Over a year ago, my great, great aunt Anne died. She was over ninety years old. Lately, a lot of things have been reminding me of her. Christmas just passed, and it was the first one without her. Also, the anniversary was in January and that’s a hard time, my grandmother just posted the last picture ever taken of her on Facebook, and I’m wearing one of her necklaces right now. So I decided to write my last essay of my first college English class about her. We had a lot in common, but we never really talked about it, and that’s something I regret.
This essay is a collage. What that means in terms of words is that it’s fractured. It’s bits and pieces of a story stuck together with no transitions and seemingly no order. But the reader gets to figure out how they work together. It’s pretty awesome, and I was really excited to challenge myself this way.
It is not easy to understand why we want to do one thing more than any other. It is certain that we all are not prompted to do the same thing. With one it is music, with another his easel, while another thrills at the thought of becoming an engineer or an architect. Within our very being, there persists a certain drive, causing us to dream, and to try to fulfill that dream (Chappell).
The first time I met my Aunt Anne, she was in an assisted living home in Gadsden, Alabama, a small town about an hour’s drive from the Georgian border. Gadsden is a rundown old town with about four restaurants, three hospitals, two grocery stores, a Goodwill, and a nursing home or twelve. Anne was well into her eighties, but she still had her mind. That’s what my grandmother, a sweet woman who uses words like “shitfire” and “damnation,” always said: her body might be failing, but her mind is still strong. That seemed to me to be her only accomplishment, her strong mind. I later learned that throughout her life she’d had two successful marriages (more than most Americans can say), been an amazing artist, journalist, and poet, and been deeply involved in the church. And yet, in her old age, she had been reduced to a mind, a memory.
#85: Because creating something that didn’t exist before is as close to magic as I’ll ever get (Writers Write).
Again as I search for the reason why, I am reminded that the descriptive word is necessary to reveal the full beauty of a painter’s masterpiece, the architect’s skyscraper, the engineer’s bridge, or the landscaper’s paradise. Millions never see man’s greatest works of art but by the written word (Chappell).
“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters I am not. I write to explore all of the things I’m afraid of.”
My aunt was the kind of person to aim high. Forget the sky as the limit; she was shooting for the moon. She never let anyone tell her she couldn’t do something, she just did it, and she always managed to excel. She even failed spectacularly before brushing herself off and trying again. Also, she never just wore clothes. It was always outfits. Even if she was just tottering down the hall to get her hair cut every other Tuesday, she had to find clothes that matched and looked good.
#127: Because a single word can start a revolution, and I want to change the world (Writers Write).
A luminous atmospheric phenomenon appearing as streamers or bands of light sometimes visible in the night sky in northern regions of the earth. It is thought to be caused by charged particles from the sun entering the earth’s magnetic field and stimulating molecules in the atmosphere (“Aurora Borealis”).
Words have impact. Words can change the world. Without words, we would not be able to communicate more than the most basic of needs, the simplest of ideas. Words define the world around us and transform it from an enigma into something manageable and concrete. Yes, sometimes words can take the magic out of things. A cold, clinical definition of the Northern lights, for example, undermines their beauty, but thousands of poems written about those same lights counteract that definition. Words can give beauty and take it away. They can create magic and destroy it. You have to be careful with the words you give to people because they can hurt, but if you use them the right way, you can turn a person’s life around. You can move the path their feet follow. When the right words are strung together, they can change your entire view of a situation, or a person, or the entire world.
The northern cheek of the heavens,
By a sudden glory kissed,
Blushed to the tint of roses,
And hid in an amber mist,
And through the northern pathway,
Trailing her robe of flame,
The queenly Borealis
In her dazzling beauty came!
I stood and watched the tilting
Of each dainty, rosy lance,
As it seemed to pierce the bosom
Of an emerald expanse;
And I thought if heaven’s gateway
Is so very fair to see,
What must the inner glory
Of the “many mansions” be? (Smith, lines 1-16)
“One must always be careful of books, for words have the power to change us.”
