I’ve always been a writer. It took me a long time to find that out, but the signs were always there. I’ve always been an observer. I grew up in a corner of my grandma’s Village Inn, watching people, noticing their strides and their postures and comparing them. For four years, I learned the people of my small, snowy Colorado town. I started noticing regulars, and the whole time I refused to talk to them, but it seemed that I knew so much about them that they could be considered friends. I knew each of them: I used as much psychology as a 7 year old could possibly know and created personalities for every person. I knew their names from when the waiters would greet them, and I heard snippets of conversations- old people had a tendency of saying, “back in my day…” and younger people had a tendency to not listen. I started filling in those blanks. I was no longer wondering what happened back in Martin Smith’s day. He obviously had to walk with this stupid girl who lived two doors down from him. He stopped thinking she was stupid. He fell in love with her. She fell in love with him. I knew everything. I felt powerful; these people’s histories were in my hands, and I could manipulate them any way that I pleased.
I couldn’t ruin the images I had of them; it broke my heart when I found out that John McAllister wasn’t the man that I had created- I had always envisioned the old man as a Russian ex-spy who came to America to right his ways, but really he was just a cook at the B&B café, and had been since it opened in 1946. When I talked to Susan Metz, I was disappointed that she wasn’t actually a Hollywood star in disguise, trying to get away from the fame by hiding herself in large fancy coats and hot coffees and plain pancakes, no syrup, extra butter; rather, she was just a Daughter of the American Revolution who taught history at the high school. Thomas Everton was only a librarian, Amanda Gregory was only a town historian. It was a series of disappointments when my “friends'” lives’ were debunked.
I had to keep these people with me, though. I couldn’t allow myself to let John McAllister, Russian ex-spy, to die, or Susan Metz, Hollywood hide-away, to disappear into her pancakes. I realized that I had to keep these people alive, even if it was just for my own entertainment. I selfishly kidnapped them and placed them in a journal, and every day I would add new adventures to it. Every day about 150 people would walk in and out of the restaurant, and luckily I didn’t talk to most of them, so my image was never tarnished. When they walked out, they were still the same person I believed them to be, and each time it became another small victory.
Long after the Village Inn, I still uphold these habits everywhere I go. But, people are no longer spies and stars. Instead, I see a person on the street and think of where he’s been, who he’s loved, where he’ll go. His shoes have probably trudged through the snows of New York City, and those same shoes have probably dragged their way through the sands of Carmel-by-the-Sea. He might have a girlfriend back home, but they don’t talk a lot because they both travel, but both of them can feel the love surging through the occasional texts they send. His favorite book might be Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. This man has a favorite a quote, a favorite food, a phrase that his mother always told him, he went to school and lived a life all his own. I feel this way with everyone I see: I have a compulsive need to understand them, to know them, even though it’s likely I’ll never cross paths with them again. I took these adventures and formulated them into emotions. I crafted these emotions and turned them into ink on a paper. I became a poet, I became a writer.
I began to think, after years and years of analyzing and playing my game, I started to think, what is my story? People can create whatever they want about me- I know that my little sister’s friend was convinced I was a member of the Italian mob, for some reason. But, when they face their fears of destroying their intricate fictional idea of me, and talk to me, will they be disappointed? What do I have to tell them? I tell stories about my family, “my uncle’s the man who makes the Grammy awards,”, “my mother and grandmother were in floods and earthquakes,”, “my stepdad was present when the Berlin Wall was torn down,”, but what do I have to say of myself? John McAllister’s story, though it seemed boring to me back then, was actually one of the most interesting stories I ever came across. He’d been a cook for the town café since 1946! I tried to create an image for myself; I searched for anything to make me worthwhile. I searched my past to find something interesting…
It became almost an obsession for me, trying to create my story. How far was I willing to go to ensure that when I one day walked into a Village Inn, a child with a journal could appreciate me? I tried starting collections, I tried writing elaborate (admittedly not good) stories in hopes that one day I would find fame. I tried on different identities like costumes. I was constantly a different person. I was so preoccupied with finding this me, that I stopped observing. I lost myself in my obsession to find myself.
I realized, over this time period, that the people I talked to had lived so much more than me. In 1946, John McAllister had no idea that he would be cooking for the B&B Café for 60 years. He probably wasn’t fond of the job when he was 17 and started out. He probably wanted to be President or a rock star. There’s a good chance that he went through a period of time where he also struggled to find the himself that he wanted. Now he can tell a great story of his legacy at the café, which really is a small victory – but to the people of the town, he was a legend, one of the most well known people there.
So, when a small child wielding a mighty journal and pen asks me who I am, if I really am an astronaut who had tea on Mars, I won’t give them a straight answer, like I wish that people had done for me. I’ll tell him that I definitely could do that, one day. I’ll let him think whatever he wants. Sure, I met Thomas Edison! I did voice Belle in Beauty and the Beast! I did go on tour with Counting Crows in 1995, thanks for noticing! I’ll also tell him, there’s a chance that one day you’ll do even greater things (smaller, yet greater things). But, don’t lose this instinct you have, don’t stop observing, always watch people and learn. That is how you will do great things.
Hopefully, you’ll become a writer.
You can find out more about Ashlyn on her author page.