In 1984, I had just graduated with my BA in English from Marist College (Go Red Foxes!). I was ill-equipped for setting out in the world, to say the least. A shy, plain English major, who didn’t want to be a teacher (at the time, whenever someone asked me my major, the follow up question was, “Oh, so you want to be a teacher?”), who didn’t know what she wanted, I entered the world with a degree, some commendation or another, and no plan.
The college career counselor to whom I timidly said that I wanted to be a writer, smirked and told me no one could make a living as a writer and therefore I should think about a career and write as a hobby. He told me that his brother was a lawyer or some such and wrote screenplays on the side. Now I wonder which successful screenwriting lawyer that was – God knows a law degree seems to be the route to Hollywood success — and if he ever reminds his brother how he didn’t believe in him.
Regardless, being a lawyer sounded like a lot of work. Also, I didn’t know it then, but nowadays I’d be diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, and depression. I was riddled with so many problems it’s surprising that I went ahead and did the things I ended up doing.
Coxswaining and then rowing on crew. Some of my favorite memories were early morning on the Hudson River, with the sun coming up and fog on the water.
Spending my junior year abroad in Iceland, and working the summer on a sheep farm.
Traveling alone in the British Isles.
A newspaper reporter in my home town.
Applying to grad school in Austin, Texas, which changed my life. Grad school didn’t stick, but Austin did.
Working full time as a reporter, editor, computer features writer, business writer, etc.
Marrying, raising children, writing in my spare time, and sending out stories and novels and getting plenty of thin envelopes back.
I white-knuckled through post-partum depression, which I don’t recommend. I do remember fearing that if I told anyone what I was going through, what I was thinking, they would take my children away and then I would just have to kill myself. Please, young mothers, if you take anything from this long tale, please please please get help. They won’t take your babies away. If you’re healthy, you can take care of your children better than anyone.
But this was 1984, and I had graduated in the spring, and then had driven back to P’town for the first reunion. Couldn’t find any of my friends and was too anxious to go to our usual haunts to find them. So I sat in my cheap hotel room with a yellow spiral notebook, stress-eating Oreos and writing a novel. That was my way to soothe my anxiety, and it was a pattern that I held to, even as I managed to create a reasonable facsimile of normalcy.
I remember the joy of writing this, the absorption in it, the fast-flowing muse, the words pouring out. But I also remember the shame of being too frightened to go and look for my friends, once again cancelling plans because I was too anxious to carry through. It was a pattern I followed often, and each time I canceled on my friends I felt the shame again of being too cowardly, too frightened, to intransigent to be loved or liked.
So this novel is more than just a first novel, although I’m pretty sure that’s what it is – I remember writing plenty of short stories and have quite a few of those from my tween and teen years, but I do think this was my very first novel attempt. There’s a little Easter egg at the end of this notebook that I’ll share when we get there. I smiled when I saw it.
When I look at this novel I think of the girl I was, brave despite everything, undermining myself at every turn, and yet never giving up.
I want to recognize her bravery and honor her pain, and if I could do anything, I wish I could go back and say, you aren’t broken. You aren’t a danger to your children. You have things to say and lots to learn, and you keep going, and that counts for everything.
And in turn, the memory of myself at age 22, forgotten until I found these notebooks, gives me the … courage? No, more like sheer bullheadedness, to just keep going. Because she didn’t give up then, and I won’t give up now.