Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Journey

How many of you have squashed a dream? Stuffed it away, beat it down, denied its existence? I am betting most of us have. I am willing to say the vast majority of us do not lead authentic lives. That's to say we did not follow our passion. We took the safer, more practical route.

I know I did.

The first story I remember writing was a short story called "The Flower." It was about two flowers who were best friends, but are separated one day when one of the flowers gets picked. But there was a happy ending when the next day the second flower was picked and was reunited with her best friend in a flower vase display. I typed it up on a typewriter, illustrated the pages and bound the book with yarn. My first book. I was six.

My favorite part of elementary school was the weekly treat of creative writing. We would be called into the hall one by one to visit with a typist in a small supply closet. She would give us a writing prompt and she would then type our response on paper. We got to color the page and display our stories in the hall. I LOVED this more than anything else at school.

By the time I was in 4th grade I wrote book reports on the likes of Agatha Christie. I remember submitting a diorama based on her book "The ABC Murders" in which I laid out one of my "dead" Barbies to reenact the murder scene. Most kids chose books like "Where the Red Fern Grows" or "Little House on the Prairie." I didn't mind being different back then.

In 5th grade I was discovering the lure of the world. The librarian would save me copies of the New York Times. I loved seeing how life was in another part of the country. About this time my paternal grandfather started gifting me subscriptions to Reader's Digest. He did this until I graduated, feeling that there was a great deal to learn from the magazine. He was right. Lots of things were reader submitted. Jokes, personal accounts. This is the first time I tried submitting something for publication. I never heard back on my knock knock joke.

At some point, my mother showed up with a huge box of National Geographic. The pictures and stories were fascinating, beautiful, haunting, and sometimes gory. But I marveled at the world I had yet to discover. Someday, I told myself, I would go to these places and see them for myself. I just had to make it out of the countryside of East Tennessee. Away from all of the green. I convinced myself I hated the color and longed for a life in the city. Someplace gray I told myself. That was where the real action was--the real stories.

I wrote poetry. I won a handful of small local contests. I was published in a national anthology. At first I was excited. Then I started telling myself they let anyone with half a brain into those things. This is when I started selling myself short.

In high school I enjoyed writing essays. I found I was really very good at it. I was faster than everyone else and always got 100s. In 11th grade I was moved to Advanced English. Until then I was considered mediocre as a student. Finally something I excelled at. But I was scared. I had nightmares about the first day of school. I felt like a farce. I was a C/D student going into an advanced level class. This is when I started pretending I was something I was not.

By the time we got to term papers, I wrote a few papers for other students. They had picked up on my speed and insecurity to fit in. But I didn't mind, really. It didn't matter what I was writing about as long as I got to write. One kid even paid me 15 bucks for a short 2 page essay--which was a really good deal to me since I could knock that out in 30 minutes or less.

About this time I decided to try and submit poetry to a few magazines. I received across the board rejections. My practical mind knew this was to be expected. My pride took it as a hard hit. I just let it feed into my feelings of inferiority.

I took a creative writing class senior year that really re-lit the bug. I even won the award that year for Creative Writing Student of the Year. I was picked by the teacher who I had made curse in class one day. We were arguing over a subjective question and I backed her into a corner. I thought she hated me, but I think she admired my passion.

In college I majored in Creative Writing. I took classes with other writers for the first time in my life. And even though I made A's and got tons of compliments from others, I felt insignificant next to their prose. I let the negativity seep in more than ever. I never submitted the works they suggested.

At this time I was madly in love. My life was completely revolving around my boyfriend. All I wanted to do was marry him and write. I gave up on my idea of moving to NYC and writing for a major print publication in lieu of staying close to him. He felt we needed stability, good paying jobs and security before we got married. His practicality perfectly balanced my idealism. And I decided to have a back up plan. Of course, my goal was to write. I could do that on the side. Surely, I could find a job with my English degree. It was generic enough. But as a back up I could always teach. I actually started thinking about teaching in high school. I admired my English teachers, but older kids scared me. The younger the better. So I majored in Child and Family Studies thinking that this was a good plan B.

