“Some people don’t really bother much with remembering; it seems like such a useless activity. But most writers are addicted to it.” –Alice Munro
My grandparents gave my cousin Stacy and I electric typewriters one Christmas. We were young-elementary age–but I don’t remember exactly how young. I can remember sitting in the floor of their spare bedroom, tapping away all afternoon. I don’t have that little electric typewriter anymore, but I do have my grandfather’s heavy manual sitting on the wine cart in the downstairs back hall beneath a small gold-framed mirror and two antiqued pictures of Paris.
(If anyone’s interested in learning more about my childhood on dad’s side of the family, one of my short stories, “The Naked Truth,” from IN MY GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE: AWARD-WINNING AUTHORS TELL STORIES ABOUT THEIR GRANDMOTHERS (Harper, 2003) is a story about me and my grandmother and a painting of a nude in my grandparents’ basement).
In sixth grade, I was “Dear Gabby” for Mr. Rideout’s class newspaper. Mr. Rideout had a mustache and called me “Olive Oil,” and that made me feel special–the nickname, not the mustache. Back then I read a lot of Judy Blume and all of the Newbery winners. I especially loved THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare.
In junior high, I was practically mute, but I did work on the newspaper. I don’t remember actually writing anything for it, though, and I can’t seem to bring up a picture of it in my mind. By then, I was reading Stephen King and a handful of YAs. Lots of sci fi, fantasy, and horror from then on and still today…
In high school, I didn’t read much except my dad’s serials (Westerns, Tarzan, and James Bond) and my mom’s mass market romances–all while laying out bikini-clad and soaked in baby oil on the back deck. The theory, believe it or not, was that I was too busy for anything more substantial. I’d also mostly (temporarily) abandoned superhero comics (which are now considered infinitely hip and in bound collections called “graphic novels”). However, I did edit my high school newspaper, a task made infinitely more fun by the fact that two of my best friends were managing and sports editors respectively.
In college, I majored in journalism (as did my abovementioned cousin), which was really pretty much a gimme by that point, and took a concentration in English (three courses in fiction writing–all the short story). I would’ve been astonished if anyone had told me that someday I’d actually be well published in the short story. Or, for that matter, fiction generally.
Journalism school probably saved my life, gave me a place to fit in without pretentions. I also loved my “Children and Television” class, which was taught by a husband-wife team who’d been affiliated with Children’s Television Workshop AKA “Sesame Street.” I did too many related internships in news reporting (small town and big city) and PR (private greeting card company, public oil company, non-profit association), all of which combined served to let me know that I would be better off self-employed–my current status.
Law school was a different, though still verbal, field of study. Being an overly academic workaholic simply made me redundant–a nice change. The first summer study abroad in Paris showed me how big and little the world could be. I took my second summer to do a feature writing internship at a major metro daily. After graduation, I lasted about six months in a federal law office on La Salle Street before quitting to write full time.
It amazes me every day that I get to do what I love most.
Not that I’m doing it today. I’m not writing today. I haven’t been writing much for the past few weeks, trying to sort of mentally regroup for the next big wave. I tend to do that, to fall completely into a manuscript. But every now and then, for a while, I have to break and go live a little in the real world. I don’t like it as much as the worlds of my own making, but there are a lot of people here I love. So, I’m not writing. Unless writing about writing or not writing in this blog counts. Maybe it does. Sure it does.