M — that’s me, Maureen. Em — that’s Emily Dickinson. Today is her birthday, and if she were here she’d be 184 years old. It is hard to believe she was born so long before me; she doesn’t seem that far removed.
When I was a senior in high school, having scraped myself together after a most unillustrious academic beginning, I was invited to a tea hosted by the English Department for its high-achieving students. Each of the honorees received a gift, and mine was a small book of poetry by Emily Dickinson. I was euphoric.
Not long after that, my English teacher called me Emily. I think just once, but with some deliberateness, as I heard it. It affected me.
I have lovingly toted that book through life for over fifty years. I have turned its pages cautiously, careful not to let any of that sparse wording fall out.
Now I have a writing mate who is a poet. Tamara has inspired and challenged, and she is the reason I have been hobnobbing with Emily for the last few months. It’s the writer’s journey, isn’t it? We stretch into the present and then to the past. Never the straight line but always the detour, the roundabout, to that anywhere in search of our own voices.
Living with Emily these past months has been intimidating and encouraging. She was afraid and yet not. Me too.
She made nobody-ness enviable. Which is a good thing for writers.
Happy birthday, Emily. From a fan.