I was born in 1949 in Buffalo, New York, and lived there until 1967. As a child, I was sick with recurrent tonsil infections that kept me in bed for a week at a time. I missed months of school every year. I even missed most of my own birthday parties! The clowns and puppeteers my mother had hired would perform to a room full of laughing children downstairs, while I was upstairs -- supposedly taking my medicine -- but secretly tossing those horrid, huge, square pink pills out the window into the snowdrifts.
It seemed to be winter all the time in Buffalo. It snowed and blustered for at least 9 months of the year. Unfortunately, it was even stormier inside. My parents created whirlwinds of anger and violence that seemed to know no season. As I could not play outside, and there was no safe retreat indoors, I disappeared into a world of my imagination. The living room shelves held books -- but nothing I could understand: plays by Shakespeare, the poems of Coleridge, the psychology of Sigmund Freud. I grew up reading them, anyhow, and while the meanings were largely beyond me, the language opened my heart and ears to the rhythms of poetry.
When I turned eight, and my baby brother arrived, I took on the role of assistant parent. When I was ten and he was old enough for bedtime stories, I rode my bike to the nearest library and asked if they had books for children. I was startled to learn that there was an entire section for children. At last, books I could understand! From then on, I made a trip to the library on foot or bike every week. The librarianʼs name was Miss Wanderer and the branch was the Fairﬁeld branch. (I grew up thinking of all librarians as wanderers in fair ﬁelds of books, plucking them like ﬂowers.)
Around this time, someone gave me a copy of Little Women. It was the ﬁrst book I owned; it was the ﬁrst childrenʼs book on my bedroom shelves. I read it over and over and over. I was amazed and thrilled to discover, in its pages, a family that loved each other with passionate devotion: the idealized March family. More than anything in the world, I wanted to be part of this family. In my mind, I WAS part of the March family. I lived inside the covers of that book. My real world was far less real to me than the one I inhabited in my imagination for several hours every day. Every time I reached the lastpage, I quickly turned back to the ﬁrst page and started again. I probably read Little Women 200 times.
Naturally, I was the heroine, Jo. In the story, Jo grows up to be a teacher, mother, and writer. Itʼs no surprise that I grew up to become a teacher, mother, and writer. In some ways, I am still trying to be Jo March.
Thereʼs more to my story, of course. Iʼve gone to college, worked, married, raised three children and played with two grandchildren. But Iʼm running out of space, so Iʼll have to leave the rest for another time. Before I leave you, however, I want to add a few thoughts for those who wish to be writers:
Your life, like mine, is a story in itself. A story that other people will ﬁnd far more interesting than you can imagine. And the big story of your life is ﬁlled with smaller -- and no less interesting -- episodes, characters, and ideas. All you have to do is to start writing down what you have seen and experienced. Soon your imagination will sneak in, unbidden; and before you know it, you may ﬁnd yourself racing to catch up with it. The fact is: you are already a writer. Pick up your pen.