A young woman beside me on a flight to Moscow wrote intermittently on a small notebook. When I peeked over her shoulder I saw that she wrote in Russian alphabets, and the pages held clusters of sentences, boxes of words placed one page after the other. It took me a while, but I got around to speaking to her. She was good-looking, had a ready-smile, and in one-word, was attractive.
“Are you a writer?” I asked. “No,” she replied immediately. “I’m an illustrator. ” Then she added what sounded like “I’ve had some ideas for a long time, so I’m writing them down.” Seconds later, she said, “It takes a lot of experience to be a writer.” I replied with a hmmm, impressed by the elegance with which she conveyed her conviction.
We said nothing for a few hours. There was a second opportunity to speak with her, and I told her I had been thinking about what she said, about experience. I recall now that after the in-flight meal was served I said to her how stressful it was, sitting in a place for 8 hours, and she said we were going to be “broken” at the end of the flight. Her English was, in some way, effortless, yet spoken with what I thought were bursts of timidity, as if she was feeling her way through the language before uttering a word. When I said I’d been thinking of her thoughts on writing, she said, “oh, you don’t agree?” I said I wasn’t sure if I agreed or not, but I understood her point. We talked on, and I mentioned I’d been writing from early on in my life, but gained perspective as I grew older. Yes, she agreed, people shouldn’t call themselves writers until later in life, after at least 20 years of practice, when they had sufficient experience.