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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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If I Knew The Way I Would Take You Home

For me it was under the stairs. With a satin-edged blanket, a chenille throw pillow, and an abandoned lamp with a makeshift shade. I first stole away from the world to write in that crawlspace beneath the stairs in a faux leather diary with gold stamping and a small lock. I mostly recorded things I hated: mustard, hebrew school, my friend Carolyn’s father, sharing a bedroom with my sister etc.  From there I went on to headier subjects like my love of hotdogs or to recount the latest advance or retreat in the acorn wars against the Frankel brothers. For some reason that I couldn’t begin to understand, I needed to write stuff down. And needed to keep secret.

How old were you when you started writing and what, if you remember, did you say?

74 Responses

  1. In my room I wrote out my first unfinished book, a settler story set in outback Australia, with something fishy going on between a big-jawed woman (I drew her on the cover, ugly thing with a bustled skirt – no Nicole Kidman or Hugh Jackman in sight) and the young stud on a horse. Lots of dogs and lizards and heat. I was twelve.

    • This is intriguing, much more so than if she had been Nicole Kidman. I find myself wondering does she mean sexual. If it was, what circumstances throw a young stud and a big-jawed woman together?

  2. 7 years old. Hello Kitty notebook. I wrote about how I wanted magical powers.

  3. I was six years-old, flying to Germany with my dad. My first grade teacher had made a journal for me out of that paper you use at that age; it’s all huge on the wide rule with a dotted line in the middle to teach you lower case and upper case, and she had bound it with wallpaper. I wish I still had that journal.

  4. I wrote “books” before I could even write, asking my mom to staple pages together that I could write in (my daughter did this too). I wrote poems that were praised by astonished teachers in grade three and kept doing so. In grade three the poem was about a snake. In grade four or five I wrote one about Autumn and one about God. I started my first novel (never finished) when I was ten or eleven. I still have it! It’s about a orphan girl who discovers she has magical powers! I started writing songs when I was 13 (I still have them all too). I wrote an award wining short story in grade 11. Then I doodled and dabbled and got discouraged and didn’t start to take myself seriously until I was 30, when I wrote “the screenplay”.

    My mission as a writing mentor for youth is to help them to skip the doodle dabble discouraged phase.

  5. Young. Loopty-loop writing. Then the 90-page longhand (wide-ruled, black magic marker) attempt to copy Judy Blume. Cruel stepmother acted like a New York editor, not a fawning mother figure. Neighborhood newspaper at 9, Dog of the Week and that sort of thing.

    When I graduated to proper diary/journal-keeping a few years later, I went into what I wore and how a certain boy or two looked at me, moved an arm in a significant and telling way, etc. Gripping.

  6. Too young to remember. The moment I stopped is more vivid. I was on the speech and debate team in high school and away at a writer’s camp for young orators. We were supposed to be composing pieces for the upcoming school year. Mine was on my mother. The people running the program took what I had written and transformed it into something different. I was (no pun intended) speechless. What made matters worse is that I went on to win every competition that year. And we’re not just talking regionally. I was a National champion.

    I didn’t write again for almost 30 years.

  7. At nine or ten, I wrote and illustrated the story of Kyle the lamb (big square head, square eyes), who lived under a heather ledge on the moors on the island I lived on, with his friend Hamish the cow. Hamish and Kyle go to the mainland and then Hamish disappears. It turns out he’s been captured and eaten. Kyle, in distress, wanders into a kebab shop, and that is the end of him.

    Everything was always about suffering and the inevitability of death, even then. I think things are a little more nuanced now.

  8. I was an adult, grief-stricken with no outlet. I needed to write out all the pain. After and since I’ve written because I want to. That was the gift.

  9. My Dad has some soft scraps of oblong school tablet paper with faded, thick penciled lines looping along triple-ruled guides. He says they were my first stories, but I’m sure they were much longer read aloud that written.

    I do remember submitting a story about a lady pirate to the reader’s corner section of Cricket magazine when I was about nine. I’m still waiting for them to get back to me . . .

  10. I was in my 30s. I met someone my age who was trying to teach herself to write romance novels, and I confessed this secret desire I had to be a writer. (Yes, “be a writer.” It’s always the brooding lifestyle that appeals to me.)

