I feel as if I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been reading. And I don’t mean what I had to read and write for school, although of course there was plenty of that, too; I am of an age and era when a research paper didn’t mean Internet, it meant encyclopedias, and lots of books, and 3×5 index cards with carefully written notes . If I was in the middle of a really important paper or project, I could fill up the entire dining table with stacks of books and fans of cards and notes. This was the table where my siblings and cousins did their homework, too, so I kind of built a fortress around myself. I took that work very seriously; twenty years later when I went back to college, I was even more careful and thorough, even though so much had changed about how I found my research.
My first love became a long-distance love early in our relationship, and, again, this was before computers. No e-mail. No Skype. Since he spent 18 months in Japan, not even any phone calls.; they would have cost the earth! Letters, that was it. We had letters, and I wrote to him every single night. Later, there would be other people in my life that had me writing so often and so faithfully, and I’ve often wondered if any of them ever kept my letters. I kept the ones I received for a long time…until I married someone who wouldn’t have been happy about that, and all my old letters and journals went the way of childhood books and other things I was supposed to be done with.
I wondered, in my romantic way, what it would be like to read them now. Would I still hear the voice of the girl who wrote them? Would I remember clearly what I was listening to (always music when I wrote, always, always) and what I was wearing? if I was inside or out? if it was daytime or late at night? Would it be like turning back the clock?
Well, one of the things about being sick is spending a lot of downtime, for lack of a better word. There are only a couple of message boards I read now, and none where I participate with any regularity, though I used to. That used to be absolutely vital to me, to see and talk to certain people each and every day, some of whom I would never meet face to face but who were as real to me as anyone I live with now. One of those boards is completely gone, residing only in my memories; others are a shadow of their former selves, thanks to the immediacy of Facebook and other such connections.
But one….that one I keep going back to now and then, and the minute I begin to read just to catch up on who’s still around and what’s happening, I am immediately sorry I drifted away (no matter the reason for it.) Because there are still people there who remember me, who are happy to see me, and the conversation picks up as if it had never stopped. No matter what people say about online activities and friendships–and I am not saying they can’t cause some serious problems–they have brought me some of the kindest people I know. They are my friends. No other definition would do. They are my friends.
I read a lot of the old threads tonight, going all the way back 8 years, and that’s saying a lot. And it kind of was like reading old letters. I can remember so clearly, now, the things we discussed; some serious, some not so, and the banter and witticisms we traded so swiftly with one another. We used to joke about starting a commune or a summer camp so we could all be together in one place. Reading these posts today made me realize again just what fun that would be. To know that these were the storytellers and these were the musicians, and I was the cook–it’s very important to know where you fit in.
I see myself as a bride, having discovered that board just before my husband and I renewed our wedding vows after a long separation. I see my daughter starting first grade in those posts, see myself starting a job I held for many years. I shared recipes and how-tos, and bared my soul one night when someone desperately needed to know more about bipolar disorder. There were shared losses and prayers, virtual Christmas presents one year, and many games of guess who this person is (when we all looked for the least recognizable celebrity pictures we could find.) Jokes and condolences, holiday wishes…so many things.
And I look at those posts and love the way they are written. How earnestly I answered some of them, and how lighthearted I was with other topics. Seeing those again is a gift I wouldn’t have expected: time preserved. I can see, in my memory, exactly where I was when I wrote those posts. I remember what was going on in my life away from the computer, as well. Scrolling through so many pages, I was astounded to see how quickly I would identify a post as my own, even when I couldn’t see my name to the left of it. There were and are many good writers, people who express themselves beautifully, movingly, and humorously, and even if we were all discussing the same thing, within reading the first few words I heard my voice.
I knew that girl.
And I liked her.
It is another reason I give when asked “Why do you write?”
The answer is simple: because I have to.