I read or heard recently that most writers have distinct memories of writing “books” in childhood. I remember one I wrote one about a rabbit named Felix bound with an ant trail of staples up the spine. So satisfying! But, the urge to write went underground during adolescence. It might have had everything to do with the desultory manner in which language arts was taught in British schoolmarm-dominated Canada, and that we never read anything that met my reader cravings. No women writers, no first person, no writers of color. More than anything I longed for first person. While The Catcher in the Rye was okay, pretty good–the narrator was removed from me by a generation and a gender. I wanted writing that felt like it was happening now, writing that broke the secret code of life. Some of my best reading moments were in the sixth grade when underground copies of The Happy Hooker and Go Ask Alice made it into my hands. Above ground, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret slaked my thirst temporarily.
My first writer falling in love happened with a movie not a book. I went with my high school boyfriend to Annie Hall. I came out of the theater a changed person. I was near panting trying to express to my confused boyfriend, a future engineer who thought the movie was “okay,” what was happening. I was intoxicated by the first person narration, the way Woody mused to the camera about relationships, the split screens, the subtitles, the scene when Max, Woody and Annie time travel to visit Woody’s childhood on Coney Island, the character of Annie (a quirky, non-babe woman as love interest!), the literary references, but most of all, some internal divining rod in me sensed this story was from his own life. Before I knew the word memoir, before I read Fear of Flying or Notes from a Native Son, before I ever knew who Joan Didion or Sylvia Plath was, I had Woody.
But I couldn’t quite figure out how to apply this urgency to create something like Annie Hall. A few hours out of the movie, I sensed that Woody and I were not on an equal playing field. I couldn’t express it then, but I intuited that being male and Jewish and a New Yorker was a distinct literary advantage. I was a sixteen year old girl living in a Canadian suburb where locking your front door was optional. My Coney Island was Protestants drinking gin and tonics in the living room after 18 holes. What possibly could be of interest?