I can still remember my first notebook: a thin, wide-ruled spiral with Garfield the Cat snorkeling on the front. I started it the spring we moved to Tennessee. And there was a chapter for every aspect of my life. When we’d go to Grandma Evelyn’s house in the summer, I’d sit out on the low-hanging wicker porch swing, feet splayed out on the hideous gold carpet, notebook in my lap, its page sprinkled with rainbows from the suncatchers on the windows. She used to tout me as the next Great American Novelist the way only a grandmother could.
When I was little I wrote stories about pioneer girls getting lost in the woods, fantasy lands, and talking cats. I went through a phase where I watched a lot of “Odd Couple” reruns and wrote about a girl stuck in a love triangle between two poorly matched roommates. I wrote about orphans taken in by doctors. I kept diaries, in notebooks and online, usually with three months worth of entries before I forgot they existed. I wrote poems about my foolish crushes.
A collection of about thirty notebooks formed in a cabinet in a room in my parents’ house that I will forever think of as the toy room (even though its toy-less now). And in my junior or senior year of college, I threw them all in the trash, and now the cabinet is a receptacle for unread books and aging knickknacks. I wasn’t going to be a writer, I asserted, I was going to go to DC, and get a degree in public policy.
I spent less than a month in DC. I left. Even now, I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea, as if I’d clothed myself in some expectations that only I set forth, and I struggled to take them off.
And then I went to Wales. I went more for a boy and less because I wanted to be a writer, but I went. And then the boy was gone, and my sole purpose there was to write. And read. I went for long walks and sat on the beach when it was sunny, and I wrote. In many ways, it was a lonely time, and a bit bittersweet, but i never doubted I was a writer while I was there. I wrote about a girl whose sister drowned. I wrote about a woman whose dead child seemed to appear to her in a park. I wrote about my great-grandmother. I wrote about a store where you could buy boxes to change your life. I wrote about Iowa.
And then I left. And the longer I was away, the more my identity as a writer faded into the background. I was focused on building a resume (and was doing it poorly). I was focused on a new boy. I was focused on living. But I haven’t been living. I’ve spent the last three years drowning, because I haven’t been writing.
The Welsh have a word, hiraeth, which has no English equivalent. It’s a homesickness, a longing tinged with grief. Wikipedia declares it to be ”a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, and … earnest desire.” While the definition references the “Wales of the past,” and I often feel twinges of hiraeth for my time spent in Wales, it seems most apt at describing what I think of when I think of being a writer. It is not just a job. It is a calling. It is a place in my heart, a rumbling in my very soul. It is the distant other shore to which I long to sail back. I am the prodigal son, and it is home.