Sylvia Jorrín on writing
Writing has always come easily for me. The exception was the year I became the editor of my high school yearbook and was expected to write some material in a humorous vein. Both my parents and the yearbook's advisor were profoundly disappointed when I resigned. I just couldn't do it to my satisfaction.
I wrote my first book when I was seven and a half and all of my world has ever since believed I would eventually become a "writah". All of my world but I. My mind loves to wrap itself around science. The more obscure the aspect of science the better. I am currently pounding the mechanics of clock escapements as first invented in the fourteenth century into my uncomprehending but fascinated mind. When I read, in the middle of the night as I often do, of late, I have to forgo such engrossing subjects as Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West or Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze River, because they will engross me until dawn and effectively ruin the next day.
There were several sound reasons why I did not want to become a "writah". The first was that it is a solitary profession that entails working, for the most part, in isolation. Or so I thought. The second was, because I raised two children quite on my own, I could neither consider nor have the luxury of working anything on speculation.
Never did I dream I'd become a farmer, which is for me, utterly and absolutely a solitary experience. Farming is also the most speculative profession in the world. Writing, to my surprise, turned out to be neither solitary nor speculative.
My next-door neighbor, Donald Bishop, owns a newspaper, the country newspaper, The Delaware County Times. He asked me one day to write something about sheep for an edition that needed a bit of fill. I did, and was paid five dollars. But paid, I was. A few months later he asked me to write a column, each week, about my life on the farm. My only concern was that I'd run out of topics. The first story I wrote was " June Grass Rose". The then editor re-titled it " June Grass Rose Pleasing to the Eye". I didn't care for the new title, pocketed the five bucks and proceeded over nearly ten years to write and contribute weekly approximately five hundred stories about life on the farm. The payment was increased almost immediately to an amount I could notice. For two or three glorious years I also wrote a book review, a recipe column, a weekly grain and dairy report, plus, quite regularly, agriculture feature stories. That period was the most fun.
Writing for a newspaper is intense and involving. People are immediate either in the form of typists, I write in long hand, or readers and their reaction. And so, for me writing has neither been solitary or speculative. Writing for a deadline has also been a very nice thing. I write in pen and ink and have been known to be seen scribbling the end of a story in Ernest Wescott's truck while barreling down the road hoping to arrive at a drop off spot before my typist leaves.
I dare not say how many words I pen in a given amount of time and exactly how many pages I fill in two hours and fifteen minutes. In that, I am in good company. Anthony Trollope wrote more quickly than I, between five and seven o'clock every morning, but I do come close. I concede to him his advantage attributing it to the hot tea his manservant plied him with in the hour before dawn. I still haven't learned how to program my coffee maker, none-the-less I appreciate his effort.
I have never, since June Grass Rose Pleasing to the Eye given any thought in advance to what I am about to write. Heaven only knows, life on a farm is intense enough to offer a story in every moment of a single day. I have also, never stopped being grateful to Donald Bishop for giving space in the Times to record that story. I look upon myself as part of the tradition of being a farmer who both reads and writes. It has meant great deal to me to be part of that tradition.
I spent a childhood bedridden, winters, stack of books my primary companions. Some of which I would now be horrified to allow a child of mine to read. I do not think Thomas Mann's Tonio Kruger or Death in Venice is appropriate reading material for an eleven year old. I censored the romantic parts in Alexander Dumas' Three Musketeer as too mushy to be borne (when I was eight). By the time I was in high school (attending a bit more regularly, only missing sixty days a year instead of ninety), I wrote sixty book reports a year but only scored a B+ in English because I never have learned to spell. I did far better in science, for some unknown reason, but still had plenty of time to read. By that time I had left Thomas Mann behind and read books like Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness, and Of Human bondage.
Years have gone by when life has been both too intense and too harrowing to even consider opening a book, while others, as this one, have provided an abundance of things to read and an increasing battle with insomnia affording me more opportunity than I had in the recent past. But nothing has even come close to approximating the years between seven and seventeen when I embraced nearly everything on the shelves of the library in New London, Connecticut and went on to attempt to do the same (not to remotely succeed) in the adult section of the library and then, coming home for a few months from nursing school, sick once again, making foray forbidden to the public, into the stacks at the Connecticut College Library. To gain admittance I had to give a convincing imitation of being one of their students.
It was there that I discovered what eclectic really means. I read Archy and Mehitable and The Letters of Mrs. Patrick Campbell and George Bernard Shaw, sitting on the carpeted floor, wearing a goldenrod yellow woolen shirt dress, hoping against hope no-one would ask me were I a student.
But it has not been my experience as a reader that have brought pen in hand but my life as a farmer when each moment is so very precious and holds the kernel of a story to tell in its celebration. I know of not other pastime other than parenting that holds so closely the immediacy of life. It is not because farming has become farther and farther from people's awareness that I want to tell the tale, and I have a need to bring it closer, but because to me, the tale itself is so very interesting. It comes of its own volition to this ink stained page. To me, it is the most interesting story of all. And so I, once more, voice my gratitude to Donald Bishop, publisher of The Delaware County Times for the opportunity to tell it.
There are more stories in the Farm Stories Archive