inside and it’ll be me. Look at the world out there, my God, my God, look at it out there, outside me, out there beyond my face and the only way to really touch it is to put it where it’s finally me, where it’s in the blood, where it pumps around a thousand times ten thousand a day. I get hold of it so it’ll never run off. I’ll hold on to the world tight some day. I’ve got one finger on it now; that’s a beginning.

 The secret to Bradbury’s prose is his poetry. It was the first time I had read something and thought “this is beautiful; this is art.” I flipped back to the front of the book and read more. Tried out some sentences out loud, how they felt in the mouth. Wrote some down, how they felt in my own hand. And I think that is exactly when I became a writer.

Of course, I didn’t actually write for a few years. I wrote the occasional detective agency song ( I was only about ten or so at the time and still reading Nancy Drews with my girl friends), little story based on another story, you know, the things children write. Then in my teen years I tried out my first poetry–I’m not sure where it came from exactly, since I never read poetry; the sci-fi short fiction I’d been writing just wasn’t appropriate for all the emotional excess that is being a teenage girl. So I filled little notebooks with long free-verse poems. I didn’t share them with anyone except my boy-next-door (literally) boyfriend, who said they were awful. And they were, but it was still pretty awful of him to tell me that. But it didn’t matter because I was a Fiction Writer. A Novelist.

Then I discovered that I wasn’t. It took me all four years of college to be completely convinced of it; professors kindly pointing me toward poetry, the new boyfriend (and now my husband), when really pressed, would confess my poetry is a little better than my wonderful prose. I wrote both for a while. Then fiction become less frequent; then only when it was required of me, and eventually not at all. And poetry blossomed.

All the while, I read. I read everything in my hometown library–tiny, the size of a college dorm room–then everything in the poetry section of my college library–smaller than it should’ve been, a few meager shelves in an infrequently visited corner of the library. I found poets that I liked; poets who could tell a story with their poetry the way I wanted to tell a story; who I could connect with emotionally, who, once the poetry classes were over, taught me more on how to write.

I somehow got into an MFA program in Boston. Looking at my submission to the program, I’m still not sure how it happened. A great belief in potential? Maybe, as they say, it was the charming essay. Whatever the case, I studied with some wonderful poets. And had access to a big-city university library, where I stuffed my eyes with as many books as I could, filling up my weathered student satchel with as many books as my shoulder could stand to carry. How my shoulders and back would ache with the weight of hardbacks and slim books of poetry, with Rilke, Rich, Wright, Levine! And I would read them up and down the orange line subway, sometimes up and down the street on the long walk from the T to our old Victorian apartment, windows cracked and paint peeling.

I’ve had access to good and mediocre and awful and sublime libraries since then; now all I ask for is a good interlibrary loan and a librarian who won’t scowl when I ask to check out a dozen at a time.

And all the while I’ve been writing. I think, what I truly want in the end, is to be part of someone else’s unstoppable hunger for books. To put my own on the shelf, to meet that eager hand. 

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

{ Ray Bradbury

6 Comments

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s