I don’t know what makes one a writer. I call myself a writer on my Twitter bio because I write, a ton, both online and offline, but I’ve never been published. Does being published make me a writer? I take that back, I have been published. I was published in 1999 when I was eleven or twelve years old and submitted a few poems to some children’s poetry club and received a letter back saying, Congratulations! We have accepted your poems into our such-and-such-collection and you will be published in such-and-such book. I was over the moon, and to this day I don’t know if every eleven or twelve year old who submitted poems to that book was being published, or if my poems really were a magical and unique collection. But never-mind that.
I’ve often thought that it must be age that will make me a writer, because, with age comes experience and wisdom; years and years of knowledge and trials and information and hardship and also joy. I’ve longed to be older than I am purely so that I could be more knowledgable on certain topics, a right of passage, in a sense, to write without naivety. I hate being naive, and yet I often am, although, perhaps not as much as I think, because I know I am constantly painting myself with doses of reality. Sometimes I am too realistic and in the same breath, sometimes I dream too much. I’m a serious, emotional and sentimental optimist… I think.
But I know I can’t long to be older than I am because once I am older than I am I will only wish to be younger than I am. At least that’s what I think, or at least that’s what magazines tell me. They tell me that being old isn’t cool anymore. You’ve missed your chance. You’re no longer young and pretty (“you’re not in your prime!”), and so you only get certain parts in the movies. But I don’t know if any of that is true, or if that’s only what media wants me to believe. You see, I read the most beautiful essay by Roger Angell called “This Old Man” that was originally published in The New Yorker and was republished in a booked called, “The Best American Essays,” edited by Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, which I bought while I was on my honeymoon (I know, that was a mouthful). I read the intro and the first essay while I was in the bath, after a long day of hiking through freezing cold and pouring rain forests with my new husband (it’s still new). Then we returned home and had Christmas and the holidays and New Years and work and routine and rearranging furniture and just last night, over three weeks later, I finally got around to reading the second essay and I cried. Roger’s essay (I prefer to call him Roger than Angell because referring to someone by only their last name sounds so impersonal) was beautiful and the most honest account of death and love I have ever read in my entire life. He’s ninety-three and he’s “feeling great.” No really, he is.
You see, I’ve wanted to be older than I am because being older than I am means I can write on topics with authority, and yet, I do not wish to experience things like death anytime soon, of myself or of a loved one. I’ve been lucky and have been mostly untouched by death in my short twenty-seven years of life. My grandfather’s death was my first one. We got along great. He was the funniest, old man I knew, and thankfully gave all that humor to my funny father. He died quickly, and I’ll never forget the look on my grandmother’s face a week later. She looked like she had died, but there she was still walking and moving and breathing and getting up from one spot to go sit at the next spot (say, the dinner table). She looked so sad and she was so pail from grief that I thought it would only be a small matter of time before she would die from a broken heart. But, over ten years later, my grandmother now has seven great grandchildren and I believe another is on the way (gosh, I hope I haven’t forgotten about any). She’s happy and teaches exercise classes and is just as alive as she was before my grandfather passed. And that’s exactly what Roger said, “the accruing weight of these departures [death] doesn’t bury us.” The next death I experienced was one of the worst experiences of my life, and it was only that I was present when a friend found out her mother had passed. I could write on this more, but it’s not my story to tell, and she continues to amaze me how she’s moved on, and yet I can only imagine that she doesn’t at all feel like she’s moved on, for “moved on” are not the right set of words at all, but I can’t even begin to accurately describe what it must really feel like for her. And then there’s just this past year, where my husband and I each had one of our best friend’s lose a parent, and that was just awful, too. But yet again, neither of those are my stories to tell.
Death is this strangely complex topic that I do think about often. Not too often, not in a weird way, but in a way where it crosses my mind from time to time. Again, I’m realistic and I like to be prepared. Not for disaster, but simply for reality. I hope and I pray each night that my loved ones will be safe, healthy and happy, and afterwards I fall into a never-deep-enough sleep but still deep enough to then wake up in the middle of the night and realize that I had no idea that I was gone (sleeping), and that that must be what death feels like. Unless, of course, you believe in the afterlife, then death must feel like one of my really, really great dreams I have every now and then. Like the one where I am flying and I am able to lift my body higher up into the sky, and then control it as I race down and almost hit the dirt, but right before it’s too late, whisk myself back up in the air again. It feels divine. I haven’t had that dream in years, though.
