Recently someone asked if I always wanted to be a writer?
Or maybe she said, Did you always know that you were going to be a writer?
The shortest answer is no.
If you have time for a longer short answer, I’ll add that I wanted to be a politician. In high school I drove the most miraculous 1968 1/2 (the half-year is important) bubblegum green Volkswagen Bug. My dad began restoring it when I was 13, and by the time I could drive I had festooned it with all the regalia befitting a Beetle confined to the California Central Valley. It had chrome eyelashes and running boards; a pink plastic daisies braided along the antenna and the bumper was littered with dramatic and feverent stickers that said things like: “Developers Go Build in Hell,” “Who is John Galt?” and “Actions Speak Louder Than Bumper Stickers” I followed my political ambitions all the way to New York as a junior delegate in the 1992 Democratic National election. But somewhere along the way Jerry Brown broke my heart and so I decided to be a writer.
But sometimes the short answer doesn’t always explain everything. And even the shortish reply with its longish answer falls flat. Because what I now realize is the answer to the question: Did you always want to be a writer? or Did you always know that you were going to be a writer? is still no, but there’s a but…
No, but I always knew that I wanted to be a reader. My high school English teacher, an amazing woman named Kathi Duffel, assigned the entire class Hemingway‘s A Farewell to Arms when we were fourteen. That was the first “real” book I’d ever read. And by “real” I mean a book that didn’t involve islands of blue dolphins or boys named Piggy running around with a stick sharpened at both ends. Not that those aren’t both exceptional, classic, pieces of literature, but they didn’t have a broken soldier coming back to his lover in the indifferent rain of the night. I’ve always admired her gumption in assigning a room full of high school sophomores that text. And not just assigning it, but teaching it with the passionate clarity Hemingway so justly deserves. That’s when I knew I wanted to read forever. To read wherever: sitting in a small desk in room B-5, with Mrs. Duffel, Hemingway and the rain.