Terry Marotta: Writers Find Drama Everywhere

Columns / Mar. 23, 2005 11:00pm EST

Terry Marotta: Writers Find Drama Everywhere

The doorbell rang and there they were, all laughing with their faces pressed against the glass: Lucy, Lucy and Thomas, here for the first meeting of the Fifth Grade mentoring program designed to give kids an up-close look at various careers. By the time they’d exploded into my front hall I was as excited as they were about describing the life of a freelance writer.

I had heard it said that the writer serves Truth. Beauty too. But if she’s smart, I figured, she’ll also serve ice cream. We sat right down at my dining room table to cut-glass dishes piled with cookies and strawberries, to lemonade in delicate old goblets, and to the ice cream itself, scooped into fat-ankled crystal sherbet glasses. If I’d been wearing a long white dress, you’d have thought this was High Tea at Emily Dickinson’s place.

As we feasted, I asked the kids what it was about the writer’s life that attracted them.

"You have lots of control over your day," said Lucy One. "It’s writing, so you can do it anywhere!" added Lucy Two. "Even in your pj’s!" rejoiced Thomas from his spot at the head of the table.

And so we began. To more or less cleanse our palates after our sweet-fest, I passed out copies of that Emily Dickinson poem that opens, "A bird came down the path—He didn’t know I saw—He bit an Angleworm in halves, and ate the fellow, raw."

"Eeeew!" the kids laughed. We were on our way.

I asked if they knew anything about this most gifted of our American image-makers.

"Nobody would publish her stuff while she was alive," said one. "She didn’t want to follow the rules of grammar they had back then," added another. "She hardly ever left her house," offered a third. Then Thomas sweetly raised his hand and asked if the cat ALWAYS jumped up on the table when people were eating.

Tea was clearly over.

They asked for a tour of the house then to help them get the picture about what a writer does in the course of her day, so we climbed clear to the third floor where I do my dreaming, and ducked into the cobwebbed old 1890’s attic while we were up there. I told them the story about the wooden trunk in one corner: How it belonged to the very first airman lost over the Bermuda Triangle whose mother, when she owned this place, planted a tree out front in his memory. How she said that when the tree died she would die, and how 30 years passed and it did die and she died too, immediately afterward—though not before having that lovely birch cut down and carefully stored in logs in the cellar.

"Cool!" the kids cried. "Can we go down and see?"

So down we tromped to see them in the old coal cellar, and passed along the way 3,000 copies of one of my books and 2,000 copies of another, all in cartons stacked clear to the ceiling.

I told them what my hero the similarly self-published Henry Thoreau once sadly said about possessing a "vast library" of nearly 900 books, 700 of which he had written himself.

I am not sad though and I was careful to say that. Writers write because they can’t not. Because writing is the best way they know to feel fully alive every day.

They’ll find for themselves next week when we go out into the world together, "on assignment," and—who knows?—maybe catch a little bird-and-worm drama ourselves.

Write to Terry at tmarotta@comcast.net

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