Margaret Schlegel, E.M. Forster’s heroine, made me a writer, or at least she made me realize I wanted to be one. In a 10th grade English class I read her assertion, “Only Connect! Live in fragments no longer” which gave me the jolt that high school soda vending machines and AP classes could not provide. I slowly began to recognize my childhood affinity for connecting and my curious mind that constantly probed the reality of her own environment - whether it was the nameless graves in the Confederate cemetery or George Washington’s mother’s home and if they really ate ginger snap cookies from Food Lion in the late 18th century, as served in the gift shop.
High school and the fear of college applications (and not to mention, the agonies of adolescence), AP exams, and SATs had suffocated my mind rather than enlightened it. 10th grade English’s required reading introduced me to Forster who quickly sent my thoughts in a new direction – one that allowed me to view school as an opportunity for growth not performance, and see it as only one fragment of the puzzle. I began to write, which I saw as a chance to somehow preserve one’s singularity against the weight of high school pressures. It did not occur to me until much later in life that this would be my career path.
It was not until ten years later as a budding journalist in Berlin that Forester’s quote surfaced in my mind again, coolly reminding me why I was busily scribbling away in a café in Kreuzberg Berlin. Here, on a sleepy Sunday, I was working against a short deadline and next month’s rent while darting in and out of the Financial Time’s Sunday paper. I came across the Life and Arts section’s weekly author interview. The author quoted Howard’s End saying this quote had ruined everything for her – as if her life and career as a writer had somehow failed to meet Forster’s standard - she had lost the battle to connect and live in fragments no longer. I was stunned.
Forster’s imperative had begun everything for me – not ruined it. It had challenged me to open my mind, to think, to ask questions and ultimately begin writing. It had allowed me to see my own childhood affinity for the art of the story – from creating bedtime fables for my younger brothers, to directing faux documentaries on the Peloponnesian Wars and the scandalous death of Cleopatra for my 6th grade history class, to later working on the high school newspaper covering the second Iraq War. I loved translating lived experiences into words and in the process probing some hidden truth and telling a story.
To only connect is a habit of mind invaluable to any writer. It is neither a standard nor a scolding, but a chance to deepen one’s understanding of the world of ideas, and to the world itself. A writer’s role is to seek the truth and so connect, for herself and for the reader, in order to live in fragments no longer.