A Journey Homeward, To Writing
WHEN I flew back across the ocean for my 25th college reunion, I was far from imagining it would unveil a whole new horizon. I was still looking at the many horizons that marrying a Frenchman and moving around Europe with six children had offered. Nevertheless, there I was, suddenly back at college, remembering names and faces, when one of my English professors asked me, "What are you writing about now?"I wasn't writing anything, other than letters to family and friends, and scribbled notes in book margins. The professor saw my confusion and returned quickly to discuss what I had written in his class. I listened, almost as if he were talking about someone else. But the question took hold like seed in good ground. Back in Europe, I started to ask myself, "What am I writing about now?" The children were beginning to leave home. I had more time. Why not sit down with a pencil and paper and write something? Finally I did. I sat down and wrote about the college reunion. Though I had been living in France those 25 years, the piece poured out in English - full of insights about carrying my children around with me. In that one short piece I discovered so much about myself that I decided to continue. I began to capture little moments here and there, and string them together like a strand of colored beads. At the same time, I decided to catch up on all the years of English I'd missed while I was speaking, reading, and thinking in French. My vocabulary was limited, my grammar and syntax were original, my dialogue was old-fashioned. I read and I read, dazed by the wealth of good writing. If sometimes I skipped over Saul Bellow to read Toni Morrison, or if I put back Tom Wolfe on the shelf and reread Louise Erdrich, it was because I'm a woman writing about what I know, interested in learning how other women c onvey what they know so well. I started to write a little each day, keeping a journal and noting story ideas, descriptions of people I saw downtown, bits of conversation, and thoughts about the noisy gulls looking for food in my yard. I found other writers, and began to share my work. These new friendships took me into new places, taught me new sounds. When I turned 50, my mind was set. I wanted to be a writer. To celebrate, I attended a writers' workshop in New York - two weeks of writing, away from family, appointments, telephone calls, and the dozens of distractions of everyday life. I wrote through the nights and each day brought something new to the workshop. Not only was I writing, but I was looking within myself and learning what it was I wanted to write about. An inner voice was emerging, linking me back in time to that student who wrote 25 yea rs earlier. Then my first piece appeared in print. I sent it as a belated thank-you to my English professor, the one who asked that crucial question. The piece, entitled "Reunions," ends with the image of me reaching into my purse for the carefully chosen photos and "there I was back at college with my children in my hands." The professor had given it to the college literary magazine. So I write. It's exciting to have a story appear in print. And when someone writes to me from thousands of miles away, saying they read something I wrote that moved them and made them want to write, I want to cry. It's happened only a handful of times. Once I wrote about my grandfather who was a teacher in the Philippines, in Tacloban on the island of Leyte at the turn of the century. I received a letter from a woman, writing to me about her 93-year-old mother who was thrilled to recognize him as the sam e man who had hired her to teach in Tacloban. "What a small world we live in," the daughter wrote, "when communications come into play." And as I write, I discover with each page in my journal, with each story, something new about myself. The process never stops. I dare go deeper. What am I doing living in Geneva? How is it that I have six children and am married to a Frenchman? What does it really mean to be bicultural, to feel tht I am two people within myself? By writing about these questions, I discover answers. And in expressing these answers, I polish them before stringing them together. There are years ahead of me. I am not rushed. I have time to think, time to write, time to "moodle" as Brenda Ueland wrote in her book, "If You Want to Write." I sit down in front of my piece of paper, my computer now, and close my eyes. My fingers move lightly over the keys. Or maybe I look out the window at the trees, the colors, and because it's summer and because it's Geneva, at the red and pink geraniums in the wooden window box. And I dream. I "moodle" so well that our youngest son a few years ago, when he was 15, said he wanted to have the same kind of work as his mom. "That way I can always be at home," he explained. Somehow he had stumbled upon one of the secrets of writing - being at home with oneself. And that gives me the answer to my professor's question at my college reunion. What am I writing about now? I write about being at home.