After reading a post by a friend, I thought about the question of when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I realized I don’t know the answer.
I remember writing a short story in the fifth grade. I remember writing poems for my grandmother when I was eight. I remember reading everything interesting in the kids section of the public library by the time I was ten and asking my grandmother to check books out for me from the adult section. She would check out anything I wanted. I was allowed to read anything. I remember ignoring teachers and classwork to read books hidden under my desk and navigating the school hallways without looking up from my book. I remember books I would finish and immediately go back to the beginning to read again because I couldn’t stand for the story to end.
When I was little there were no Barnes & Noble Bookstores with cafes. My hometown had a Waldenbooks in the mall where my father would leave me while he looked at tools at Sears. The only other place to go to buys books was a gift shop a block and a busy thoroughfare away from my grandmother’s house. The shop appeared to make its money from the cards and gifts–candles, picture frames, figurines of little boys with fishing poles and little girls perched on flowers and holding butterflies, that sort of thing. Against the back wall were the fantasy and science fiction books. A huge selection I thought at the time. And I would sit on the floor and stare up at the books and spend at least an hour deciding which book to buy whenever some adult had given me money. I remember loving the colors of the books (all paperbacks) and reading the backs of them over and over again. I very much did judge a book by its cover.
I don’t remember thinking, “Oh I can do this too!” But neither do I remember thinking I couldn’t.
I remember sitting on a Saturday afternoon with my mother and my grandmother each of us with a book. They had coffee and I had milk and we all had a cookie and we read until grandmother decided it was time to cook dinner.
I remember my dad reading me fairy tales, but I don’t remember ever noticing that he couldn’t actually read very well. I remember my dad teaching himself to read and write and asking me for help with his self-imposed homework. So I believed EVERYBODY in the world had homework and everybody read.
But lots of people love to read and yet don’t become writers. Perhaps writers are not made simply from a love of books. Perhaps they are made from the way they learn to use their imaginations. I don’t mean they have imaginations and others don’t. Everyone has an imagination. I mean the way imagination plays out in their daily lives.
My father encouraged me to believe that a witch lived in an abandon shack near our house, that a mailbox painted with butterflies could fly away, that Santa’s elves were in the hot air balloons that sailed over our house in the summer. My father did not explain why I had to hide in the closet one night while he was on the floor with a shot gun (a real life police shoot out on our property I found out years later), why my mother was in the hospital for several weeks (depression), or why our dog was dead (shot by a drug-addled fool on a motorcyle). Everything was left to my imagination. If I wanted an explanation for something (the first divorce, the second divorce, the change of anything at all in our lives), I had to make it up. I think such events as these (among many, many others) have as much to do with why I’m a writer as my love of books.
But I no more decided I wanted to be a writer than I decided I was a girl or that I liked boys or that watermelon tastes good on a hot day or that the alligators in the lake were dangerous. It feels like I’ve known these things forever.