|I suspect for me, part of my delay was due to the fact that in my life, the concept of "you should" was never imposed. My parents never professed to claim that they knew what was best for me, and certainly, I had no idea, though I usually thought I did. On occasion, I would ask my Mom or my Dad, "What do you think I "should" do." The response was always the same, "Do whatever makes you happy as long as it does not hurt anyone." That was easily accomplished. Much makes me happy. The only thing that does not bring me joy is hurting another. Thus, I pursued the thing that brought me the greatest pleasure, learning.
I learned to talk and walk by the age of eight months. My Mom enrolled me in school, not day care, at the age of eighteen months. By the time I was two years of age I knew I wanted a Doctorate of Philosophy; perhaps I was suited for the study of Psychology. This discipline had served my parents well. As I aged, I was very interested in the topic. Textbooks in the field were fun for me. Fiction was never my favorite. Real life was always more appealing. While attending high school, I helped my parents teach graduate classes in the subject. Yes, psychology and social sciences were something to consider.
However, I had no ego-strength. I am not a competitive spirit. The idea of entering my parent's area of expertise left me cold. I decided that studying as they had would not be wise. Instead, I studied Art. I took many other classes. I only wanted to learn. Career paths were not my quest. I considered my career to be that of a college student. I took course after course. I did register for and complete classes in Psychology. Communication, English, Social Science, Political Science, Education, and Film Analysis also struck my fancy. I did take a class in writing; however, I did that just for fun. I thought no further of it.
For so long, I did not know I was a writer, though I wrote daily. I was most absorbed when I was writing; yet, I never recognized that this was my passion. Only in recent years have I discovered that I spent much of my entire life living in fear, avoiding all that I loved; I entertained options that seemed less threatening.
To this day, I work to discern, do I fear failure, or perhaps more aptly, does achievement cause me greater angst. I know not with certainty. I only understand that the life journey that I am on offers many unexpected opportunities for insight. However, sadly, I am a slow learner.
As I reflect on my own history, I recognize that words were always my greatest companion. As I said, I began speaking at the age of eight months old. Even in those early moments, my chatter was comprehensive. I was able to communicate well. My Mom marveled at the depth of my dialogue and wondered what it all meant. She had no trouble understanding my meaning. It was the idea of giving birth to such an articulate precocious child that concerned her. After all, few babies speak fully when they are less than a year old. I, on the other hand was quite fluent.
I thought nothing of this, for I did not know that it was unusual. What did I know; I was three-quarters of a year old and trusted that being as I am was best.
As I grew, my vocabulary and verbiage increased as well. I loved words, though I questioned my understanding of these. My Dad consistently claimed it is not wise to use a word unless you knew the dictionary definition of such. While I acknowledge that one word can have many meanings and it is not humanly possible to recall each of these, I still feel a compulsion to understand the lexicon. I live with a dictionary by my side. In fact, I have one in virtually every room of my home. Though I use these often, when choosing a word I still doubt; is this the correct usage
I, as my Mom, must make a concerted effort to pronounce words properly. This has been a battle for each of us as long as I can recall. I respect that my Mom is a genius and that her challenge with pronunciations is not truly a problem; however, for me, the struggle seems huge. It haunts me.
Perhaps, these tales are telling. Possibly, they delayed my awareness for who I am and what I love. As I said, until recently I did not accept or acknowledge that I am an author. Yet, I have been one since the beginning of my time.
I write it to get it out of me. I don't write it to remember it.
~ Kathy Acker [American Feminist Writer. 1947 to 1997]
In seventh grade, I began collecting quotes. I purchased a small spiral notepad fashioned in the form of a piece of fruit. The pages are orange. I know this because I still have this booklet. I began placing every word of wisdom I could find into this little leaflet.
In this same year, I, along with each of my classmates was required to write an essay. The subject was, "Why Parents "Should" be Members of the Parent-Teacher Association." We were given class time to write the composition on Wednesday, the day before our regularly scheduled Tuesday/Thursday Home Economics class. I wrote the paper and put it away. In those days, I was not the most organized student. Then on Thursday, we were told to turn the pages in before we were dismissed to our Domestic Arts class. I knew I had completed the work; therefore, I was not worried. However, I could not find it.
Our own school could not house the room for this Home study. We did not have the facilities. To attend the mandatory sessions, my follow classmates, and I had to walk two miles down the road to another school. There was only so much time allotted for the travel. I panicked. I had never been absent or tardy and the option to be so never entered my mind. Thus, I sat down and quickly wrote a second essay. I tried to recall what I had said in the first. I rushed, remembering little. I completed this "complex" thesis and then rapidly ran to catch up to my peers.
Weeks passed and I never thought of the passage. I had not realized that faculty, staff, and parents would review these dissertations. The idea of a contest was a foreign to me. I have disdained competitions for as long as I can recall. I never enter these. I only knew that I was required to write and I did. Then, I learned that an announcement was made at the last Parent-Teacher association meeting.
The "winning" essay was publicly revealed. The parents of the student were asked to rise and claim the prize for their progeny. No one stood. Of course not; my parents were not affiliated with the Association. They too, do not react well to the idea of "you should." The honor was bestowed upon me in class. I received a check for ten dollars. My dad framed it.
Though I received accolades and attention, they meant nothing to me. I have never trusted compliments, or at least at that point, in my life I did not. I have learned since. Criticisms come easily. People are reluctant to offer praise. However, I digress while still relating to what was. The possibility of judicious reviews caused me to cringe. What if I was not good enough? I was certain I was not. There was no need to establish this with certainty. I continued on, as I had. I wrote for fun, for relaxation, for me, nothing more.