    But she encouraged me. I wanted to write mysteries, so that’s what I did. I’ve been writing ever since, although with long hiatuses when I get discouraged. We had a terrible falling out one day and went our separate ways.

    I Google her name from time to time, to see if she’s published any stories. I don’t find any. If she Googles my name, she finds three or four. Heh.

  11. At about 10, in diaries I still have in a box. Graphic novels began in 4th grade, with my friend Amy…early anime!

  12. After this neighborhood bully had his way with me, I wrote a poem for God who I heaped so much praise upon. To cover my bases, I bought psycho boy a pink bubblegum cigar.

  13. In third grade, I wrote stories about pea people and stars. During the orphan-under-the-stairs-dreaming-of-magical-powers-stage, I composed sighing, soulful, self-pitiful odes to dead school buses. Things got worse before writing got better.

  14. At 9 or 10 I wrote and illustrated very embarrassing medical texts because I thought I wanted to be a doctor. Thanks to an aversion to gore and mediocre marks, I threw out that idea out along with that of being an illustrator and I was left with writing.

  15. I was seven and wrote a story called You Are Cute. It answered the age old question: who is cute? My second grade teacher loved it and passed it around. My mother showed it to my relatives. Someone called me a writer. And I was hooked…

  16. I was six, and my mom gave me a tiny, fat Coca-Cola notebook to fill on our trip to Colorado. I wrote about the sunset from the plane mostly.

  17. At five, I wrote rude words on scraps of paper then hid them in a book. Unfortunately it was the book my mother was reading at the time. So my first reward for writing was a warmed up arse. Or should I speak American and say ass… They weren’t even very good rude words.
    Then at seven, I wrote what I thought was a novel. It was told in third person about an ancient guy, about twenty, who won a greyhound pup in a Name The Racing Dog Competition. And the guy played cricket too, and he was really good at it, but not quite as good as his friend. And the puppy grew up and won lots of races of course, but the guy never did become as good at cricket as his friend, until, one day, against all odds…..

  18. When I was 11, I wrote in a diary about the every injustice in my life. My stepfather was the main character. I also wrote short stories for school about a tribal boy entering the forest to become a man that my teacher shared with my mother. She nodded her head and patted mine. I eventually destroyed all of it. When I was 27, from the height of the 23rd floor of my layover hotel in Narita, I wrote two handwritten pages about the trees outside my window. That was the first piece of writing that I didn’t eventually rip up. One year later, pregnant with my first child, I wrote my first book.

  19. I was 9 or ten and it was a lavendar journal with a rainbow on the cover. I wrote about my mother which she found despite it being well hidden. It didn’t go well. I tore out the pages and brought them to school to throw them away. I didn’t write anything personal for years and years and still remain scared my writing will be found.

    • I started writing in a journal, without censoring, at 14. Like you, despite the perfect hiding spot, my mother found it. I’d written what a bitch she was. She didn’t say a word, just sobbed and handed it gently back to me.

      I was 35 when I wrote my first story.

    • “if you read someone else’s diary, you get what you deserve.” David Sedaris

      (oh the stories i could tell on this one.)

      • My son was 14 and his room was a mess. I said, “We’re gonna clean this up.” We sat in the middle of the mess to do that. Lots of papers scattered about. Mostly school papers. Throw this out, throw this out, keep this, throw this out… then a spiral notebook, green cover maybe. I opened it, saw right away what it likely was, closed it, said to my son, “Is this a personal journal?” He said, “Yeah,” painful squingey look on his face. I handed it to him, said something about respecting his privacy. He took it and looked so relieved.

        Did I want to read it? Yes! Did I want to know the secrets of what he thought about his dad? Yes… sort of. Am I glad I didn’t read it? You betcha. I know what kind of stuff I wrote in my journal when I was his age. No point embarrassing him, teenhood is tuff enuff.

  20. Forrest green journal with gold trim and a tiny gold key. 5th grade, first entry, “Today I asked Carrie Schell what love is.”

    Later in the back of spiral math notebooks. Wide lines, smudged pencil, contemplating perfect moments like clean washed hair and a glass of homemade iced tea. Asking about the meaning of life and whether God would ever grant me 20-20 vision.

