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Write Me a Symphony of Words and I’ll Listen Forever

December 2, 2008

“All my life, I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.”
-Ernest Hemingway


I’ve wanted to write for as far back as I can remember. My words haven’t always been particularly original or interesting, but it’s the pulse, the pure, creative force, the art of writing that has always held me contentedly captive. Like any good thing, it doesn’t come easy, at least not for me. I hardly ever like first drafts and I edit and edit and edit, until I take a break to edit some more. I hate half of what comes out immediately and in the few brief moments that something lovely is formed, I take it as pure luck or the words of the Holy Spirit and continue on, frustrated and determined.

But I love it.
Even when it sucks and takes forever and keeps me locked in a cycle that seemingly never ends, I love it.
Even when hours of work produce only a few paragraphs of something valuable, I love it. 

I can recall  being no more than six or seven years old, writing in a little notebook that my dad had given me from his office. I wrote poems and songs, mostly about Jesus and lambs and whatever else a seven year old thinks about. They weren’t very good or very poignant, but they were mine. I took the time to sculpt these words into something with meaning and I treasured them as if they were the lost writings of some great prophet or poet. Some kids asked for bikes or Legos or Barbies for holidays and birthdays — all I wanted were books. I never remember learning how to read — around the age of four or so, I think I just taught myself. My mother reading to me before bed was simply not enough for my eternal appetite — I wanted to do it myself, transport myself to these secret worlds, anytime I wanted.

Once I began school, my addiction became even more pronounced. The Scholastic book fair was the nearest thing to youthful utopia and recess was just an excuse for me to stay inside, reading in this small cardboard house called the Mouse House that was shaped like a large piece of cheese. There was a “Mouse” that lived in there and you could write him letters and he would write you back. When I wasn’t busy reading “Little House on the Prairie,” I would write long letters to the Mouse about my family, drawing him pictures and sharing with him the elation of getting to stay at a hotel in Toledo for my dad’s company Christmas party. By the time I got halfway through first grade, my teacher was worried about my social development and started forcing me to go outside and do normal kid things, like run and perfect my skills on the monkey bars. However, paper cuts still outnumbered skinned knees and I was perfectly content for it to be so. I was more interested in characters in books than other kids, but I pacified my teacher and made a few friends.

My mom was a children’s librarian while I was growing up and even now, years later, I so clearly remember how I felt every time I walked into the library. Its stature was exploding with grandeur to my four foot frame — its pillars and grand staircase, its endless wooden shelves that smelled like old books and pine, the room upstairs with all the reference materials that felt like some forgotten world that only I remembered — it was magic beyond anything I could imagine. I went back there a few years ago, when I was back in Ohio visiting family — how strange and small it was, and how big I felt now. It was hard to tell if how I remembered this place was designed in my imagination, to fit some idyllic childhood fantasy of a land where the written word never died, or if it really ever looked like that.

Even now, whenever I go into a library, I run my fingers over the stair railings, I rub the worn casings of book spines, I inhale the heady aroma of must and old paper, and it will always be magic.

As I continued to devour books with an insatiable hunger, my writing progressed as well. I began writing stories and poetry. They were usually just the silly ramblings of a preteen girl more interested in the Babysitter’s Club and the boy who sat next to me in band than proper grammar or original plot lines, but I still wrote, convinced that if I tried hard enough, something valuable would emerge.

I began writing for the school newspaper in high school and took extra English classes wherever I could — I never passed up a chance to understand more about the intoxicating mystery of putting together words just so in a way that they took hostage the mind and heart. 

I remember the day I met Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and my liquid eyes trembled when Boo Radley finally arrived to save Scout’s life. I recall late nights spent, pouring over the pages of “The Grapes of Wrath,” drinking in the simplicity of the prose, the poignant humanity of the words. I experienced a duplicitous love and hate for Henry and Catherine in “A Farewell to Arms” and I reveled at the peculiar mystery that was Danny Saunders in “The Chosen.” Words could never express my dear admiration for Professor Behr in “Little Women” and under the covers, late at night, I lost my very heart to the romance of Jane and Mr. Rochester in “Jane Eyre.” The owl-eyed man haunted me in “The Great Gatsby” and Heathcliff alarmed me down to the hairs on my head in “Wuthering Heights.” Even today, I hold these people as dear to me as real friends, for the part that they played in the development of my conscious heart. I owe a debt to literature that will only grow and grow as time goes by.

I’m still not sure what compelled me to choose a public relations major in college…my newspaper advisor in high school told me I’d probably be good at it, and I suppose I never really thought about it after that. I don’t want to say I regret my major, but I think I’ve come to see that my heart will never be in it. It’s become nothing more than a stepping stone, but still a valuable one that I will balance on and learn from until it is time to move forward into a passion I can unrestrainedly throw my heart into.

I still wonder at times if I was only meant to read great words and not to write them. People can tell me over and over that they like my writing, but I am always my harshest critic, scraping over my words with a sharp eye that leaves nothing but deep gashes and smears of unforgiving red ink in the margins. I constantly compare myself to everyone else and it drives me to keep trying, keep editing, keep pushing myself. Perhaps I never took a really good English class on structure and grammar (which I didn’t), but I don’t want that to be a wall for me. And if it is, I intend to chip away at that wall, determined to create something new and original even if it kills me.

Because once words take hold of you, it’s the beginning of the end.
A love affair that will only end when the need for words is through and I behold the Source of all true thoughts.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2008 9:25 pm

    I truly enjoyed your words. I wrote my first story when I was four or five. All I ever think is I want to write although I have no clue of what to write about. I went into accounting and bookkeeping, but through all the years I always come back to writing. Some day I want someone to lose their self in one of my stories like I lose myself in so many others. Oh, and I still have my old paperback of Wuthering Heights from 1989 and it is still treasured. I look forward to reading more of your writing.

  2. Caroline permalink*
    December 2, 2008 9:53 pm

    I know exactly what you mean — I think of books whose covers I’ve worn out with how many times I’v read them and I wonder if someone would ever wear thin the cover of a book of mine.

    Keep writing and thank you so much for reading.

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