Love: How I Became a Writer

The typewriter ink has faded on the yellowed page that reads, “To Sarah (My Pearl). For your 1st Birthday, Grammy Baluh.” Written in iambic pentameter, my grandmother’s poem equates my very presence in the world to that of the most precious pearl. Forty years later, the framed piece hangs above my desk – more important than the degrees and honors with which it shares a wall. My Grandma was a nurse by trade but a writer at heart. It was from her, or instead because of her that the written word became my addiction. Birthdays and Christmas always included books and a new hardback journal from Grandma, “To write your stories in,” she would tell me. I gladly cracked the stiff spine on each new book, purging my secrets and crushes across every page. Grandma always said, “Your life is as interesting as any movie out there – write it all down, and you’ll make a million dollars one day.” Never to be outdone, my Grandpap would chime in, “Make sure to remember us when you’re famous, kid.” 


The road I traveled to become a writer was circuitous and filled with false starts. 


Perhaps it was because of Jerry Harrison that I became a writer. Harrison (of Talking Heads fame) once attended a party at my home, where he feverishly examined the shelves of books that lined my childhood bedroom. 


“What’s your major?” He didn’t look at me when he asked but continued to let his fingers linger over each book’s title. 


“I’m undecided but am thinking of pursuing law,” I shrugged. 


“Law? From what I see here, you’re already a writer.” 


A photo from that night sits on my desk, Jerry and I smiling wide in the corner of a dive bar in Greensburg, PA. 


I didn’t become a lawyer. I took literature courses throughout college that weren’t worth a damn. Summers were spent in my mother’s backyard, sprawled out on a lawn chair, drinking beer, and reading every “Barnes and Noble Paperback Classic” I could afford. Independent study, I believe it’s called. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights became a favorite of mine thanks to one such summer. Her prose was the first to which I felt connected, as though I too was in love with Heathcliff. I wept upon finishing the story; it remains one of my favorites to this day – a love affair that is painful yet accessible and endearing. I believe it to be one of the greatest books ever written, and yet one of the most underrated. 


Depressed in the bathtub would be where I fell in love with J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey a few years later. 


“It’s a love story,” I remarked to an English Lit professor. 


“It’s melancholy as hell and nothing more than posturing,” he snipped back. 


It’s a love story, I told myself, a family of eccentric geniuses learning to love each other, their parents, and the world at large. It may have been melancholy, but so was I. Like Franny, I looked to fill my emptiness with something genuine. I understood the sort of dark emptiness that is juxtaposed against the lightness which seems to exist in everyone else. 


I was, in fact, so connected to Franny and Zooey that I used it as a litmus test for compatibility in dating. I’m sure that I was utterly insufferable, but I married a man who shared my love for this book. He read Franny to me in the living room of our first apartment while I was in labor with our daughter. I sent him underground with two things when he died: his wedding ring and a piece of paper that read, “I love you to pieces, distraction, etc.”  


Years later, my greatest love held my hand when I had the phrase, “I bring the sun wherever I go, buddy,” tattooed across my ribs. He gave me a 1st edition copy of Franny and Zooey and another of Wuthering Heights, and I loved him. He stopped loving me somewhere along the way, and I tried to work out what went wrong by writing it all down. Maybe I wrote him back into my life this way. Because of his kindness, support, or belief that my writing was worth something, I decided to return to school to become a writer. 


I had my first poem published in 2018 when I was thirty-eight years old – it’s been a road of successes and rejections (mostly rejections) ever since. 


Writing was never the plan. It was not what I planned for my life. Yet, when I look back over my four decades on this earth, I’m sure that it was love that made me a writer, whether I had planned it or not. My inherent love of reading; all the people who have loved me. Love shaped me into who I am today. Love is how I became a writer.