Everything we want to think we are we usually aren’t.
I grew up in a family of writers and activists. Too reclusive for the latter, I was drawn to the former. At age eight—while living in Corsica—I read voraciously and wrote plays and later poetry and short stories.
We read Shakespeare aloud in my family as a child. Entire plays, with everyone taking a role. I never realized that was unusual until I reviewed David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace and learned that in the Wallace household, everyone read—together in the same room.
Do those of us who do so become writers?
Growing up in the Bay Area in the '60s and '70s, I swiftly plotted my departure—I took flight to Canada first, where I studied everything but writing for a year, and then discovered sailing, and then fell in love and went to the other side of the country, equally swiftly, and then from there, I went sailing in the West Indies, where for two years I buried myself in boats.
While circumnavigating North America by plane, boat, and Greyhound Bus, I wrote. Landlocked in Maine, I studied writing with poet and publisher Constance Hunting. Then I met folklorist Sandy Ives, who catalyzed in me this love of story.
Folklore was to be my day job; it ended up a twenty-year career track.
All the while, I drafted novel after novel, none of them right.
And then in 2000, I wrote a book called "I Was Content and Not Content": The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry, with Cedric Chatterley and Stephen Cole, about one woman’s experience of plant closure in coastal Maine.
Linda Lord was a poultry worker at the local plant in Belfast, ten miles from where I lived. Cedric had begun photodocumenting Linda, who was to be featured in our exhibition and later the book. I’d seen his images, but I’d not yet met Linda.
“You know Linda lives next door,” Cedric announced one day, when he stopped by to work.
“You’re joking, right?”
“No, I’m not,” he said.
Look at page 43. (This necessitates buying the book, of course!) Notice the square boxes depicting windows on the other side of Linda’s plasticized porch. Little known fact: for a time I lived in one of those boxes, the windows of my room facing Linda’s home.
Maybe it was the confluence of events, but the book landed in The New York Times Book Review and was nominated for an Oral History Association Book Award.
Second book syndrome set in. I left my job at the Southern Oral History Program to write. I moved West. I wrote tens of thousands of words this time, got an agent (a fabulous one). Won an Elizabeth George Foundation grant for emerging writers. I got my first paid writing gig for ParentsDigest.com that lasted precisely one year.
And then everything changed—completely—once it looked as if it might actually be headed in a positive writing direction.
Nothing worked. I couldn’t seem to go the distance.
And then something strange happened.
On a dare from a friend, I signed onto National Novel Writing Month and drafted Dry River. For the past year and a half, I have worked steadily on the book. It might not yet sing, but it is the beginning of a song.
Things are better now. I write book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor. I am a reader at Narrative Magazine. I write daily. I am starting an MFA program. I am developing another nonfiction proposal. I have landed a day job. I am spending time with my girls.
Life continues, it gets richer, and when the book I’m writing is right, you'll get to read it too.