I’ve been a writer all my life. When I was a kid I invented genealogies for my “families” of toy plastic horses. I kept records of my scientific experiments in the back yard (How does dirt settle overnight in a jar of water? Can you splice a twig from a plum tree onto a peach tree?) Mostly I kept a journal – one of those small flowery jobs with a tiny gold key for the lock. No, I didn’t save it.
I was always a writer, always kept a journal. I’m in my fifties now, and I have journals going way back. The oldest was written in the hospital when my son was born. He’s in his thirties now. Actually, it’s not a whole journal, just the happy pages I saved.
After my first divorce I wrote about the first house I ever bought on my own, not much more than a chicken coop on a busy highway in a bad part of town. On weekends I’d do laundry and grocery shopping and pay bills and take Danny to T-ball practice and come home and mow and water the lawn and get good and dirty and then shower and change and pour a glass of wine and sit on the porch. I wrote in my journal and watched the sun go down across the freeway.
I wrote about my tough new job in management. Back then there weren’t that many women at that level, and I was only twenty-nine, and kind of stupid about people. And I wrote about being lonely. Boyfriends didn’t seem to stick. I didn’t have time to worry about not pursuing a writing career, but I had gratifications. One day I got a letter back from Barbara Bush. Yes, that Barbara Bush. She liked the one I wrote her about a TV appearance at Wellesley with Mrs. Gorbachev. Said I was “dear to write.” I framed it. Wouldn’t you? Eventually I got my BA, eighteen years after I’d graduated from high school. I know it seems like a long time but I was working fulltime and raising my boy. I was the first and only one to graduate in my family so it hardly mattered how long it took.
I never quit writing, mostly in my journal. I even started a novel: a hundred pages of first chapters, about a lady truck driver. I wrote a letter to a trucking magazine asking lady drivers to write to the shiny new PO box named after the book: “Jackknife.” This was how you did it before email. Along the way toward my second divorce I was filling up the pages of my journals. Another husband without a job. This one slipped back into a pre-marital drug addiction. I wrote and wrote.
After a lifetime spent carrying my own water and everybody else’s, I met a prince. I quit my job and started writing. When I got a copy of The Desert Woman with my memoir in it, and a breezy “Thanks!” from editor Barbara McClure, I pulled over to the side of the road and cried. I got my own regular column: “The Personnel Office” with the Riverside Business Journal. I’ve written for Palm Desert Magazine , and I’ve finished my “practice novel” and am working on Dakota Blues, my first real one. I attend writing conferences whenever I can and work hard to polish my craft. I’m still journaling, maybe more now than ever. I’ve got thirty years of memories in a box in the garage. I tried to put them on my computer recently. Thought it would be a good thing to do.
Wrong. You know how you think you grow and change and get smarter as you get older? What if you really don’t? See, you have your imagination to tell you it has happened, but I have my actual words, written in cursive with a fountain pen, mostly. I had to stop that project. I was having nightmares.
Have you ever asked a writer, “Why do you write?” Go ahead. It’s illuminating in the way they kind of freeze. I couldn’t tell you either, except that writing, the world of writing, and the company of writers nurture me somehow. Why do I write? Why do I breathe?