Why I Write: Julia Strayer

I write for a father who no longer lives, and for myself in hope of outliving my life. I write to solve puzzles, then look at them upside down, to make sense of the senseless. Because life is short, people do crazy things, I do crazy things and I want to know why.   I want to know why not.  Because today seemed shorter than yesterday. To have something of my own that will always be my own that won’t leave me by dying. Maybe I write because of the letter I composed as a fourth grade assignment. A letter in pencil on white paper with blue lines to Merri Smith.

Dear Merri,

Do you like worms? I like worms. Round ones, fat ones, long ones, short ones, even the smelly ones. I like worms.

Your Friend,

Julia

We read the letters out loud. Ten-year-olds found my letter funny and I remember growing taller that day in that moment and wanted to keep feeling that way and keep feeling that way and always feel that way. But I don’t write funny anymore.

I write to hear rhythm like Go, Dog. Go!  P.D. Eastman’s book about dogs. Going. Dogs of all sizes and colors, all going. On wheels, on foot, with hats and without, through mazes, over mountains, playing, working, in the day and at night. Because all the dogs sleep in one big bed and one dog isn’t sleeping. One dog not sleeping with his eyes open.  Thinking. Then it’s day and all the dogs go to the big dog party on top of a big tree. A  big party in a big tree. With dogs. What’s not to like?

I write because I knew how important books were when I watched my mother reading for school, underlining with a yellow marker, and I asked what she underlined and, without ever looking up from her book, she said, The important parts. So I took a marker and my book of rhymes and turned to Jack and Jill.

Jack and Jill went up the hill, that’s important,

To fetch a pail of water, again important,

Jack fell down and broke his crown, critical,

And Jill came tumbling after, yes, that too.

As it turned out, every line was important so it all got highlighted and I returned the pen to my mother, not needing to highlight any more stories because I knew every sentence in any story in any of my books had to be there.

In seventh grade, for a geography essay test, I wrote a story. About a girl, who lived in the country we had been studying, wearing the clothes, playing the games, eating the food that answered all the test’s questions. I’m sure it was a dull story, but the teacher, who had wild hair and popped orange vitamin C pills from his shirt pocket all day, gave me an A+ and said I could write. And I chose to believe him.

My mother’s mother was a storyteller. My mother was not. She said it skips a generation. I write because it’s my turn.

I write because I’m broken in some way. I can’t sit still on a beach with an umbrella-ed beverage, parties don’t interest me and gardening seems pointless when the art created is wiped out each year by snow and voles and weeds and deer, and no one would see it anyway because I don’t have parties, but if I write something it’s eventually done, requiring no further effort from me to sustain it. It lives its own life.

I write for every person who ever took the time to teach me about writing, so their time will have been well spent.

I write because I don’t have children.

In college I thought I’d grow up to be a translator at the UN. Then I decided I wanted to be the person doing the talking, saying the saying, not just translating someone else’s words. So I studied journalism not realizing it’s the same thing – translating events, quoting other people’s sentences. It’s the same job.

So I got an MBA and managed money instead, translating the markets into investments, world news into what is likely, and all of it into a language an investor can understand.

I want to make up my own words and put them in any order I want. I want to make verbs out of every word that’s not a verb and string them into sentences without punctuation. Create something from nothing and have it last. Then I can live forever.

Julia Strayer

About Julia Strayer

Julia Strayer’s fiction and essays appear in Glimmer Train, SmokeLong Quarterly, Post Road Magazine, South Dakota Review, Mid-American Review, and others. She placed first in the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers, and her work has been anthologized in The Best Small Fictions 2015. She earned an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and teaches creative writing at New York University.




  • Kim

    Love this piece! I plan to kick of my beginning fiction workshop with this.

  • Julia Strayer

    Thanks Kim! That’s exciting to hear.