Once upon a time, when I was young and bright and full of juice, I wrote without ceasing. I was in college then—impulsive, moody, often brokenhearted, hungry for knowledge and in love with the world. I wrote poetry, short stories, and two novels. They were, I will freely admit now, uniformly terrible. Still. I felt I couldn’t write them fast enough. There wasn’t enough paper. There wasn’t enough ink. There weren’t enough midnight hours. And I thought it would never stop.
And then it did. Just like that. I entered my twenties and discovered that I had nothing, nothing to say. The well had simply dried up, and all the fields were barren. So it goes, I told myself. I guess I’m not a writer. So I did other things instead—specifically, I became restless. Took weird jobs around the country. Janitorial work in Virginia. Phone book delivery in Florida. Wildland firefighting in Washington. Dull-eyed office drudgery in Oregon. And then teaching in Minnesota. I worked as an activist. Worked with homeless youth. Read a lot. Went to graduate school. Fell in love. Got married. Had a kid at twenty-five. Then another at twenty-eight.
And when I was thirty I had my third. A colicky baby—my only boy—and an impressive handful. Red-faced raging. Often inconsolable. My beloved firemonster. The only time that child was still was when he was napping, and because of his often-upset tummy, he did best when he napped on my body, as I lounged on the couch. Since I couldn’t move very far, it meant that I had a lot of time to read. And so I read a lot. I took the kids every week to the library and came home with two tall stacks—one for me and one for the children—and we plowed through the lot of them.
And then I read The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdrich.