When I was just out of college, my unshaven and outspoken Alexandria neighbor, John, scoffed and told me I had nothing to write about. “You haven’t lived,” he said each time he saw me. John had been to war; John married a woman from Turkey; John drank too much. John, in his own mind, had “lived.” I could hear him in the apartment below verbally abusing his lovely wife who spoke to me in broken English. I could hear the rhythm of the bedsprings under his massive weight. These were things I didn’t want to know.
But family — it doesn’t take much living to have family stories to tell. We are born into story. Allison Backous has written eloquently about her family in the Good Letters blog. I recommend her work to you. She is honest where I’m not sure I could be. Dyana Herron writes beautifully about growing up in small town Tennessee. Denise Frame Harlan protects her children (the girl and the boy) through carefully chosen detail in her blog and in more recent work.
John’s claim, “you haven’t lived,” rings false. I haven’t gone to war or married and abused a lovely Turkish woman. But I have struggled with the flesh and blood of family, just like the rest of you. I am just thankful that I have emerged with kind, true words and with love intact.