(The above’s from Wikipedia and not something my grandfather wrote, but it’s a good visual example of what a letter from him could be like. Except he used a pencil. 🙂 )
What scares you away from writing something? For me it’s lack of time–my job is a really “mental” one that, by the end of the day, has me so sucked dry I don’t want to think, much less write. So I recharge at the computer, reading news and watching YouTube videos and visiting message boards. Anything but writing! That’s why I call my blog The 3 a.m. Blog. It’s about the only time of day I’m in any kind of mental shape to write–unless I’d rather sleep. Sometimes that silly need overcomes me, too.
That’s my unique set of excuses I have to overcome. Others I’ve heard–and this is by no means an exhaustive list–include raising children, boring existence, lack of talent, and just plain “not being that smart.”
My excuses and those excuses have one thing in common: They’re all lousy. “Sucked dry” or not, I can still put words together after a day at work. They may not be the best words, they may not be the “right” words, but they are in fact words and they do convey thought, however sloppily. Likewise children do sleep eventually, everyone’s existence is “boring” to some extent–and likewise unique, anyone can put a few words together to make a sentence, and if you’re smart enough to say something you’re smart enough to write it down.
We all can write. We all have stories to tell. And we all should tell them, because they all have value.
Let me tell you about my grandfather. He was a classic Hoosier jack-of-all-trades. He was good with his hands and his tools and to the day he died people paid him to build them furniture they will use forever. He could grow anything and everything out of ground that had no earthly reason to produce it–he could grow peanuts in Indiana soil, for crying out loud–and made an acre of land feed generations for decades. He worked for the railroad, he was janitor at the local high school, when he passed on practically all of Owen County came to the funeral. All that barely scratches who he was.
He wasn’t much for writing. He didn’t write books. Heck, he didn’t even write letters–that I knew of. So I was thrilled going home one year to find out my mother and father had cleaned out the attic at my late grandparents’ house and found a bunch of them.
Most were to my grandmother before they married. I haven’t read those. Don’t think I ever will. But the one I did read, he wrote about three months before he came home, for good, from two years as a United States Marine stationed in Central America.
His penmanship, charitably, was terrible. He apparently had no understanding of margins, or uniformity, or grammar, or punctuation, or coherency. Its three pages are a rolling sea of RANDOM THOUGHTS IN ALL CAPS. In fairness to him, I have no idea the circumstances under which that letter was written. Maybe it was under a time constraint. Maybe a superior officer was breathing down his neck–he was a Marine, after all. Or maybe he was on liberty and really wanted to be doing something else.
Yet in that letter is a small story of his life I’d never know had he not written it down: What he was doing with his life. How he spent his free time. What it was like being stationed in Central America after having spent all his prior life in Owen County, Indiana. And to my mind most importantly, this (paraphrased, I don’t have the letter with me): I THINK WHEN MY ENLISTMENT IS UP I’M COMING HOME I DON’T THINK THIS SUITS ME THERE ARE OTHER THINGS I WANT TO DO.
Three months after writing that, he comes home to Owen County, marries my grandmother, gets some land, builds a home and a barn on it, and–other than very occasional travel–stays there the rest of his life.
That one sentence above is the sole record of why. It’s not eloquent. It’s not “correct.” But it is very, very important.
Someday someone will want to know the same thing about you. What made you decide to be who you are today–or, hopefully much later, who you were when you were alive.
Write it down. It’s important.