Memoir and the Imagination was the name of the writing class I took from Patricia Hampl. She's the one who said that thirty-eight was the best age to write your memoir. That was after she had written A Romantic Education about her Czech heritage and won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, but before she won the MacArthur grant and all those New York Times Notables and on and on and on. Patricia Hampl is a first class memoirist and poet.
I was forty-years old when I took her class and didn't really believe that thirty-eight was the best age to write a memoir. I hardly knew what my life was about at age forty. I had barely come into consciousness.
The other thing she said that I have thought about over the years is that "writing was her life." She did not intend to marry and have children. Writing was her life.
At forty, already having four boys, the youngest a two-year old, I wanted to start over and make writing MY life. At forty, I wanted to be a writer. No, I wanted to be a successful New York published author.
I'd been a writer all my life. I made my sixth grade class roar with laughter over a story I'd written. I wrote the 9th Grade Girl's Dance Program. I wrote volumes of journals. I wrote for the school paper.
What I wanted was recognition, awards, money and fame.
What I got was a New York publisher, and a New York agent, a little recognition, some nice awards and a smidgen of fame with school librarians. Frankly, as much fame as I could tolerate. Occasionally, I got money too, but not nearly as much as people think.
And I would not have been happy if I had not done that. That's important. I would not have been happy without doing it. I would have regrets that I do not now have.
But I know this too, that not having a child was a deprivation I would not have been happy with either. (Having one every five years works for me).
It's when I was in the thick of raising four boys, that making writing my life seemed like a walk in the park.
The truth is I didn't like writing enough to make a life out of it. A half life. Twenty years. A toe in the pond of words.
So, while I admire Patricia Hampl's work (she was a fine teacher as well), and while I wanted some kind of success as a writer, I never wanted to give my life to it.
Rest in Peace, forty-year-old, Louise.