• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Started a Joke Which Started the Whole World Crying

How old were you when you started to write. I literally kept diaries when I was eight years old called The Hot Dog Diaries. Fairly self-explanatory. Then I pretended to be Anne Frank as many good Jewish girls do, scribbling in a crawl space under our stairs. Sadly, our ranch house didn’t have an attic. Then, and here is the big turning point, I asked a beloved 7th grade teacher if I could learn creative writing. She told me to go home and write a poem. I had meant calligraphy, but didn’t know the word for it. Too embarrassed, I went home and wrote my first poem. The rest is mystery.

Your humble beginnings?

29 Responses

  1. 10 years old: The Witch Manual for school and a poem for my dad

  2. My mother. My mother. My mother. She was on the Newbery Awards Committee, a true reader in the best sense. Books and writing a direct line from Jo Carr. I was so lucky to have her.

  3. I didn’t speak until I was five, and was a dreamyhead who lived in his own world, my mother says. My dad had harsher descriptions. A doctor declared me retarded, but I saw what happened to older siblings who spoke. I played dumb. Every night I would invent stories, elaborations of being an elf, living in a mullien leaf, disappearing into the grass. In the 2nd grade I wrote a poem about a bird and won a class award. I decorated it with art I lifted from My Book of Wonders, but took credit for.
    In college I took a creative writing course and did well, but I dropped it afterwards, and for twenty-eight years. From panic, fear of exposure for secrets I had—because writing was and still is an ecstatic, horrifying inside-out, and I have few inhibitions on the page. Contrasting my numb, shell-shocked reality, the pen was a red-hot weapon, a thunderbolt, and I wasn’t ready.
    At fifty-four, as the last of my three ferocious, strong, beautiful daughters was leaving for college, I found my voice. Writing saved my life, as the past came crashing in and that feral boy I was—beaten for twelve years, raped for five days in jail at fourteen—who waited for me to be ready—helped me inhabit my whole life, at last. Writing is my salvation now. A climb from the well, up rock walls I cover in words, in better light. Good enough at last for me to see, and feel, and understand what I endured.
    Writing is not closure for some of us, late as it is, the pain too great.
    But it is a light. Light wants in.

  4. My sixth grade teacher had me read my writing in front of the class for an entire week; I was surprised that they remained interested. I don’t recall writing anything of substance again until college.

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Diaries were my thing. Of course, at the age of 12 there was precious little to write about so if you want to know what was served for dinner or what the weather was like on any day in Rising Sun, Indiana, in 1977, I’m your gal.

  6. Wrote an essay the weekend of JFK’ s assassination. My sophomore English teacher read it to the class. Me, the kid with few friends, me the shadow in the hallway kids passed by without a second thought brought half the class, ( boys and girls), to tears. I felt honored and powerful. From then on …

  7. I wrote a limerick and sent it to The Saturday Evening Post, thinking it was an easy way to win $100. I was in my fifties. I thought it was pretty good. They didn’t. A few years later, I retired from teaching and wrote a really long novel. I had never heard of an agent, so I sent it to a big-shot editor at a big-shot house I found in an out-of-date publishing catalogue. For some strange reason, he opened the package, took a look, and handed the manuscript over to his assistant.(I know this is what happened because said assistant is now a free-lance editor who has since polished several of my books.) She helped me get it ready for an editorial meeting. The only thing the other editors liked was the title. While I was working on the revisions, I queried a ton of agents (the assistant had clued me in about getting one) to tell them that I had a novel under consideration at a big-shot house with a big-shot editor. I suddenly became very popular. I chose an agent who represented the best-selling book that year and she tried, but wasn’t able to sell it. While she was doing that, I wrote another book which I really loved. Agent read 5 pages and refused to send it out. I sold it to a small, but reputable house in Chicago. Then, miracle of miracles, it won a Lambda award and doors opened.

    I’ve posted this to show that sometimes pure luck is how a writer gets published. That big-shot editor at that big-shot house must have thought I was somebody important or that he’d requested the full manuscript. Also, I found out that getting a novel published is much easier than getting $100 from the Saturday Evening Post for sending in a limerick. .

    • what an encouraging story!
      “Agents are easy. Limericks are hard.”
      I finished my memoir, and send to new rounds of agents every month. I have tried every recommended query format, from hoo-ha expert books and from notable nytimes bestselling writers who have helped and championed me. But intuition tells me it will come down to some trick of the light, some momentary keen, by the agent. My work is odd in how it starts with a pastoral, elegiac evocation of the only safe place I knew as a 4-year-old, and thus does not show the changing voice, the terrible events later. I think it miscues the reader that the work is “pretty” or sentimental, when it is not. I want an agent who gets the work, understands how important it is to say plainly what abuse and sexual assault does, long-term. So I am patient.
      (Actually that’s bullshit. Most days I am patient, unless I am maddened, despairing, self-doubting, petulant, impatient, etc., waiting for the Right One to the read the whole thing.)
      (So I envy you, too, Bonnie. There. Tell the truth and shame the devil.)

