The Embroidered Truth

An ongoing search for inspiration and the good life.

What inspires me: Judy Blume

on July 29, 2011

When I was little, what I wanted to be more than anything was a writer.  Not just any writer – a novelist.  I wanted to write fantastic stories that took readers to new worlds and gave them the same excitement I got when I opened a new book for the first time.  This desire is still a treasured goal of mine, but years of self-censorship and failed attempts have left me wondering if I have any stories to tell.  Maybe this is partly why I admire writers who know who they are and what they have to say.

It’s odd that the first writer I applaud on this blog is Judy Blume, since I have not read any of her books in years, but I recently picked up a copy of “Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume,” a collection of essays about the effect her books had on various writers.

My cousin Christy recommended the book to me a while back, and I just got around to reading it (which is fitting, since she lent me “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” the first time).  It’s funny what kind of memories something like this brings back to you – where you were, what you thought about it then, what you just plain didn’t get.  When I was in elementary school, “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” was the height of the must-read list; most kids could relate to having an annoying sibling or being overlooked.  I remember being confused about the aspects of city life depicted in the book, since we lived in a small rural town and Peter lived in New York City, and rituals like walking the dog were kind of foreign.  Why wasn’t the dog running around in the back yard? I had no frame of reference for living in an apartment building.

“Margaret” made the biggest impression on me.  It was a glimpse into the near(ish) future, into what could be expected in junior high school.  Margaret and her friends worried about whether or not they would develop breasts (my worrying was to no avail), discussed getting their periods (this was new), crushed on boys and hid their insecurities.  At the age of nine, I did not understand the deeper issues of Margaret’s struggle to define her faith; this was my first exposure to the concept of Judaism, and Blume takes it for granted that the reader has a passing familiarity with the religion and its customs.  I did not really know anyone who was not Christian, so suddenly the world seemed a little larger.

“Just as Long as We’re Together” was published when I was ten, and for me, the draw on this one was the story of Stephanie and Rachel’s friendship and the threshold between childhood and adolescence.  One of my oldest friends had been growing apart from me for some time, and although she was nothing like either of those characters, I recognized the signs.  Like both girls in the story, I had no idea what to do about it.  As in so many of Blume’s books, there is a feeling of temporary resolution to situations like this, but you also know that the characters know it is temporary and that things will just have to play out in the future, for better or worse.

That’s what I find inspiring about Blume’s writing. She has a talent for taking characters who are ordinary kids and showing their worlds, their feelings and circumstances, and making them seem at once unique and universal, without getting very preachy.  Life is what it is. Both boys and girls can identify with her characters, no matter the location or decade.  Although I had some difficulty relating to the urban settings in some of her work, I still understood how her characters felt.  Judy Blume knows who she is, who her audience is, and what story she wants to tell.  I should be so lucky.

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