In Honor of Alice
Have you ever had someone come into your life and speak an affirmation? Have you ever been so desperate to know that you were on the right path, that your abilities lined up with your heart's desire?
I was lucky enough to have such a person. Her name was Alice, and I met her through Pennwriters, a state-wide writers organization with a global outreach. I was brand-spanking new. It was only my second ever meeting and the first time I was bringing some of my own work to share.
Beneath the table, my palms were slick with sweat, my stomach roiling while I waited for my turn. I had been writing for over a decade, but aside from a few school assignments, I had never shown my work to anyone before. Well, I did have two friends in high school who were also writers with whom I'd exchange stories, but even that had been years. I was now married, a mother of three, and had lived on three different continents. High school seemed very far away.
But the one thing that had stayed the same in all that time was the desire to write. And not just to write, but to be good at it. Sometime between the changing of my last name, and becoming so-and-so's mommy three times over, I had lost myself. My life was consumed with taking care of other's needs. My own were a distant afterthought. But now the kids were all toddlers, there was more room to breathe, to dream, to wonder -- what did I want? What was one dream I held that was just for myself? The answer was the same as it had always been. To be a writer.
I'd found the ad in the paper and attended that first meeting. I signed up to become a member the same day. There was so much talent in that group. So much wisdom that they could share with me. I had zero knowledge about the "craft" -- I'd never even heard that term in regards to writing. I was terrified, exhilarated, and so eager for more.
In Pennwriters, at least in our Area (Area 1), the group leader always asks first what type of feedback you're looking for. At that second meeting, when it came my turn, I unburdened my heart. I said, "I just want to know if I have what it takes. Am I meant to do this? Am I a writer?" Then I bowed my head and read my piece as clearly as I could, willing my voice not to shake.
When I was done, the room erupted with suggestions. There was talk about character development, plot, cause and effect, voice, point of view. All terms that as a newbie, I had no clue about. It was well-intentioned, but a little overwhelming.
Then Alice cleared her voice from her spot at the end of the long table. She put both palms flat on either side of her copy of my manuscript, leaned forward, and looked around the group. "Not one of you have answered her question," she admonished. Then she locked eyes with me (I'm getting choked up just typing this -- whew!) She locked eyes with me and spoke the affirmation that my heart had been waiting for since I was twelve years old. "Yes. You ARE a writer."
From that moment on, Alice had a special place in my heart. Over the next decade plus, I would get to know what a lovely, funny, kind-hearted lady she was. When she fell ill, and it became too hard for her to attend meetings, two other friends and I took the meetings to her. We met every other Sunday, as long as she was well enough, and chatted and critiqued over coffee, pretzels, and (my contribution) gold fish crackers. My, the stories she would tell! She'd lived such an incredible life, attended writing classes in California where she met Ray Bradbury. Practically set a field on fire trying to roast a potato as a child. Driving with her husband and kids in their original "Woody" station wagon. She wrote beautiful memoirs, but her first love was Science Fiction, and she had some great stories! She'd been working on her novel since the early seventies -- before I was even born! She was never quite happy with it, and continued to tinker with it as the years flew by. Alice passed away in June. It's taken me this long to be able to write about her, but the need to has been like a burning coal in my heart. I knew I needed to honor her in this way, through the medium of words that first bound us together. She was a spry-at-heart 88 years old, and she lived a wonderful life. But I miss her deeply, and I will never forget the impact she had on a lost, desperate, young mother who just needed a shred of hope to find her footing again.
It's sad that so many of Alice's amazing stories will probably never see the light of day, now that she's gone. But I think the best way I can honor her is to pursue my dreams even harder. She sparked so many ideas and little details with her feedback on my manuscript that I was working on when we were last able to meet. In a way, it's as if in seeing it through to publication, Alice's voice lives on.
Whenever I feel self-doubt creeping in, I can still hear her in my head, clear as day, vanquishing those thoughts with one firm declaration.
"Yes. You ARE a writer."