  8. They’re so humble, I almost don’t want to say in case I put folks to sleep.

    I had the diary too – at about the same age. I wish I still had it.

    Humble beginnings: I went to work right out of HS. Thought about being a children’s writer when I took one of those hokey tests in a magazine and they mailed me a letter saying “you can write!” Ignored them, which is good – hello scammers! I was too busy with kids/work/crazy first husband anyway. Thirty years goes by. All work. Very little writing. (as if I was doing any to speak of anyway) I’ve told this before I’m sure – but – company went into Chp 11 in 2009, and I pursued a degree, and decided to finish the “book” between 2009 and 2012. The “book” when I started poking at it to see if “it” was alive, was about 80 pages of a blistering hot mess with a fat ass fatal flaw which I was too ignorant about writing to see. Still, I was determined to finish it, and once I received feedback from someone “credible” – I was hooked.

  9. 5th grade. My teacher, Mrs. Rothstein, was wonderful — I hope all good teachers are aware of how important they are, especially to shy, insecure and lonely kids — and she selected a writing assignment I handed in as the best in the class. Not only was I floating on air, but it was the start of a long and beautiful affair with the written word.

    Flash forward fifty years or so, and my wife and I are at an awards breakfast at our daughter’s school. Most of the kids were receiving certificates for outstanding work in P.E. or for good citizenship, but when our daughter’s name was called, it was the only award given all morning for writing. She’s in 4th grade. I was so happy and thrilled I nearly cried. It was the proudest moment to date for a child I’m proud of for many reasons. Whatever I felt 50 years ago was nearly erased when she received the framed certificate and rustic pencil — a stick with the bark still on it and a thin rod of graphite inserted in the middle of it, whittled to a point.

    (The kid has been working on her first novel. It’s not bad, some floating back and forth between dreams and the waking world, the element of danger, her sense of humor and a plot twist I didn’t see coming. She’s a pretty active child, but when she sits down to write (or draw or paint), she experiences the suspension in time that I’ve known a time or two.).

  10. Mr. Yanella. 9th grade English teacher who told the class that expletives were permissible, necessary in fact, to express certain emotions. I wrote a small manuscript of of poems, typed them up and somehow mustered the courage to show him. All he said was, “Keep writing.” I wish he said more, and I wish I still had them.

  11. The 3rd grade essay – What do you want to be when you grow up? My response, a bathtub. That got the teachers talking in the faulty room. Then the green square diary with the tiny gold key. “Today I asked Carrie Shell what love is.” On to long diatribes in the back of my high school math notebooks, bookstore blackouts where I leave with a dozen novels, winning some odd national english teachers writing award. Nothing but static since then.

    • I’m guessing you meant to write “faculty room.” But “faulty room” pretty much nails it, in some schools at least.

    • I want to be a bathtub too! I heard Abigail Thomas read her poem about an old woman being an old tub, a transcendent work of art in her hands.

  12. I was seven or eight. I wrote a pretty long story, with chapters and everything, about a kid who wins a dog in a Name The Dog Contest. Then I wrote another one, about two (young adult) friends who play cricket and rugby league and have a great time doing whatever they want.

    I guess I was just writing myself a secret life. I didn’t ever win a dog, in my real life, or play much cricket. But I played some rugby league and it was great fun. And now, I write myself many secret lives, some of them less fun than others.

  13. Junior High School. I used to read myself to sleep at night with my bible…a baseball book about the 100 greatest baseball players of all time. Babe Ruth was my favorite player and for a time I tried to get my hands on anything written about him. I learned he died of lung cancer a few years after Gehrig. I remember seeing footage of that towering giant smacking home runs out of the ballpark with such grace and fluidity. My grandmother told me stories about her visits to Yankee Stadium with her brother and watching Ruth and Gehrig play. Then I saw later films of Ruth at the end of his career, hobbling around the bases, reduced to a mere shadow from the towering giant he used to be. For me his final speech at Yankee Stadium was more poignant than Gehrig’s farewell. So I wrote a story about the grim reaper giving Ruth a final at bat, one last chance to trot around the bases. Ruth hit that last homer as death waited for him behind home plate holding his gleaming scythe.

    I gave the story to my grandmother who was a bigger fan than I was. After she passed away I was going through her belongings and found it in one of her many folders. Over thirty years had passed. I couldn’t help but wish for a few minutes with her again.

  14. I started on November 10, 1969. Age eleven-and-a-half. My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Wilder (of gentle Kentucky accent) was reading “Harriet the Spy” to the class. That story inspired me to want to keep a notebook in which I wrote about the people I knew and what they were doing. That notebook has long since vanished, but I’ve never forgotten the date.

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