Around the time our daughter turned four, she started making what seemed like odd requests. “Tell me about the sad parts of your life,” she would say at the dinner table. Or, “Tell me about the scary parts of your life.”
This phase went on for a while. I played along, telling her about my appendectomy in Africa, the time I almost fell off a cliff, the time I got a fishhook through my finger. We talked about deaths in the family, and she would sit with her eyes wide, not saying a word, listening as if her life depended on it.
It wasn’t until I’d gone through a whole list of broken bones and broken hearts that I realized what she was really asking: How can I deal with sadness? What should happen when I’m afraid? She was looking for scenarios out of which to build her own. She was looking for directions about which way to turn when she reached those crossroads herself.
After thinking about this for some time, it occurred to me that I had done a similar thing. It was in college, when I discovered that I loved to write. I wondered if I could do it. I wondered, “How do you do it?”