That was the message of a blog post (http://beyondthemargins NULL.com/2012/04/the-power-of-words/) by a colleague of mine at the literary blog Beyond the Margins. Awhile back she’d written a cheeky piece about how to succeed as a travel writer, poking fun at the glam, gourmet, celebrity-chasing culture that pervades articles about hot destinations. But a young writer took her seriously, and unbeknownst to her, he became depressed about the likelihood of writing anything the world would care about. He came back over a year later and commented on her post, telling her that whenever he was lacking momentum on his travel memoir, her words had “haunted” him, became the “demon he had to wrestle” to keep faith in his work. She clarified what she meant (irony!), and offered to be a set of eyes for his book when it’s finished.
But most of us don’t get the chance to say, Here’s what I really meant.
Just yesterday I received an email from someone who’d been in my graduating class at journalism school, and who’d heard I was just about to publish a novel I’d written while in the thick of the young-children years. She contacted me because she was starting to write one, herself, just after she’d had her second child. We exchanged memories about school, and she recalled — ha ha! — how at a graduation party she had told me she was taking an unpaid internship. Apparently I said, You can do better.
I’d like to think she’s remembering incorrectly, and that I actually said something along the lines of, WE can do better, because heaven knows I made poverty-level wages that year after school. Or that I said it in an emphatic, affirming way — You can do better! Someday, we all will!
But I don’t know what I said, or exactly what I meant. I don’t even remember the graduation party in that blur of a week, capping a rabid year working toward a degree not technically necessary for our field. All of us, subliminally haunted by the pressure to prove it had been worth it.
I only know that that’s what she remembers of me. But that thankfully, she didn’t take it badly enough that it kept her from reaching out 20 years later to a fellow mom, still and always trying to do better.