Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bits and Pieces

By Hannah

The education of a writer comes in all the traditions of the stories themselves. Listening to bedtime stories by my uncle, who appeared from far away and challenged us to name any topic, any topic at all. Learning grammar and to enjoy the Wild Bard of Avon from teachers like Mr. McKee, so solemn except for his eyes twinkling over his glasses. Learning to ask questions from my mother, who loves to find out how people live, what they think. From my father, who loves humor. My brother is in a writers' group, too, no surprise!

It comes from conversations with others, like my great-aunt who translated fairy tales in thick volumes, and who wrote her own tales on onion-skin paper with a Royal typewriter. Neighbors like Monica Dickens, who let me feed her horses even as I read her World End series in the height of my horse-loving ‘tween years. There are friends, such as Lane Von Herzen MacWilliams and this group, all gracious and encouraging and generous

There is the book-learning, the reading of literature and of course the books about how to write. My aunt-no-longer-married-to-my-uncle did not like Stephen King, and told him so. Her tastes ran in different directions; still, something about his writing really set her off and she sent him a letter outlining her deepest feelings on the matter. She told me this during a long conversation about the craft in which I finally mustered the courage to tell her I found his book On Writing useful. Interesting. I didn’t go so far as to utter the word enjoyable, also true. She informed me he stopped writing soon after receiving her letter, and she changed the subject.

Gail Godwin, writing in her mid-twenties in a journal that would become part of The Making of a Writer says: “I know that I am never alone because in my highest moments I am thinking thoughts that others of my kind have thought in the past or will think in the future. And I see myself as part of a link in a chain.” Three sentences later, she describes how “American pragmatism takes over” and suddenly “I think no longer of time eternal but of the unforgiving minute.” She chronicles every lift of the heart, every drop in self-esteem, every painstaking step toward a dream.

The education of a writer is in the bits and pieces: the people we meet, the words we read, our experiences, and the moments when they come together. My aunt didn’t have to read Stephen King. Why could she not simply put him down; why was she compelled to send him, of all people, instructional correspondence on how to redirect his talents? It was coincidence, of course, that he stopped writing after her letter arrived in his mailbox. Probably also coincidence that news of his return to writing was announced the week after she died. I’d say there’s a story in there, somewhere, wouldn’t you?

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