Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Benefits of Tears

I'm reading The Best American Non-required Reading for 2007, edited by Dave Eggers, and among the treasures I've found is a writing exercise worth trying.

Write your memoir in six words. 

I'm trying my hand at it, but so far can only up with this:  Crybaby wrote the why down, then stopped.

Only I haven't stopped being the crybaby I was born, and I have not stopped writing, either. But I tell my students that as a fairly legendary crier during childhood (and thereafter), I recall that one day someone — I wish I knew who — said "Susan, why don't you just write it all down, and hush."

I did, and writing appeared to give me a power crying did not. I seem to have been born with an acute ability to put into words what my crying jags never can convey.

I remember the first time I asked my husband (also a journalist by training) to read a story I'd written about our dog who had recently died. I wanted to send the story to the newspaper, in hopes that it would be published. He read the story, handed it back to me and said: I don't know why anybody would want to read a story about a dead dog.

Now he loved this dog as much as I did, but he is not an emotional man. I took the paper back, cried, then mailed it (with a stamp and envelope — this was a LONG time ago), to the editor, a faceless man who sometimes wrote columns about walking his dog.

Several weeks later when I hadn't heard anything from the editor, with pounding heart, I dialed his number. "I sent you a story a few weeks ago," I said, hoping he hadn't lost it in the piles of things on his desk.

"I'm glad you called," he said. "I was going to call you, but I had to wait until I pulled myself together to talk to you."

Hummm.. He ran the story, and in the coming days and weeks my mailbox filled with letters from people with their own dog stories, thanking me for mine. What followed were a series of personal essays, and later a real column with my photograph (that took up far too much word space.) But I learned that when I put myself words there, people did read them, and respond.

The other day, when I asked my husband to read the blog before I posted the first entry, he said: I don't know why anybody would want to read about a broken refrigerator.

I've grown up a little since that first story, so I just rolled my eyes this time. Maybe somebody out there has had a broken fridge before, and can relate.