Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
In my 78th year of life, I am still discovering that I really don’t know who I am or where I belong. Oh, yes, I have some inklings of myself—like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is yet to be put together.
As a child my singular ambition was to become a writer. When I was in the third grade (and barely literate) I sent a story to My Weekly Reader. It was my first rejection slip; my father opened the piece of mail addressed to me—my father opened all the mail—and put the story, which had been returned, back into the envelope. He never said a word about it. To this day, I have no idea if either one of my parents thought (or suspected) that I might have some writing talent.
I think I was about ten or eleven when my father bought an upright (non-electric) Royal or Underwood typewriter saying it was for my brother Jim and me to use doing our homework. I don’t remember Jim ever using the typewriter. It quickly became “mine” and I mastered two-finger typing which served me well until I took typing classes in high school and had to unlearn two-finger typing. I became very proficient using the electric typewriters we had in class and my teacher, a woman who was also a lawyer and worked in downtown Cincinnati—encouraged my writing and sometimes read the stories.
AnotherMercy classmate, named Carol, and I could do what we pleased in class as long as we turned in all of the typing assignments on Friday. We DID all of our typing assignments on Fridays.
My American History teacher, Esther Schwach, also read some of my stories and encouraged me to write. By now, one supposes, if I had enough talent I would have written a book by now. Instead my 3-ring binders are packed with poetry and essays, and most of my writing is on a blog. I could use the excuse that I was married to a man (for 26 years!) who thought I had no talent to write (even though he never read any of it) and constantly discouraged and disparaged my efforts. When we divorced, I bought a computer and said NOW I AM GOING TO WRITE.
And write I did, even though none of what I envisioned for myself as a writer. I was “discovered” by a woman who published a newsletter for cookbook/recipe people and I was given carte blanche to write whatever I felt like writing. And I took to heart that saying “write what you know best” – I knew cookbooks and recipes and I found myself apt at producing articles about things such as White House recipes, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (who gained her most success writing what SHE knew best – a place in Cross Creek Florida – for which she became famous writing The Yearling, Cross Creek, and Cross Creek Cookery. I wish I could have known her.
I wrote about American pioneers crossing the wilderness of our country and what they cooked and ate—and called it Kitchens West. I wrote about the religious groups that formed in the 1800s and how their growing crops and making furniture and what they cooked –made an impact on this young country. I began writing about the cookbook authors I admired the most. I wrote cookbook reviews. I did this kind of writing for ten years and when it folded, I was discovered by someone who wrote a newsletter for seniors and women—and began writing pieces about the kitchen. Then my editor of Inky Trail News, the newsletter for seniors—set up a blog for me so that all I needed to go was go to it and write. So, that is what I am doing to this day. I am writing.
What thrills me most is that gradually, over time, I have received messages on my blog from people who were related to or friends of the cookbook authors I have been writing about. There is a wonderful validation in this.
So, is this how I am finding my place in the world? Maybe, maybe not.
Maybe I have not yet found my real place in the world. How old was Grandma Moses when she became famous for her paintings? 78!) How old was my aunt when she began to paint? How old was my other aunt when she found a career in midlife on the subject of graphology? Might I not say – I am only 78. I have only just begun.
People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. “But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates”. ~Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973. (I love this quote!–Italics mine!)
“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself”. ~Alan Alda
– Sandra Lee Smith
Originally composed 2012,
Updated May 18, 2019