I think of you on July 9, and today I was digging through my box of family artifacts and remembering that period of time we were writing letters to each other.
I might have been recently graduated from college. I’m not sure how we got started, but in a few of my letters I was trying to explain some life decisions I’d made. Where to live, what kind of job to take, some relationship matter. Maybe all the above.
You were probably trying to guide me without actually giving direct advice, which was this talent you had, like that time you did with Vince.
Remember how we got into this thing in our letters where we started using words the other would have to look up. I once wrote to you “I must earn some money lest I become a tatterdemalion.” I know you grabbed the dictionary for that one. And you acted impressed when I used the word ‘fallow’ to describe a field.
It made me realize I never thanked you for encouraging me to be a writer.
Our letters back and forth—those were some of my first sparks of creativity, where I focused on the writing and a purpose. That’s not counting the early years: the story about the runaway hot dog I wrote when I was eight, or the sixth-grade Christmas play I authored about the boys who kidnapped Santa. You helped me with character names.
Near the end, when it became just me writing letters to you, when I was unsteady and full of dread, when I was writing how I hoped you might be feeling a little better and that I was coming to visit next weekend . . . it’s in those letters I really discovered some secrets about writing: how it’s impossible to know exactly what you want to say, to get the words just right. How the words can fail. How little control we have. Yet the writer keeps trying. The desire, the deep need, to keep going, to attempt something meaningful, to write what is worthy, to manage the chaos, to provide comfort or gain connection or release emotion, to understand and be understood. The writer keeps trying until the inevitable end.
If I were still writing you letters, I’d tell you how tasty my sauce is coming out these days. And about my family, how devoted we are to each other. You’d love to hear that. I might sneak in a sentence or two about a dilemma I’m facing or a decision I have to make. I’d be secretly asking for advice, and in your letters back I’d be decoding your wisdom. I hope you would approve of what I’m trying to do.