I think, as we get older, and especially as we become parents and have an active part in shaping the lives of our children, we take serious stock of who we really are, and the things that had a part in it. I am a writer. I am a horrible procrastinator, but a writer. Sometimes the stories live in my head a while before they make it onto paper, but my imagination continually writes them. Storing and stock piling them. Stories have always been a big part of my life, and are sometimes to blame for the procrastinating. Here is a look into my evolution of becoming a writer.
From the time the letters of the alphabet ceased to be enigmatic markings and began spelling out wonders into my brain, I have been a lover of the written word. I’m not sure about other regions of the U.S. but way back in the ’80s, when I was rocking a Rainbow Brite lunch box with a Star Wars thermos in the first grade, Pizza Hut had the “Book It” reading program. You read X number of books that your teacher signed off on, and you get a free personal pizza. In that era of neon and blue eyeshadow, we as Americans had not reached the height of our current “narcisstic/excess, take from the man” mentaility that we currently possess, so there was no limit on the number of pizzas you could get. Here in my small Alabama hometown, I instituted one. Not because I was devouring pizzas like Jabba the Hutt, but because my brain was consuming books like a colony of jiggly, interstellar bad guys. The local branch kindly asked me to limit my submissions, and I did. I only bubbled in a third of the books that I actually read on my sheet.
Then life’s harsher realities began to creep in. A year later, at seven years old, death properly introduced himself to me. My sister, two years my junior, died from a brain tumor. What began as a happy vehicle into worlds of time travel and talking animals, now served a new purpose: escape from the unchangeable ugly of the real world. I began writing stories after my sister’s death. The first one was about her. And throughout the next couple of years, she was several different characters in several different stories. I continued to navigate my only child childhood and adolescence with book and pen in hand. Both my parents worked shift work, so I was alone a lot. But I was never really alone. Characters, created by others, created by myself, were always under foot.
Writing is theraputic. Everyone should try journaling at some point in their lives, but the writing that always worked best for me was fiction. I might not have control over the circumstances of my real life, but I was the Alpha and Omega on the written page, and my pen bled out every fear, joy, sorrow and elation life could throw at me. Around the age of thirteen, I began to suspect I was crazy. The characters that I had created, started to create and write their own stories in my brain. I would find myself not even thinking about my stories, and then a scene would play out in my head like watching a movie. Newly married and in my early twenties, I was loading the dishwasher and squalling my eyes out as the sad and enivitable ending to a story played out in my head. My husband ran into the kitchen and asked me what was wrong. Upon explaining, his face transformed into equal parts confused and frightened. When your spouse looks at you like you’re Helen Keller wielding a samurai sword at a pinata party, you start to play conversations about characters talking in your head close to the vest. In true southern gothic style, there are people that I share DNA with that have more than a few bats in the belfrey, so you can understand my concern that perhaps I was unknowingly living inside a Mark Childress novel.
It wasn’t until I was thirty, pregnant with my fourth child, in a creative writing class of the last semester in college my overachievement in procreation would allow, that I realized that I wasn’t crazy. Or at the very least, I had found a community of nut jobs just like me……writers. For the course, we had to write a thirty page short story and an eight page flash fiction. On the last day of class, my professor handed back our portfolios to the rest of the class, and with empty hands for me, he asked me to come to his office after class. I immediately had a self doubting, baby freakout on the inside: ‘Was it so bad that he didn’t want to hand it back to me in class?!’ I followed him to his office after everyone else had filed out, and sat down on the edge of the seat directly in front of his desk. He slid my portfolio across to me. There was an A on the top. I looked back up at him not entirely understanding why I was in his office. I had seen As on other classmate’s portfolios. He smiled at me, and asked, “Have you ever submitted anything you’ve written for publication?” I told him that I hadn’t, and he asked me why. I related to him how I’ve written poems and stories since I was seven, but for whatever reason, I felt like I had to have a college degree to be a writer. I was scared that they weren’t good enough. He chuckled to himself and said,”Well, believe me, they are good enough. And would you like me to list to you the number of celebrated and published authors that don’t have college degrees?” He continued,”I don’t get to say this as often as I would like to my students, but it’s why I called you in here. These stories that you’ve written are good enough to be published. Right now. So start submitting things. As soon as you can, as much as you can, and one day I’ll see your name on a shelf in a bookstore.”
I felt like my heart had become the sun, beaming out from inside me. It was the best confirmation/validation I had gotten thus far in my life. Getting told that my writing was good was not an unfamiliar thing. Friends, family, and childhood teachers had told me this countless times. But some niggling doubt inside me told said what if that’s just something they’re telling you because they love you? I didn’t want to be like one of those people trying out for American Idol, who had sworn testimonials from everyone they knew saying how well they could rock the mike, only to discover in front of some famous judges and television viewers that their voices are akin to the sounds of livestock being slaughtered. And this professor had no vested interest in telling me this. So, it must really be true.
I’d like to tell you that the next part of this tale included me jumping in front of a computer keyboard and hammering out a best seller, but life again, inserted some of its less desirable aspects. I got put on bed rest and couldn’t finish my degree. I was a stay at home mom of four, and found myself divorced and without a job. But small ladder step by step, I made it a little further out of the darkness. While I work a 50 plus hour a week job that I juggle with raising my four sweet angels, and there are shadows that still linger, I keep focusing on the light ahead. I jot down parts of the story writing itself in my head every chance I can get. And written down or not, it keeps writing itself.
Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you’re good enough to live your dream. Take all the steps required to accomplish it. Some will be large, and some will be so small, it barely looks like forward movement, but it is progress. Life will throw up obstacles. We don’t all have J.K Rowling strength to write out a best seller sitting penniless at a cafe everyday. Do your best to remove the obstacles, and if immovable, figure out the best way around them.
Keep writing your story, whether with a pen or with perserverence. The story is worth telling.
I’ll see you from the bookstore shelves.