It’s kind of a funny story. I meant to sit down and write a post for Preston Yancey’s synchroblog, but somehow I ended up writing about it, around it. Here I share a tiny piece of the mosaic of hangups I have about writing, creating. I share this now, with the promise (eek!) that I will actually answer P’s prompt before the synchroblog ends.
She orders an omelette, and I’m not sure whether I should warn her that the restaurant we have come to for this Pulitzer-winning-author-student breakfast is notorious for overdone eggs and slow service. Not only would her meal be mostly brown, but cold, too.
I decide against it. I’m nervous, and there’s no way I’m telling Marilynne Robinson what she should order for breakfast. I’ve already made a fool of myself by bumbling through a conversation about Nicholas of Cusa, making it painfully obvious that I hadn’t finished my class reading for the week. Instead, I had worried about meeting her.
We make some small talk, the group of us, while a row of redundant plain coffee mugs keep watch from a high dusty shelf, far out of reach. Very. Small. Talk. I crack a tired joke about the bustling metropolis of Waco. Someone finally asks something about gendered writing. Oddly, she seems more entertained by the former. It’s really not even a very funny line.
A question that has been forming slowly for months now bubbles to the surface, quietly, while she talks about writing male characters.
I think it began with that creative writing professor, the one that scared me away from composing much of anything for over a year. Almost as if he thought he was at a cocktail party rather than a room full of students, he mused that young writers don’t make anything worth much. He scoffed at the naiveté of those who think otherwise, fiddling with the thick pinky ring on his left hand.
That moment, and his highest praise for a poem I wrote in five minutes about thai noodles, made me question writing anything ever. I still have my doubts about modern poetry as a whole.
And then that day when Mom and I visited that prestigious writing center. I wore a too-trendy, too-tight belt and we got a ticket for parking illegally. The lady from admissions shifted in her seat when she mentioned the age thing.
“While age isn’t necessarily a factor,” she began, “most of our students do come in older. You know, after they’ve had more experience. After they’ve lived some life, you know.”
I was expecting this, I told my mom in the car. She thinks it’s crap. I think some is, but not all. Mostly, I use it as a way to put off creating anything. I’ll just let it all age, like wine, I think. Conveniently, I neglect the fact that the whole thing starts with picking grapes.
Back at the breakfast table, I finally ask my question–Marilynne is a writing teacher, after all. I nearly blurt,
“How would you respond to those who might say that a writer needs to be older? That she needs to, you know, do things first?”
I start to babble.
“But then, I guess there are plenty of great writers who were quite young, like…”
Oh no. Which John is it? Keats? Donne? Keats?
“…John Donne, who wrote everything he did before he died at 25.” Not much older than I am now, I think defeatedly. Somewhere along the line, I think it entered my head that all good artists are freak child prodigies or eighty years old. No in-between.
Marilynne Robinson squints at me a bit. She knows it’s a loaded question for me. I’ve gone on longer than I have transcribed here, and later Wikipedia would tell me that I did get the Johns confused.
Finally, she quiets me by opening her mouth. She’s calm, but also seems confused as to why I’m bothered by my own question. It’s an easy answer.
“If you have a story happening inside you, then tell it. If you have something to say, then say it.”
I lean back in my chair, staring, as if to say, that’s it?
The waiter finally comes by with her omelette, and it looks just right.
If you have something to say, then say it. Won’t you join in Preston’s space to do just that, young ones?