My first memory of For Better or For Worse involves a doll’s crib, wet hair, and semi-nudity (stay with me here). I’m about five years old, reading Lynn’s latest collection book while kneeling on the carpet with the book propped up on the doll’s crib. My hair is wet because I’ve just had a bath, I’m not wearing a shirt because ostensibly I’m dressing myself, and I’m kneeling because…well, kids are weird. I remember finding the book so overwhelmingly interesting that my desire to read it consumed me; who cared about shirts when I could read about a family that was just like mine? It turns out that my mother cared about shirts, because we were terribly late to the dinner party our friends were having.
Growing up with Michael and Elizabeth was wonderful. They talked, thought, and fought just like me and my sibling. Their parents were complete drags, just like mine, and we were all forever misunderstood and unappreciated.
Thirty years later, I was having a bad day. The baby was teething, my oldest was whining, the floor was covered in Hot Wheels, Cheerios, and dog hair, and I was losing my sanity minute by minute. I hustled the baby down for a nap, plopped my oldest in front of the tv, and struggled to calm down. The bookshelf beckoned; I needed to get out of my own head before I completely lost control. Sitting down for a rare moment of solitude, I opened one of Lynn’s books and saw myself. There I was – struggling with feelings of inadequacy, questioning my skills as a mother, wishing for a grownup to talk to. I was no longer Michael or Elizabeth; I was Elly. Lynn was writing about all the things I was grappling with, all the issues that I thought I was alone on. She was publishing things in her books that I felt guilty for even thinking.
The baby was still sleeping (all that crying must have been tiring) and there was at least another thirty minutes of cartoons left before my oldest needed lunch (for the second time). So I wrote Lynn a letter. I explained how I grew up with Michael and Elizabeth, and how we were all the same. I told her how becoming Elly crept up on me; how it felt like overnight I became a thirty-five year old stay-at-home mother of two. I thanked her for sharing her thoughts with the world and how much it meant to me to know I wasn’t alone. I mailed the letter, sending it into the void with a lighter heart and a more peaceful frame of mind.
To my great delight and surprise, she wrote back. On a rainy December day, her letter arrived like a ray of sunshine. My husband watched as I read her letter and burst into happy tears (which greatly confused the baby). Lynn thanked me for my letter, agreed we had much in common, and told me I was a good writer. One of the greatest literary talents in the world was complimenting ME? It didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be. But there it was, in her wonderfully loopy handwriting.
I wrote her again. I told her how I always secretly wished to be a writer, but something always got in the way: deadlines, or exhaustion, or that time I got hit by a car (I mean, it just kind of nudged me, but still). Lynn wrote me a second time. She encouraged me to become a writer by just doing it – just write! All these years I had been making it so hard for myself when all I had to do was just write. I wrote her a third time. She offered me a job.
Would I be interested in writing for the For Better or For Worse website? Once again, after crying, I called Lynn and her daughter Katie on the phone. In her delightfully upbeat voice, Lynn told me about the new directions they wanted to take the site, and how I could contribute to that. I readily agreed, not believing my great luck and hoping that I didn’t sound like the almost hysterical middle-aged woman that I was.
So it begins. With nervous energy and great hope, we start the next chapter. Once again, my similarities with Elly shine through, as I sit hunched over my desk (much like she did) ignoring the chaos around me and trying to write. That’s the trick to writing, you see: JUST WRITE! Write on scraps of paper, on old shopping lists, on torn-up receipts. Write even though the baby is whining and your oldest is asking for more milk. Write whenever you can; let the laundry pile up and the dust bunnies gather, because, as you know–it never ends!