A Letter to the Girls

Something I find very interesting is that not a single one of my childhood friends or classmates went on to become a writer. Is this possible? As far as I can remember, no one I knew ever told me that he or she was going to write. This includes one or two who really enjoyed writing. And yet in my case it was fairly general knowledge. I knew then that I was going to write, and I didn�t keep it a secret. Upon leaving high school, several of my classmates even wished me good luck with my writing. Perhaps during the years that followed, they wondered what happened, and how I could have ended up driving a tractor, pruning apricot trees, and making raisins, instead of going to New York or Paris or San Francisco and doing whatever it is writers do in those places while they are on their way to becoming famous and eccentric. But I seriously doubt they thought about it at all. There were too many other things to think about � important things like going to college, getting a job, raising a family, and getting ready for the next class reunion.

Meanwhile, I learned early on that it was just as easy to become eccentric on the farm by entering into discussions with old plows and vine stumps. More than once, my wife told me I looked like a madman while I was driving the tractor, as if I were angry and intent on something other than the work I was doing. And I do remember feeling something akin to insanity while watching the cultivator teeth clawing at the moist earth as I passed along the vineyard and orchard rows. The teeth might have been my own, or they might have been the long fingers of ghosts desperately trying to reveal their painful secrets.

Be that as it may, I can think of a few classmates who, owing to their bearing and temperament, might have done well to pursue writing. Who knows? Maybe they have. A couple were intelligent, melancholy girls, one of which, if I am not mistaken, later suffered the ravages of alcohol. I have no idea what became of the other. I can imagine her spending days at a time smoking cigarettes in her nightgown with the curtains closed, or being a librarian, or a welfare case manager. If she were to write a novel, I think it would be about living a rough life in Wyoming or Montana. Her poems, though, would be like those of Emily Dickinson: wonder against a white background, strengthened by pain.

Please forgive me, ladies. But I remember when each of you were six years old. I remember you when you were ten, and twelve, and fifteen. You were like astonished, resilient butterflies. I remember the young women you became, and how you differed from the others, who were proud and sad and beautiful in their own right, yet somehow less eager or determined to know, or temporarily or permanently blinded by the good intentions of their parents and their cruel or level-headed upbringing, and who are now rich, or poor, or happy, or divorced, or depressed, or angry, or niggling, or meddlesome, or overbearing, or wonderful, or gracious, or wise, or kind, or forgiving, or exhausted from work and asleep on the couch, or bitter, or disappointed, or confident everything will work out in the end, or a combination of all these things and more.

But I do not delude myself. I am sure that more than ninety-nine percent of my childhood friends and classmates have no idea I am a writer. I am sure most do not care, and that few even remember me, or have thought of me in the last thirty years. There is poetic justice in that. Because, although I know I am a fairly competent writer, I am also an arrogant, self-centered loon who has caused, as the old saying goes, more trouble than he is worth. I am not sure what to do about it, or even if there is anything to be done, but by writing I hope to find out. I do know this much: it is too late for anything else. I was not saddled or blessed with the gift of reason, only the self-destructive will to carry on.

March 8, 2006

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