Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chattanooga, Tennessee

When I was a little girl, just learning to read, I knew immediately I'd found my calling. After I read my first book. I learned to read at three, and in my faulty memory, that's when I knew I wanted to write books. Knew it with a vast, unshakeable certainty, the way I knew that Jesus loved me. Or that the sun was warm.

Not just any books, either. I wanted to tell stories. Whoever it was who created these amazing things, stories (in my memory they are an old-school Cinderella who spent three nights at the ball, the Giant Turnip [which I grew in my garden this year], and Stone Soup)--I wanted to be one of them. Annie Dillard says “books swept me away by their lights, because I believed them.” I believed them. It was that simple. I was only really alive when I was inside of a book.

So, in my unreliable and faulty memory, I say, to my mom, looking up from a Ladybird Early Reader: “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” In my memory, she says, without missing a beat: “You can be a writer if you want, but you'll have to find another way to make a living.” What went off inside of me was less of a death knell and more of a silent huh. So that's how it is.

And I've spent the last thirty years figuring out what side profession will give me the best chance to be a secret writer. I've finally found it, I believe. For the price of a gas and a shovel, I was able to fill two Aroostook County gardens with horse manure. For the price of dollar-store seed packets and canning jars, I was able to preserve enough food to carry me well through the winter. For the cost of my precious time, working freelance and at minimum wage, I was able to save up enough to buy 70 pounds of rice and 100 pounds of flour. I heat with wood, and still hope to fill the freezer with half a cow or a deer. And then, for the rest of the winter, all I have is snow and time.

So. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about electronic media and the future of publishing. More specifically, I think about the possibilities of electronic media to pay for my gas and shovels and seed packets. In case you haven't noticed, there's a revolution on. In 100 years, books will be as obsolete as records. The publishing industry as we know it, is dying.

I'm not foolish enough to believe that people will stop reading books, stop telling stories. People have done that since the beginning of people, just as they've brewed beer, made music, and danced around bonfires. The question is: what's the new economic model? Was my mom right? Is the only way to survive telling stories to build my own audience, make my own living, grow my own vegetables?

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