My life has been marked by one constant: the ache of my hands. While working on a farm in Oahu, Hawaii last summer, my hands were named “writing hands.” They are inherently and exactly that – soft and clean, but aching. They eventually blistered and hurt in a way that only weeding and shoveling can do. After I returned home, they returned to their familiar, but perpetually aching, selves.
Reading is my place of refuge; writing my place of release. These two places are the source of the aching. I’ve always kept these places of asylum secret. Letting people into these places is dangerous and scary because they are my own.
Release, however, is terrifying. I write creative nonfiction. I write about what unfolds before my eyes. I write about people who’ve raised me, who’ve slept in my bed, who’ve kept my secrets and who’ve broken my heart. My world exists on paper. To share with others my perception of my own life and who composes it terrifies me.
My first year of college was a lot of things, but, mostly, it was shocking. Everything I knew was no longer there — a hard thing to grasp for someone introverted and perpetually nostalgic. My childhood bedroom existed only on some weekends, and otherwise only in my memory. The bookshelf on my bedroom wall, lined with all of my favorite books and yellowing journals, was empty. The books sat under my lofted bed, stripped of their home. I barely looked at them. I didn’t touch a novel that wasn’t assigned and didn’t write anything that I wasn’t told to.
I was far away from myself. Maybe I didn’t know this, or maybe I didn’t care. All I knew was that it was painful.
My second semester of my freshman year I took my first class on creative nonfiction. I hadn’t considered myself any type of writer because I hadn’t written in months. I started to write again, and to read a little, too. A little became a lot, and a lot became every waking moment in which I wasn’t doing schoolwork.
Almost all of this reading was done in the basement of Literati Bookstore, on the bench in front of the memoirs. On that bench, I read a lot of things that I didn’t pay for. I still feel guilty. I owe that basement a lot. That basement may have saved me.
There I found all of my favorite writers, the writers who inspire my bravest writing because they are strong and wonderful and heaven-sent: Claudia Rankine, Joan Didion, Melissa Febos, Lidia Yuknavitch, Maggie Nelson, Mary Karr and Sylvia Plath. There are hundreds more, I promise. That basement brought their stories to me. That basement gave courage and wit and intelligence to a lost freshman who is now a junior and more sure of herself than she ever thought she’d be.
On any given Saturday, you can find me reading in that basement. If I’m not there, I’m writing in the coffee shop, likely at the table against the window. To spend a week without visiting that basement gives me a deep, unshakeable feeling of forgetting. Rightfully so.
Literati made me feel safe during a time when I’d forgotten what safety was, and continues to do so today. That basement is the sun on my face in a bleak January. That basement has reminded me that I am, and always will be, a writer.
Literati, if you’re reading this, thank you. Also, I’m sorry. I promise I’ll do my best to buy more books from now on.