Rebecca: Marly Youmans on Writing & Her Daughter

Before I met Marly Youmans I thought of her as a Southern novelist who also writes poetry.  Last month I heard her read her poems at a public reading at Shared Worlds 2010 and I started thinking of her as a poet who writes novels.  Now, with the essay below, I think of Marly as a writer who tells stories in whatever form they require.

Marly Youmans is the author of Val/Orson (novella) and the forthcoming The Throne of Psyche (poems) and Glimmerglass (novel), among other books.  She wrote the following piece the day after dropping her daughter off at her first day of college.





by Marly Youmans

Once upon a time I was a little girl belonging to a family that suffered a great loss.  One consequence of this loss was that I used to say that someday I would have a daughter with beautiful curly blonde hair, and that I would name her Rebecca.

Eventually I grew up and married and became pregnant. I knew in my bones that the child inside me was a boy, and he was. Then I became pregnant again, and I was sure from the start that the child was, this time, my Rebecca.  And so she was.  As a baby, Rebecca was lovely and mostly bald, with a glistening down on her head. Slowly the golden curls came on, and she and her brother with the long blond hair (“I want big hair!”) were show-stoppers in the stroller set. Another brother came along some years later, and so Rebecca was—as she always seemed—right in the middle of things.

Like me, Rebecca liked stories. Aspects of her have appeared in my stories and poems and novels in various guises, and her requests led to two young adult fantasies set in the Southern backcountry, The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove. The first of these was written in an unusual manner. Since I had no time to write with a toddler in the house, I made a pact with Rebecca.  If she would amuse her busy little brother every afternoon, I would write. The draft of that book went scorchingly fast:  I had it in sixteen days.  An eager audience is the finest sort of inebriant!

When she was little, Rebecca liked to sit on my lap and narrate stories that I typed. In the fall of first grade, she won the Stone Academy “Written in Stone” prize three times. After that, they instituted a “Hall of Fame” and put her in it to keep her from winning any more prizes. As she grew, she tried out other pursuits–dance and theatre, piano and organ and voice, drawing and pastels and painting. She was still best at writing, but drawing followed close behind.

Yesterday we took Rebecca to Bard College, where she plans to fold her many interests into a film major. Letting go of a child who I knew would exist decades before she was born is bittersweet.  Just as I knew she would be, I knew this day would come—that her golden life would stream on, apart from us.  She walked away from the car, alone, toward the peaked white tents where she would meet other freshmen.  The late afternoon sun shot slanting through the trees as she grew smaller with distance.  Light ran through her hair and turned it into a burning halo.

8 August 2010

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