It’s an early, breezy morning in the Boston area, and I am sitting outside on our open back deck—which is chipped and peeling and needs to be re-stained—and listening to the sparrows chirp in the trees near the back fence. A short while ago I scattered birdseed on the asphalt where a driveway used to lead to a now-demolished garage; the asphalt is cracked and weedy and in the middle of the backyard. Mourning doves, grackles, the sparrows, and a squirrel enjoyed breakfast there while I watched. The past few days have been hot and humid, but the early morning is cool and pleasant—until an over-eager neighbor fires up a lawnmower or a leaf blower, that is.
Over the past few weeks I have received some special letters and messages from readers of Message from a Blue Jay. Every one of those notes have meant a great deal to me. One reader is using the book to help teach brain injured people who are part of a book and writing group. Another has ordered several copies for friends. A number of people have written to say that I found words for feelings or experiences they have shared in some way but have not been able to talk about or express. I have heard from childhood friends who knew little about me when we were schoolmates in upstate New York, and who have enjoyed getting to know more about my life and reading the sections of the book about the area where we grew up. I have learned more about their lives, too, and that has been eye-opening.
One reader wrote to say we are kindred spirits because of our shared love of nature and animals. Another wrote to say she has lived a similar kind of life and that she felt much less alone after reading my book. We were acquaintances before, but now I know that we are real friends.
Some readers have wondered at my decision and ability to share certain aspects of my life in a public way. It’s funny; since publishing the book I sometimes forget just how personal some of the details inside its pages really are. The book feels, in a way, not like “me” anymore. It is an entity of its own, a story that, yes, I did live and write but then agreed to let go.
If I ever had doubts about writing about my own life, especially in an essay such as “Tulips” (which touches on my own health), those doubts have disappeared since receiving these letters. Writers like me hope, first and foremost, to reach out to readers—to entertain with a good story, of course, but also to encourage thought. Knowing that I have achieved those goals, and more importantly have helped some readers feel validated and less alone, makes every moment of doubt worthwhile. It’s not easy to write a book, at least not for me. But every morning like this spent in front of a laptop or notebook, every long evening spent revising, every kick in the gut by a rejection letter, is now worth it.
So, thank you, readers! Thank you for choosing to buy, read, and comment on Message from a Blue Jay. I understand now what Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a response to a question that I sent him long ago, that (to paraphrase and simplify) writing is about being sociable with your readers. Every one of your comments and letters has inspired me. Onward…hopefully to the next book.