I admit that getting married had me excited not only for the marriage part of it, but also because suddenly I could start writing on a new topic. If not something so grave and heavy and mature and life-altering as death, but still something complex in its own way, something also life-altering, and I hope to maintain a happy marriage, forever, both naively and realistically.
So, perhaps, now, I am a writer. I am married–that grants me new knowledge and therefore authorship, right? Then again, some of us get married really young, before we’ve had a chance to fully know who we are. Some of us get married because we get pregnant, and instead of simply becoming a spouse and learning things spouses must learn, we instantly become parents. Some of us have a lifetime of experiences and don’t get married until we’re older, or at all. Some of us marry and discover ourselves right away, some of us marry and never discover ourselves or even lose who we are. So perhaps marriage is not what makes me a writer. I do feel different, though. Just last night I asked Eric, “how does it feel, to you, to be married?” “Different,” he said, “and yet I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s something I could have never adequately explained to my single self, but I know I feel it now. It’s even different than living with someone and not being married.” I agreed, or maybe I said that and he agreed, I can’t remember, but we both continued stirring the brussel sprouts in the pan and cutting the tomatoes for our salad, silently pondering just what it is that makes marriage feel so different. “God… It’s God, for me, that makes marriage feel so different,” I said, “although I don’t know what someone would say about marriage feeling different who doesn’t believe in God.” “I don’t know either,” he said.
I still don’t know, but suddenly, after reading Roger Angell’s piece, “This Old Man,” suddenly I do not wish to be older. Yes, he wrote the most beautiful piece on death and love I have ever read, as I’ve already said, but so much so that I no longer wish to be older in order to have access to additional knowledge, because I realize now, that I will always be experiencing something. And if I don’t write now, when I’m still young and only twenty-seven and newly married, who knows what might happen. I may get Alzheimers or die young or lose the ability to use my hands, and then I will be so mad at myself that I didn’t simply write. Just write, already. It doesn’t matter if I’ve never been published except for when I was eleven or twelve years old and can’t even remember what the publication was called or if I haven’t experienced things that others have experienced. I can still write what I have experienced, no matter how boring/insignificant it may seem. After-all, I don’t personally find it that boring or insignificant. I don’t wake up each morning going, ugh, god, another boring day to get to, no, I usually wake up with either a plethora of things to do, or I create a plethora of things to do, and that is what makes life so interesting. The day to day. The simple and somewhat insignificant moments. The moment where I was both annoyed at my husband because I was so tired and yet found myself hysterically laughing at how silly he was being and how much I love him (he’s always trying to make me laugh, and he does, without fail, even when I don’t want to laugh, but it’s never really him that I’m annoyed with anyway, it’s my own personal opinion of something and how I like things to be, and besides, it’s not always about me, nor should it be). See, it’s not necessarily about marriage or death or xyz, it’s about the collection of the events, and how we go about the events. The marriage itself took place when we said our vows, signed a piece of paper and then mailed it in. The actual death of my grandfather was that he had cancer and then one day, he took his last breath. Both of those events may not be so interesting, but instead, it’s the laughter, the playing, the joking, the doing, the living, the fun, the twists, the turns, the memories, the in-between and sometimes unseen moments that make love and death both so interesting.
And so, maybe being a writer is simply continuing to write. Maybe being a writer is being able to slow down and recall and then write words together in a way that paint beautiful pictures and tell grand stories with letters on a page (or at least I hope my writing will paint beautiful pictures and tell grand stories). Maybe being a writer is allowing myself enough silence and solitude to voice my inner being, the true version of my self, the self that only ever comes out through these collections of words and the deep, intimate and contemplative conversations I have with other writers like me, and the friends I feel safe enough to share with. Maybe being a writer has nothing to do with my age or my experiences, for I would never want to tell my child one day, you’re not a writer! You’re only seven years old!, because how could I ever limit their abilities or dreams of not only becoming someone, but already being someone. A very real and feeling human being. Because when I was a child, I wanted to be a photographer when I grew up, or maybe it was a journalist, or no, a photojournalist, hmmm, it was something to do with photos and words and here I am, taking photos and writing words and I’m still trying to become something and someone. Maybe I already am that someone. Maybe I’ll never feel like I’m that someone. Maybe being that someone is continuing to do the day to day, ticking off small boxes of goals and accomplishments and tedious to-do’s. Maybe being that someone is simply being here, present, in this very moment, and not wishing to become someone, because right now, I am someone, and this someone is me.