“There are some books on that bottom shelf over there that I think you might like,” she said, pointing a crooked finger perched on a shaking hand.
“These books?” I asked, grimacing at the sight of the old, heavy textbooks adorning her bottom shelf.
“Yes. They’re about writing and such. I think you’ll like them. Martha said you like to write.”
I nodded eagerly. “I’m going to be a writer someday,” I told her proudly.
She just smiled and nodded, likely laughing at the eagerness of a child.
At the end of the visit, I tried to sneak out before she could remember the books, but my grandmother caught my arm, shaking her head disapprovingly.
“Aunt Anne, you were going to give her some books,” my grandmother gently prompted the half-asleep old woman.
Anne made an affirmative noise and vaguely gestured to the bookshelf once again. Sighing, I went over and grabbed the text books.
“This set, too,” Anne told me, suddenly much more awake.
Huffing, I picked up three very heavy binders and four more ugly brown books, all with the title Famous Writers Course, knowing I’d never open them willingly.
“Thank you,” I told her at my grandmother’s prodding.
I hauled the books out into the car, and immediately shoved them into the back of my closet when I got home, determined never to so much as look at the books.
Now I wonder why they were so offensive to me. Why couldn’t I have just opened the damn books, rifled through the binders a bit, skimmed the pages? Would things have been different if I had? Would I have been able to have an actual conversation with my great, great aunt instead of just talks about the weather or long dead family members? Or would the gap between our generations still have won out in the end?
#140: Because I want to taste the stars (Writers Write).
Aging is a sad, beautiful, terrible thing. It steals memory and gives wisdom. In many, it creates a stubbornness rivaled by mules. It makes the bones brittle, the eyes weak, and the heart strong. It makes a person want to connect with their family at a time when those younger relatives are too caught up in their own lives to make time for trips to the nursing home
In the movie The Lion King, Mufasa tells Simba that the great kings of the past look down on them from the stars. When I look up at the sky, sometimes I think about that. I imagine that each star is somebody’s deceased loved one, looking down on them and providing bright points of light from that sea of darkness. I imagine that Aunt Anne is up there, watching my many fumbles, my half-hearted pursuit of the dream she held, too, and it comforts me.
#87: Because I don’t want to leave this world empty-handed; I want to leave having created something beautiful (Writers Write).
Another reason for wanting to write is the knowledge of the power of words, especially the written word. The spoken word may soon be forgotten, but the written words can be passed on from generation to generation. It is on this “written foundation” that our youth will build. Also, how they build will be greatly determined by the writer’s pen. This fact evokes within me a deep and strong desire to leave some word of strength and guidance to those who read (Chappell).
#46: Because I want to inspire my readers someday (Writers Write).
It was a dark and stormy night. Such a cliché, but it was. I couldn’t sleep for the thousandth night that month, and all I could think about was the funeral I had just been to. Was it always like that? So uncomfortable, so cold, so unlike her? I felt a million miles away from every other person in the world. I felt like no one else could ever understand my pain.
Climbing out of bed, I wandered to my closet. I dug through the many piles of clothes, books, and random knickknacks until I found what I was looking for. Famous Writer’s Course. I’m not sure what I was thinking. That if I read the same words she did it would make me feel closer to her, maybe. Or, possibly, that I’d see some handwritten notes in the margins of the pages and know it was a sign from her.
But what I found was something far greater. It was an essay that she’d written, decades before I was born, about the reasons she wanted to become a writer. It didn’t have a title, it started with a story about a little boy, and it put into words every single feeling I’d ever had about writing. That was the moment when I realized exactly how alike we were. And it was a moment too late.
Why I Write #198: Because it stops time (Writers Write).
I hope you liked it! I know that at least one reader does! (She knows who she is! :D) So in case you didn’t realize, the italicized parts are from my great, great aunt’s essay that I found. If you’d like to read the whole thing (her essay, that is), I posted it on Wattpad.com here.