I graduated and went on the great job search. Ends up English degrees over qualify you for jobs like Travel Agent or Administrative Assistant. They under qualify you for state level jobs in anything but teaching. And they are great for newspaper jobs like proofreading or part time writing. But with student loans and rent to pay, I could not survive on 7 bucks an hour. After a lot of depression and tears, I went back to plan B. I would teach.

I went on to get a Master's in teaching because that was the fastest route at this point. In the mean time, I married my love. He started working full time and I focused on student teaching. I cried all the way through it. I hated every moment. I knew then I did not want to teach full time.

I stopped writing. The ideas continued to flow, but I could not bring myself to believe in my dream anymore. I had to focus on the practical side. And teaching did allow me to use my creativity. Especially with younger children. So, I taught preschool. Within ayear, I was having some sort of break down and quit. I was miserable.

I took a job for the local library. I was finally back in the world of literature. I started thinking about writing again. I let my heart open back up to the possibility. I worked with people who loved books and were extremely well read. But I had shut off the part of my mind long ago and was feeling a bit stunted. So, I played along as well as I could, but still feeling like a total impostor. The old voices of doubt started whispering in my ear again when something else happened. I fell in love all over again.

With my son.

Is it a Kleenex commercial that says having a baby changes everything? Boy, they weren't kidding. I could not leave this sweet baby. He needed me and I needed him. So, I quit to stay home. But needing ways to make money, I looked for online work. I found it. Tutoring at home. Back to education I trudged. And I kept that job for 7 years. I worked my way up to supervisor and I really loved the contributions I made there. I got to write every day. There was nothing creative going on and the writing was purely technical in nature, but I was writing. Just like high school. It didn't matter what I wrote as long as my brain was thinking.

Another child came. More bills. More responsibilities. I continued teaching, moving back to preschool. I have found teaching to be much less cumbersome once I became a parent. I really needed to experience that change before I could appreciate children fully.

So teaching has become my way to pay the bills. And I do like it. Now I can embrace it. In the past, it felt like that was what I did as the result of failing in writing. But I slowly started allowing writing to creep back into my life through the past couple of years. The first thing I did was start this blog. I dared myself to move. Baby steps, long pauses, but I did move.

Second, I applied and was accepted for a job writing articles for an online company. The work is again, technical, and I primarily write about education, but I am getting myself used to the editorial process. My old enemy, Self Doubt, loves to use critique against me. And that was one of my major stumbling blocks over the years. With time and maturity, I am learning how to accept judgement. How to use it for self help instead of self destruction.

Once these paths began to reopen and I was willing to accept the challenge, I found myself inspired to reach my ultimate goal. To write a novel. I have worked on my book, Thaw, for over a year and a half. Most of the time, the words flowed out of me automatically. Other times, I was blocked and struggled to write one sentence. But I stuck with it and finished my manuscript this past December. I was so happy, I cried. It was my moment to say, "I told you I could do it." And then I got a visit from my old enemy.

I started researching literary agents. And then I came across the technical specifications for novels. Until a book is oer 45,000 words, it is not considered a novel. Mine was around 43,000. Simply a novella. I failed. Again. And Self Doubt really stuck it to me. He wanted me to feel the full impact. How dare I try to achieve something so lofty. So unpractical. You stupid, worthless fool.

I sat for a month and had a pity party. Self Doubt was fantastic host, as usual. And then, I just decided enough was enough. What was holding me back? 2,000 words? I just plucked 43,000 words out of my mind and I was going to stop because I was 5% short? I was already 95% of the way there!

In the past two weeks I have belted it out. I have over 45,000 words in my manuscript now. It may be a short, easy read, but it is a novel, my friends. A true novel.

I told you I could do it.

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