In my large extended family, there are several writers. Some of them write without the hope of publishing, or even without the hope of showing their work to anyone, but all of them love the written word. I suspect that many of my family members have never even mentioned to anyone their love or practice of writing (after all, we are Finns, a stoic people, known for their resistance to demonstrative affection and strong displays of emotion). Drawn to writing since childhood, I wonder if there is a genetic connection. Perhaps writers understand one another in specific ways, just as painters do, or electrical engineers, or archaeologists. When I hear writers talk about their craft, I understand it intuitively. When I hear my relatives talk about writing, I understand it on an even deeper level. We are not as illustrious as the Brontes or the Dumases, but the artery of writing runs through us nonetheless.
As a child, I heard a lot about the passion for writing felt by Uncle Ub, who had an untimely death due to a stroke at the age of twenty-nine. Evidently we had met, though I was only nine months old. I have visited his grave many times, and tonight my mom gave me a browned page of one of his school assignments. It opens this way:
“Geraldine busied herself in front of the full-length mirror that covered most the entire wall of the spacious, luxurious, but somewhat frightening room. She was engrossed in pinning back a stubborn curl of her raven black hair with an artificial but arresting white carnation. Her lips as red as new drawn blood were puckered in an expression of exasperation as the curl defied her assaults.”
From all accounts, he was interested in traveling, writing, and women. Wounded during the Korean War where he had been in a MASH unit, he received a purple heart. Had he lived, I’m sure we would have been friends and that we would have had many wonderful conversations about writing. In some families, writers may seem odd and unproductive (see for example, the article in the New York Times by Roger Rosenblatt, referenced below) but in our family, the desire to write was applauded and generally appreciated.
For the past few months, I have been meeting with my cousin, Greg, a retired sheriff, now a developing author and poet. He read a poem in public for the first time during the open mic portion of a poetry reading on February 21. We began meeting regularly to discuss our reading of Hemingway’s works, which led to more writing of our own. Greg now has more than thirteen new poems and stories.
Before my time with Greg, I had been meeting regularly with my cousin, Lori Beth, who has long had a desire to write fiction. We did free-writing exercises sometimes, which evolved into longer, more polished works, and we had some laughs over coffee as we read our work to each other. Lori has since gone into teaching, though I’m sure her writing efforts will continue. An accomplished student of anthropology, Lori brings a deep understanding of diverse cultures to her fiction.
My cousin, Jim, is a comedy writer and performer. I have seen his performances at the Flapper’s Comedy Club both in Claremont and Burbank a few times. When I saw the photo of his desk on Facebook, I couldn’t help but think how fun it would be to sit down and write jokes every day. His father, my Uncle Jim, was a supreme wit, as is his brother, my cousin Richard. I feel grateful that Jim is taking his talent to both the page and the stage.
My Aunt Emily, a spinster who passed away in 2013 at the age of eighty-five, was someone who wrote often, though she never mentioned it to anyone, as far as I know. I have been slowly going through some of her journals and recognizing her talent and love of writing.
Her sister, my Aunt Mavis, wrote a book about her faith. It was published by a vanity press, and I have a few copies in my study.
I know that my predisposition to writing comes from my mother who seems to embody all the strains of writing I have mentioned in relationship to other relatives. She has written memoirs, poetry, non-fiction, comedy, and novels. Thanks to her, I have an unrelenting appreciation for writing, family history, and humor. We might be Finns, but we do love to laugh.I was an only child until I was almost twenty years old. Finally, I got a sibling when my mom and stepdad had my brother, Joel. Now an R & D Imagineer for Disney, he has always been creative. I will never forget the night we came home late one night after I picked him up from one of his college functions. We drove down the main street of what had been the small town in which we grew up. The streets were slick with rain, and it was after midnight. He began to recite poetry in the grand tradition of the Beats (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti). He did it spontaneously and quickly. Mesmerized, I experienced the poem as it was being uttered. It was beautiful. Another Finn with the soul of a poet.
What is the role of the writer in your family? Are you the only writer? One of many?
Rosenblatt, Roger, “The Writer in the Family,” New York Times, May 11, 2012.