“I was put on this earth to write.”
If Lance Armstrong was born to bike, then Frank McCourt was born to write. One of my prized possessions is a signed copy of Angela’s Ashes. Protected under glass in an antique bookcase, it occupies a place of honor right by my desk. Whenever my own writing needs a dose of inspiration, I take it down, and open it at random. What a boisterous brew of tragedy and humor! The book is so beautifully written that any moment is sure to delight. But it’s the first page I always come back to – what an opening salvo! Here’s a glimpse:
“When I look back at on my childhood I wonder how I survived it all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the Irish childhood, and worse yet the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”
“People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.”
From the very first paragraphs, McCourt briskly and boldly anchors himself within his family, his Irish heritage, and the history of the entire world. You can almost see him sitting by a fireside and telling his tale in the timeless tradition of bards of old. Every time I read the phrase, “…the happy childhood is hardly worth your while,” something in me just relaxes into the story and let’s McCourt’s lyrical language pour into my heart. His confidence is contagious: as a reader, you know you’re in the hands of a master and that you’re in for a great ride.
McCourt conjures up his woeful childhood with such wit and brio that you feel absolutely compelled to go along with him and find out how he did manage to survive it all. I had the good fortune to hear him speak once and he said that he spent two years just remembering his first years. He was over 65 when Angela’s Ashes was published and won the Pulitzer Prize. As George Eliot says so well, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Write on!