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As a child I wrote in my bedroom closet. It was the way I expressed emotion and sorted out the enormous complexities of living in a house with four brothers and a father nearly destroyed by war.  The closet, tucked safely behind my skirts, blouses, dresses and coats, was a safe place to express fear, anger, love and confusion. I could ask questions and often answer them for myself through the words that rushed from my brain to my pencil. 

Very early on, I discovered that writing uses concrete details to evoke emotion and thereby move the reader to a place of feeling. When I first tried to do this, I wrote about the things that mattered most to me. My two children as toddlers in Tucson, the way their plump brown legs ran toward the swimming pool. The sweat that glistened like crystals on their skin. The way my son's blue eyes laughed from the inside before the sound tumbled over me. How my daughter's hair smelled after a shampoo--like apples just beginning to decay.

I wrote about canning tomatoes at the double white porcelain sink with my mother. She would peel and I would stuff those mushy red orbs into clean mason jars because my hands were small and could fit through the mouth of the jars. I'd write about the feel of the juice as it crawled up my fingers, tiny golden seeds sticking to my skin. I'd remember picking blackberries along the railroad tracks with my cousin, Linda, and my little brother, Bruce, now dead from a heroin overdose. I'd write about the way he sang Beetles songs and wore his hair to his shoulders. I even wrote about the first time I had sex and the left inguinal hernia that made itself known that night. And I learned that good writing is always an exercise in empathy. We must feel for our characters the way we feel for ourselves and the people we love.

Today, in an old notebook from high school, I rediscovered the draft of an assignment to write a letter to me from my ninety year old self. This is what I wrote at seventeen:   

"
You must slow down and enjoy each moment. It is not as important as you think it is to always be doing something. Take more time to sit quietly and absorb the life going on around you. Take more time to feel and less time to think. Walk in the woods and listen to the sounds the leaves make beneath your feet, hear the insects in the tall grasses. What are they telling you? Roll in the leaves you rake into piles the way you always did as a child. Achievements mean little as time moves by us. In the end, what matters most is who you love and how well you have loved them." 

I was struck by the wisdom of seventeen year old me pretending to me ninety. And I felt so lucky to have spent a lifetime writing and holding on to the things I'd written. I've discovered that writing is the gift that returns again and again--the message constantly changing as we do. 

 


Comments

11/13/2013 10:20am

Absolutely beautiful. You wrote, "And I learned that good writing is always an exercise in empathy. We must feel for our characters the way we feel for ourselves and the people we love." That is the best definition of good writing that I've heard. I hope I may quote you on that.

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11/13/2013 11:23am

Oh course, Marjorie. You may quote me any time.

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11/13/2013 10:57am

What a beautiful writer you are! This piece touched me in so many ways. It brought me back to my first journals. It seems this idea we have that our writing needs to be hidden is universal. We believe our thoughts and feelings should be relegated to the dark. I love your bravery in sharing. It gives the rest of us the courage to shine. And, I can't begin to imagine the wisdom you must have today when you had that wisdom then!

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Linda
11/14/2013 6:28pm

Your words reach me on so many levels. You are a born writer/communicator who shares her most personal thoughts and feelings. I love you for that. So proud of you.

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Carol Clough
11/14/2013 8:09pm

Susan, my friend, as usual your words have touched me. I never realized how deeply deep, your thoughts and imaginations were when we were growing up. I guess at that age most of us were just trying to figure out what to wear the next day, if we were liked by our friends and what we might be doing the next week. Life of course does get more serious than that and there will be many major decisions to make along the way. You had and have such wonderful insight and I am not going to wait until I am ninety to do the things you talked about. Boy,back then 90 was old and we thought it was old. We all need the time to reflect on our loved one and what the very many people have been in our life and how that has caused us to be who we are. So glad we can still do and experience the many wonders of our world. Continue your writing, my dear friend, you have a gift. The world needs to be exposed to you!

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11/24/2013 6:51pm

No wonder you're such a heartfelt and touching writer now. It's in your bones and your blood. You tell it like it is, and we feel it. Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us.

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Martha Ragland
12/03/2013 5:00pm

Amazing that you have these words from your 17-year-old self to share. How that self shines -- then and now!

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05/21/2015 10:54pm

The sweat that glistened like crystals on their skin

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09/10/2015 12:03pm

If you force your self to write something about your life then you cant put together again... for example your last really like then it will never be as excellent as if you were just going through it.

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03/08/2016 6:10am

These snippets from Dying Is Certain, Living Is Not by Bianca Sparacino fit well here for a person who has always exhibited their god given ability to just be themselves, there and then:

“Promise yourself that you will use your happiness as your guide. Instead of living a life that is rooted in the things you think you should do, strive to do the things your bones ache to achieve. Let your compass be one that uses joy as its leader, let your heart beat to the sound of your bliss.

Promise yourself that you will choose to love yourself every single day, whether or not you sleep beside another human being. Contrary to popular belief, you become whole when you start to love every inch of your body, every aspect of your character, and every feature of your mind, not when you find home in someone else’s arms. When you choose to love yourself with every sunrise, despite flaws, despite relationship status or good morning texts, you find within yourself a foundational kind of confidence that pours into every aspect of your existence. That is true liberation. That is freedom.

Promise yourself that you will not solely use old maps to get to new destinations. Traditionally speaking, if we followed in the footsteps of archaic ideals we would still be rooted in a world that does not support all of the progressive principles that have truly liberated us as human beings. Let this be a testament to your life. There is no need for you to walk in the footsteps of those who have created a dying world, so curate your own atlas, and forge your own path. Trust me when I say that you cannot mess up your journey.”

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