  21. I was fifty eight and retired. I wrote a very long novel called Going to War with the Avon Lady. There was no dialogue. I didn’t know you were supposed to include dialogue, which was probably a good thing. I sent it to several houses (no specific editors). Anita Miller (co-owner with her husband Jordan) of Academy Chicago Publishers read it and sent me a full-page, handwritten rejection letter. Of course, she didn’t publish it, but she said it was very funny and she called me a “writer.” I cried and sent her a thank-you note. I wrote another novel called The Weddin’ Ring Quilt. There was dialogue this time–all in north country twang, which I found out is grating on some picky picky editors after a couple of sentences. No sale, but again a nice note from Anita Miller. A third book–Letters in the Attic. Regular dialogue, no twang. I was in the kitchen ironing when the phone rang. It was Anita Miller calling to say they wanted to publish my book. I cried again and sent another thank-you note.

  22. I was 8 or 9 and had one of those diaries with a cheap gold lock and some sort of pink girlie cover. Inside the lines were very small, not great for a 3rd grader’s scrawl. I remember thinking I was doing it wrong ( kind of like coloring outside the lines) and feeling gulity because a week would pass between entries, something that still haunts me. The good news: I’m still going….

    • I had a diary like that. Each page was dated, so if I missed a day I felt like a failure and if I wanted to write more than a page I felt constrained. Apparently it never occurred to me to ignore the dates and just write.

    • I had the same fear about doing it wrong. And seemingly the same diary. I wrote things like: went to school and gymnastics. Cleaned out the gerbil cage. That was it. I wanted to be like the girl in some Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary book who poured out her secrets on the pages of this secret world but I was so painfully inhibited at that age.

  23. 5th grade, so I was 10. Our teacher, Mrs. Rothstein, assigned a classroom project to write about the Berlin Wall, still in physical existence back then. I got lost in it and wrote a decent story about an East Berlin family trying to escape to the west. I remember one line about shaking like a leaf on a cold wintry night. Hoo boy. The teacher loved it and had me read my work to the class. I was hooked. The source of my writing passion sprang from the praise of a fifth grade teacher. Thank you, Mrs. Rothstein!

  24. Wrote the Great Diamond Caper with my best friend on a trip to Hawaii in sixth grade. The main character was named Fifi LaFleur. Sadly, my writing hasn’t changed much, only I’m published.

  25. Somewhere in a landfill is my white ersatz leather diary from third grade. Filled with timid observations of my young life, an occasional “bad word” to describe a nun or one of my brothers, its resting place is fitting. The journal I kept during my first year of marriage, however, is kept in a safe place- not because of the quality of the entries, but because the situations I so desperately chronicled remind me of how much better life is now, without that husband.

  26. Well, this, for starters. Unfortunately.

    As a nine-year-old, I also wrote in one of my journals: “When I was younger, I had no secrets. Now I have about 100. I keep them all under my bed.”

    I was talking about my writing, of course.

  27. I started writing when I was seven about my love for and fear of God.

  28. ages 5-7, cards. fully illustrated greeting cards (folded paper) birthday cards, anniversary cards, get well cards, christmas cards, happy traveling cards, happy vacation cards, happy earth day cards.
    ages 8-10 short stories and essays. story of Pedro who acquired magic flowers and had a pet bull. essay titled “Why I Like Girls”. (“…because they are beautiful and SMART, made of sugar and spice and everything nice… boys are made of snails and puppy tails. Girls are gentle, sugar is sweet, thats why girls are sweet. Boys are clumsy and dirty…”)
    ages12-15 big sister gives me the little pink diary for birthday present. the 1st 6 months were cut out at some point but the entry for Jan 16, 1970 is all about that nights slumber party and how we 5 just made and put on each other, friendship bracelets. signed: Germain, Patti, Nanette and Joan. entry for Jan 17 the party’s over: “i dont think the friendship braclets are going to last very long. i think the other kids are goin to get tired of them” sad face 😦

  29. Eleven years, six months, and three days old. Started a diary, long since lost. Wrote about my schoolmates, the ones I hated and the ones I liked, the girls I thought were hot and the girls I thought were scags. My parents, my brother, teachers, neighborhood friends. The injustices visited upon the young. Kingdom Hall. Pitching pennies in the boys’ room at school. Writing obscenities on the bathroom walls. Getting caught. Bullies. Wimps. My dogs. My dad was in Vietnam. My mom was doing her best to cope. Candy Calder was so cute and sweet and was the first girl I loved. But Denise Downing was the girl next door and she was my girlfriend for a time.

