My reading teacher in 8th grade showed me a famous quote by Willa Cather:
“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
I think about that quote a lot. I don’t think it’s true.
My whole life, I’ve thought of youth as a benefit. “Objectively more attractive,” society told me, “with more energy and vigor to boot.” I believed it.
“Old people have no sex lives,” magazines whispered, “while young people want and are wanted.” I believed it.
“Enjoy your youth while it lasts,” movies said to me, “because when you’re old you’ll regret not having lived.” I believed it.
Even as young as fifteen, I worried about the fact that I would one day be old. I spent a good chunk of time thinking about how on Earth I would cope when I was old Like, old-old. Older than thirty. What if I hadn’t written my successful, best-selling novel by then? What would my life be worth?
Can you imagine.
I’ve been writing for around nine months, and in those nine months, the one thing I’ve learned is that it pays to have a voice.
Stories which are written from the heart, from years and decades of lived experience, are those which resonate with people. People who are young haven’t settled into their voices yet. We care too much about what other people think, and we think too little about what others feel.
We lean towards the popular crowd because we want to be liked, and we accept common beliefs because we don’t know any better to question them.
Being young is not always good. And it took me starting to write before I realized it.
The more I write, the more writing makes me love writing. But even more than that, it makes me love reading. I read voraciously. I absorb culture, I inhale knowledge, I eat stories and anecdotes and tales. And for the first time since I can remember, I have a desire to be older. To be more experienced. To have lived those stories, to have known those people.
I want to have gathered that experience. I want to be as thoughtful as the people who have lived these lives, filled with good, bad, terrible and beautiful things.
In my time reading, people who have lived difficult, challenging lives create the most wonderful stories. Even though I often can’t relate, I can always imagine, putting myself in their shoes through their stories.
I read about how old people still love sex and I am shocked. I read about giving up a life in Canada to feed people who are hungry and I am amazed. I read about a mother’s love for her drug-addicted daughter and I am astounded.
These are things I’ve never been able to think about before because I’ve only been on this planet a handful of decades. My circle of knowledge and lived experience is small. With reading, I can push it out far enough to see the kinds of stories I’ll be able to write one day — but just not yet.
I’ve always thought that wrinkles were a flaw, that scars and stretch marks and spots and all the other unsightly things that come with age, were universally unwanted. But each one of those scars has a story behind it. Each wrinkle and laugh line is a sign of reduced skin elasticity at its most basic, but it’s also the first sign of the story behind those smiles and frowns and squints.
I suppose it’s a sign of my youth that I’m only now realizing that being old isn’t something to be afraid of.
Wisdom and experience and stories all come with age, and the accompanying signs shouldn’t be hidden or hated. I can’t wait to get older and tell my story.