I love my friend’s kid, who is now a freshman, studying creative writing at university. As a junior-high and high-school student, they wrote stories and sent them to me, asking for feedback. Other than the recent dystopic play about a leader named Dump, the last story, sent years ago, was the best, showing great promise, but with some problem areas typical of a young writer. I remembered returning it with a lot of comments and suggestions, along with pleas to try to rewrite and edit. I remember also writing something like, “Who’s ‘they’? You’ve got ‘she’ here, and ‘he’ there, and I don’t know who’s who, but there’s something screwy with the pronouns!”
Later, I realized what they were doing, and apologized. They kindly responded saying something I interpreted as ultimately meaning, “That’s okay, you’re old and lame. I understand. I’ll be old someday.”
Anyway, I just got a letter in the mail from them a week ago. I’ve been carrying it around like some cherished gift. A real letter. Think of it. Handwritten and everything. I used to write letters in college. I remember having that kind of time. In this letter, they thanked me for editing that story, for giving advice, for talking over the phone, for taking the time all those years ago, “when they were young.” They’re writing fiction still, and taking a class, but don’t know if they’re learning anything at all. They asked if they should just give up now, and not submit. Not ever. Though they want to. But should they? It’s so late. So many doors have closed. They said their work isn’t ever good enough. They’re so self-conscious.
Right then, I wanted to pick up the phone and call to say, “Do you know how much you sound like a writer?”
And then they asked, “I don’t mean to prod at any wounds, but have you gotten that book (?) you were working on published? I think you told me about it and it sounded pretty interesting. It was a while ago. I don’t 100% remember.”
That’s when I knew. They were a writer. They had the heart of a writer. Preceding that question with an apology — they knew they were ‘prodding a wound.’ I think I jumped in the air, kicked my heels like Festis on Gunsmoke, smacking my virtual dentures, waving the letter around, laughing out loud. They are growing up, joining a community full of self-conscious, sensitive, understanding people, knowing what a dreaded question sounds like, the kind of writer who could join a community of writers, the kind who understands what writing and putting it out there feels like. And the best part of all is that tonight, because of them, I’m writing a letter, the old-fashioned way, once again, responding as best I can.
Many thanks to M. for their patience, tolerance and help, as they ushered me along until I got it right.