When I was ten, I traded in my mom’s Grace Livingston Hill books for Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie.
You probably don’t know who Grace Livingston Hill is. She was the originator of the Christian Romance novel. All of her books were written before 1948. Until the age of ten, that was a majority of my word diet. Precocious, yes. Her themes were typical — heroine loses all and must work to recoup the family name or honor or her younger siblings. In walks dashing young heir, who has lived a little bit of the wild life but is drawn to her quiet courage and strength, not to mention her pale beauty as she must sustain herself on a diet of MILK AND CRACKERS BECAUSE SHE ONLY HAS TEN CENTS LEFT TO HER NAME. Seriously, this happened more than once, “She purchased a sleeve of crackers from the conductor and limited herself to two, saving the rest for her breakfast in the morning.” Good show, Gracie, way to encourage good nutrition. Then of course the young heir would waltz in to rescue our heroine and they would both get saved by JESUS at a camp meeting and live happily ever after in a restored barn on his money.
Ah. Such is life. So, that partially shaped my formative first ten years along with Louis L’Amour books. Oh, you don’t know Louis? Allow me to introduce you. He writes Westerns. Yup. Dust and mud and gold in them hills and guns at high noon and cowboys. And romance. You weren’t expecting that? Well, there is. He also brought the Sacketts into my life. I borrowed my dad and Papaw’s copies and read in wide-eyed wonder at men who were full of honor and women with wild hearts and this was my first experience with a crew. Because you see, the Sacketts had a motto, “when you step on the toes of one Sackett, they all come running.” I remember thinking that at some point I was going to have a crew like that. They had a crew but they also knew how to fight their own battles. Echo Sackett fought hers with an ARKANSAS TOOTHPICK, a twelve to twenty inch pointed straight blade. I wanted to be her. I was fierce even then.
But then I met Sherlock and Watson and Miss Marple and Poirot and all the mysteries. And the girls around me became more giggly and if I can be quite frank — it annoyed me a bit. I’d still sneak one of my mom’s Christian romances every now and then but they weren’t as satisfying. The characters weren’t as well drawn and the stories sounded hollow. I longed for adventure. I wanted to ride the western trail and solve crimes and sail across the seas and explore foreign countries and discover a fantastical land where dragons reigned and they wanted to name me their queen so I could fight the evil forces with them. I wanted an epic love to go along with it all too but the love stories I was reading weren’t as satisfying.
In college, my eyes met the glories of Nora Ephron, the writer of You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless In Seattle, and When Harry Met Sally. Her ideas and stories shaped my thoughts about love and romance more than I’ve ever wanted to admit but so did the heartbreak that I suffered during those years. I never imagined then that one day her words that would impact me the most would be ones spoken at a commencement ceremony for Wellesley College in 2006, “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women. “
And again the rebel in my soul found that it was warring with the other piece of me. I was afraid. I think I believed that I couldn’t be both. That if I was going to fight and have a warrior’s heart, I couldn’t also have that of a poet and a lover.
Then I met this man. Oh, yeah…didn’t see that one coming, right?
So, I meet this man and he starts pointing out the fact that I love stories. Hello? Obviously. I’m a writer. Stories are my favorite. “No,” he says, “You love love stories.” Oh, well, that’s different. I’m not sure I want to go there. I’m not quite ready to commit to that. And then I write this piece, it tells the story of a conversation we had about pie. He reads it and concludes that I would be the greatest romance writer on the planet.
I wanted to die.
I wanted to curl up into a little tiny ball and die like one of those inchworm things that curl up into little tiny circles and die. On the sidewalk. And get squished by your very cool longboard.
I write about life and all the lessons I am drawing from it, but romance. Ugh. Perish the thought. But he kept challenging me. So, I began to explore why I hated the idea so much and why I had begun to have such a disdain for the concept of romance in itself. I realized that the romance books I had begun reading at some point were watered down…much like many of the real life romances I had seen taking place in the life of my friends and myself. I have been judging love and romance in art and in life because of my experiences with it.
I’ve been afraid to admit that I love love because in the words of one of my favorite Christmas musical songs, “Love, you didn’t do right by me.” Micah said it to me this way the other night, speaking of romantic love, “Learning to trust love is about more than trusting a single person. It’s about trusting love. Because you haven’t yet experienced love that won’t betray or destroy you. But you will.”
So, I’m slowly taking hesitant steps in love’s directions. Yesterday I wrote a love story. I think it’s probably terrible but it made my heart beat a little faster. I’ll tell you the truth. I’m scared every single day. Every day I think of a reason to run or hide, but I don’t. I stand still. I breathe. I say, “I am embracing all the love coming to me and rejecting the fear which tries to overtake me.” And also, I’m pretty fierce. I learned that from Echo and her Arkansas toothpick.
Because the only thing left in the world that scares me is love. And there’s no way in hell I’m letting that stand.
Today is November 18th. Today I am celebrating love, even though I’m still a little unsure. Even though I feel wary and have barely dipped my big toe in. I’m keeping it there. As I told that man who keeps nudging me in love’s direction, “The truth is…I’m ⅗’s a Hallmark movie, ⅕ a boy band song, 23.6% glitter, and a dash of whiskey which doesn’t quite add up, but most days I don’t either.” I’m learning to be okay with that too.