  30. I was 7 and from a religious family. I had a Holly Hobby Diary with a lock. I wrote inside, “I’m afraid I might love my mom more than I love God.” I was tortured by it.

  31. I started writing short stories in those old spiral notebooks we all had as children when I was in elementary school. But one memory I have is writing my own episode to Laverne & Shirley. Using the characters from TV, but putting them into my own mixed-up comic situation. Funny as an adult I don’t write much comedy. What’s THAT about?

  32. When the tears were not enough, when listening grew but speaking failed. The only refuge left was the written word.

  33. I started writing when I was six years old. I started keeping a journal of all the feelings I had that I didn’t understand. I had been sexually molested by a family member and I was so confused and in so much pain. I tried to talk to my mother, but she just wasn’t hearing me. So, I started writing about it. Better out than in!

  34. I started writing in earnest when I was 9. I wrote a novel ala Black Beauty, with illustrations. It was called Arrowhead, the Story of a Horse. I’m sure it was truly dreadful, but I wish I had a copy of it now…

  35. Twelve. A poem with horses, candy, and girls, all passions of that particular time.

  36. 7th grade we read Dicken’s Great expectations and the teacher said the author had written several endings so our assignment was to write one of our own. At home alone in the kitchen I started and didn’t stop.For once it didn’t matter that Mama wasn’t home, didn’t come home that night. I wrote several endings and gave one to Sally a very popular but stupid girl who nevertheless I wanted to like me. Wanted a friend. Told her, “Copy it in your own handwriting. That way if he asks you who wrote it you can honestly say–‘I did’. Well he did ask her in front of the entire class who wrote the ending she turned in and she collapsed in stupid tears pointed to me and said, “She did.”

  37. At nine or so, I wrote up these scenarios in my grandmother’s attic. They were loosely based on the AYDS ads in her McCalls magazines–you know, the reducing candies of the early 70’s where women told their weight reduction stories? I think they also had an element of Queen for a Day in them too. Jesus, housewives were a fucked up mess back then.

    Anyway, my little stories were called “this is how it happened” and instead of victorious before/after stories they were tales of normal lives being violently disrupted. Often an amputation was involved. They were accompanied by horrific sketches where teenagers were disfigured by accidents and tragedies.

    I was such a dark, disturbed little girl.

  38. I started with graphic novels in the third grade. I became quite popular when the other girls saw my pages and wanted to be included in the stories. They gathered around my desk every morning to see what we were all up to. Then they grew tired and left me on my own writing and drawing my little heart out.

  39. Does it count if someone takes dictation?

    I was not more than three. Every week there was this movie program, Safari, that would show old Tarzan movies and similar fare. The show opened to the sound of jungle drums and a silhouette of Africa, then the title would appear over it. Then the camera would truck in and you’d “enter” the film through the silhouette. Every week I’d go taut with anxiety entering that portal, like an antelope catching a whiff of lion at the waterhole.

    I got it in my head that if I could copy that opener, somehow I could enter Africa at will. I’d be with Tarzan, I’d be the beautiful Jane or some other Great White Huntress. But I really think I wanted to be Tarzan, swinging with Cheeta. Even at that age, I was planning my getaway.

    So I freehanded a rough outline of the Dark Continent on a piece of paper from memory. I wanted to write a title on my drawing like the one on TV, but I wasn’t yet reading or writing, although I could recognize letters and maybe a word here and there. I thought, reasonably enough, that the title said Africa, not Safari, and so off I toddled to ask my mother to write it in for me.

    After some preliminary whining from me, Mom put down her cigarette, took up the paper and pen, and distractedly scrawled the enchanted word in cursive (which I couldn’t understand at all), thus ruining my sketch and my hopes for transforming my life. Africa was now inaccessible to me, but it was the first time I remember attempting to use written language to conjure something from within me—a mood, a fantasy, a desire—and enter into another, better world.

    I never kept a journal, only wrote for assignments in school. Too many prying eyes at home. I still feel them watching me sometimes.

