The theme of the event was “birthday”. For those unfamiliar with Women of Letters, the concept is that a group of women – usually writers, actors, musicians or other well known women – are asked to write and read aloud a letter to a particular theme. This session was linked to the Queensland Writers Festival, so all five of the women on the panel were writers. For some reason, four of the five women (with the exception of the stunning Tara Moss) chose to write letters to their children. (I guess the connection between “birthday” and “my child” is normal for parents?) So, unexpectedly, the theme really became one about parenthood and kids. Now how I feel about having kids is the subject of another post, but what I’d like to focus on in this post are the other kids that popped up frequently in the letters – the writers themselves as children.
Some of the women related stories about their childhood, about how their children are similar to or different from how they were. They spoke about how writing had always been important to them, even when they were very young. Kate Forsyth had even found a letter that she’d written at 15 years old, addressed to her future self. In that letter she confided her dreams of becoming a writer. No, not dreams. Her conviction that she would be a writer someday. (And it should be said that even at 15 she wrote better than I – and I daresay many other people – do).
I felt kinda funny when they were telling these stories. Because I was that child too.
As a child, I wanted nothing more than to read and write. I devoured books like there was no tomorrow. I fancied myself to be like Roald Dahl’s Matilda (what childhood ego!), or maybe like Jo from Little Women, though I didn’t quite have her tomboy spunk. (In reality, I was probably always more like Meg – eager to fit in, to be liked). I knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up, and everyone around me did too. Even my parents bought into the myth – collecting and recounting stories that fed back into my sense of who I was, supporting and inflating it. Like how even as a baby, my Mum could plonk me down on a rug with some picture books, and I’d happily sit there for hours, immersed, my little hands turning leaf after leaf.
My Mum’s favourite story, though, was about my first week in Grade 3, as relayed to her by my Grade 3 teacher…
In the first week of Grade 3, our teacher set us an assignment: to write a story about what we had done over our holidays. It was a test, in a way, to gauge our abilities. At the end of the week, when the stories were due, I asked her for an extension. I hadn’t quite finished. And because she was a kind soul, she gave it to me. She thought I was having some trouble with the assignment, you see. She thought I might have been a little bit slow. And the end of the second week, I handed her a veritable volume of paper. The other students had written one page anecdotes; I’d written a novella.
This was my legend. All signs pointed to a future where I was a writer. Not just on a blog, but professionally. There was no way it could not happen.
Once upon time there was a child who was going to be a writer. And then she grew up and became…a lawyer.
Yes, it’s true. And to be perfectly honest, I’m not exactly sure what happened along the way to get from there to here. Somewhere along the way I failed to make the transition to “adult” writing. I went through all the early stages. As a kid I wrote countless fantasy and magic-based stories, I went through my detective-story and thriller writing stages, and as an adolescent I wrote a lot of stories about love – usually unrequited – and slathered them in a good deal of angst. But after that? I had no stories. Nothing to tell.
Just to be clear – I’m not saying, “I don’t know what went wrong”, because nothing did go wrong. I’m happy where I am today. I have no regrets. I work as a legal academic, and I love my job. I think I’m extremely lucky to have a job that continuously challenges and interests me, that takes me to incredible places and introduces me to amazing people. And in a way, my present – this present – was always visible in my past as well. I was always equally enamoured with universities and knowledge, with teaching and learning, with libraries and shaded courtyards. This was as much my destiny as anything.
But I do wonder sometimes. I wonder what the child me would think if she met this adult version of me. Would she feel cheated? I wonder what the alternative realities of my life would be, if I’d been more tenacious with my writing, if I’d taken Frost’s “other road”.
Then I saw, on Little Things & Curiosities, this quote:
When we’re young, we stifle many possible selves to channel our energy into one, but the others can probably never be fully smothered. They merely wait for a trigger to revive. That can be a new place, a new person, or, most powerfully, both.
- Eve Fairbanks
And I knew that it was right. That there was a child inside me somewhere, and that she was a writer. And that she will be with me always. Now, quietly; but someday, maybe not.