  40. I wrote poems and snippets of dialog that I heard in my head on mini yellow legal pads which for some reason we always had giant boxes of. I was young enough that I don’t really remember starting but my mom says it was pretty much once I learned to write.

  41. I was young too. 6 or 7. Mostly about my annoying brother and about my mom. At the age of 7 I started to write about a young girl being committed to an insane asylum. No joke.

  42. I think I was 11. Before, I only used to draw, all the time! My hand-writing was awful, very little (my teacher used to call me ‘pattes de mouche’, thanks very much!!)
    Fortunately, I discovered poetry and my ‘family’ was such a disaster
    that I needed to speak. No one listened, so I wrote. My 1st dictionary became my closest friend, gave me words to express the storm in my head. I wrote mostly lied on the floor, even under tables.
    Few poems, a sad fiction inspired of my ‘family life’, silly sketches. Pathetic romances in adolescence, more sketches -in a way, a pic. of my life.
    All I know is I want to be a story teller. Cause stories brought so much to my life, I need that adventure continue. How, dunno yet. But I’ll find a way.

    • Anything I could say here would sound trite, but I’m gonna do it anyway. You’ll find a way and the way will find you. All you have to do is be present and open and sit down and do it. And in its happening to you and through you, you will make it happen. Sort of like being a midwife, but usually less blood.

      • Tetman, that was lovely advice and encouragement. You should become a writing coach, like what Alice Elliott Dark has. I’d pay for a session or two,or even a whole series, if you give me the Betsy Lerner Blog Commenter Family discount. Seriously.

  43. I was twelve. I grabbed a typewriter and went up into the attic to write. I fell in love. And the fact that lightning struck right next to me (literally) only solidified my resolve to write.

  44. I had a pretty nice desk in my bedroom in high school (or was it middle school?), and yet I used a miniscule one that I shoved against a wall in a storage room in our basement. Didn’t really tell anybody, just moved boxes around till it felt like a cozy room. Put a typewriter on the desk. I have no idea what I wrote there. My wife, who I’ve been with long enough that she remembers this room, says I have always liked my ‘dungeons.’ Right now, my hands are covered with paint from the room I am building in our basement. It will be nicer than my first one, but no so nice that it ruins it.

  45. I got a diary for my tenth birthday.I wrote what was going on at school, with my friends, names of boys I liked. I noted the weather each day. I have no idea why, but if I want to know what the weather was like on August 25,1979, I know where to look.

  46. 4th grade, summer school. I took a creative writing class because it sounded like fun. Our first assignment was, of course, to tell what we did so far over the summer, so I made something up about a camping trip. All I remember was that the teacher loved the first sentence of what I wrote so much, that he read it aloud. Apparently it contained all the elements of a great 4th grade opening: who, what, when, and where. I spent the rest of summer school feeling smug. That was 47 years ago! I’m still writing; I loved it then, I love it now.

  47. I was in grade school and wrote a story about a little boy playing in a sandbox. His parents came and called the boy to dinner. They examined his creation and said, “That’s nice Johnny, but that planet is too far from the sun, this one’s too close. Only one planet can sustain life. Try again tomorrow.” Johnny went inside, washed his hands, and never returned to the sandbox.

    Great idea for a post 🙂

  48. What a coincidence. Diaries are in my novel. And I had one too. Not faux leather, but similar to the one I describe in my book.

    Much like the others on here, I filled mine with secrets, stuff I didn’t expect anyone else to read and didn’t want them to read. But someone did – a long time ago – because when we moved, I forgot the damn thing in my closet. I cried for days.

  49. I was in grade school–maybe 8 or so? For Christmas I asked for some notebooks out of a catalog. They were black and a black and white print with red leather spines and corners embossed in an Asian motif, and they varied in size. In the biggest one I started a novel called “The Little Mermaid,” about a poor misunderstood mermaid (me) who had to put up with a bunch of obnoxious sisters (my half/step/full sisters.) I read a lot of fairy tales growing up. That was 1980. I felt like Disney stole my idea when their movie came out. I have other notebooks from the set (one with a dedication to my absent dad but nothing written inside), but I have never found the notebook that contains my first and only attempt at a novel.

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