"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."
~ Gloria Steinem [American Writer and Activist. Born 1935]
In high school, on most Wednesdays, we had all school assemblies. During my freshman year, the Milwaukee County Symphony Orchestra came to entertain us. The music they played was classical; it was not my style though I as the performance went on I realized I was riveted. The orchestra chose to present a musical piece titled "March to the Gallows." As the sounds filled the stage, I closed my eye; a story surfaced. I wrote it.
I turned this narrative into my English teacher, Mrs. Finn, for a grade. She loved the work and repeatedly suggested I submit for publication. The idea frightened me. I knew not where to begin. I did nothing with this narrative, though now decades later I am considering the prospect.
I did take another writing course in high school; however, again, I concluded this class was fun, nothing more. I did well, very well, and did not think that significant. For me, in taking classes, I was pursuing my passion. I was learning. I entered the University and followed the career path I planned. I chose to be a professional student.
I saw myself as a scholar; I lived in school and never wanted to leave. However, life became more real, too real. I took a summer job in the mailroom of a school district and discovered that I had more education than some of the executives. Yet, I did not have a college degree, only a high school diploma. I could not be placed in a better position. I needed credentials. I recognized, one day I would need to graduate from college and begin a professional career.
I decided I would study Education, at least that way I would still be among academics. As I absorbed myself in my studies, I wrote paper after paper. You might think we all do that in school and you would be correct; however, for me, this type of writing was a challenge. As I said, in my youth I was far less organized. My mind was all over the place. Outlines were not an art I mastered. I was [and am] a compulsive researcher; however, I compiled so much information, that it consumed me. I did not know where to begin or end a thought. I had so much to say, I could not focus on a singular theme.
For me, writing was as breathing. It was a constant. It took no thought; it was, my way of thinking. As I wrote, I learned. One thought leads to another, the words flowed. Rarely was there a distinct direction. The ideas that rose from the words often surprised me. When I wrote I was on fire. I exemplified spontaneous combustion.
"Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go."
~ E. L. Doctorow [American author, Editor. Born 1931]
While working on my Professional Clear Teaching Credential, my Academic Advisor, Dr. Elisabeth S. Hartung required that my fellow students and I write. She did not ask us to delve into data; she required that we reflect. We penned observations and experiences we shared with our pupils. Professor Hartung often expressed an appreciation for my prose. On more than one occasion, she suggested that I publish my journal. Of course, I dismissed the idea. As always, I trusted compliments came from those that were trying to be nice. I believed people always were. When I was praised, I pondered little. Words commending my work only served to secure my position; people are consistently giving. Certainly, my writing was not noteworthy; it was, well indescribable.
Then in graduate school it happened. I was given an opportunity to grow that differed from those in my past. His name was Everett E. Murdock, Ph.D.. I enrolled in one of his classes. He understood my desire to learn. He allowed me to ask infinite questions; he willingly answered these. Dr. Murdock quickly recognized my lack of competitive spirit. He realized that grades were not as important to me as erudition and doing what I thought best for me. When he assigned a paper, I did not do it once, receive the best of grades, and then leave the composition behind. I rewrote the pages and resubmitted these again and again.
Professor Murdock patiently re-evaluated my work. He assessed not only the content but also the context. He corrected my grammar, remarked when concepts were unclear, and allowed me to learn from his constant and consistent feedback. I did. I took all seven classes that he taught. Dr. Murdock told me, "One day you will go on to teach these same courses." I did. Still, I did not feel passionate about my pursuits. I went through the motions avidly, though something was lacking.
Years later another opportunity entered my sphere. It was in the form of a man. I will call him Gary. On our first official date, Gary asked, "When you are troubled in a relationship, do you tend to write your thoughts rather than speak aloud of these." I had never considered the possibility before. I only knew that in our four hours together days before, Gary impressed me. I was happy to make him happy.
When he inquired, I thought for a time. I remembered on occasions, after a disagreement with my Dad, I had written of my concerns. I would present these communiqués to my Dad and we would, then discuss. My dad and I always discussed easily. Therefore, the writing seemed a non-event. It was not meaningful or significant; it was just what I did. Nevertheless, rather than be nit-picky, to please Gary, I said yes, I wrote when speaking was difficult for me.
Gary immediately signed up for email and gave me his account. I thought this nice, odd, and interesting. Actually, I was unsure of what it meant. Soon after I discovered Gary was not the easiest person to talk to. He was unpredictable, volatile, erratic, and explosive. Having grown-up in a home when no one ever yelled and consistency was the norm, Gary's behavior terrified me. Yet, I was drawn to him. I knew there was something I needed to learn from this enigmatic man, and as you may recall, I do love learning.
This lesson was the most painful I ever experienced and yet, the most rewarding. Gary and I exchanged, or might I more accurately said danced as we did for years. Our exchanges were tentative, though deep. Misunderstandings were eternal. The slightest quip could be hurtful or loving. A rollercoaster ride is calmer than my time with Gary was. It was so difficult to speak with him and there was so much to say that I took up writing as a regular habit.
I realized almost immediately that if my written phrases were the least bit reactive; they would be received with hostility. If I could express myself assertively, though with love, I would receive that in kind. I learned the power of considering an audience. My skills expanded; I developed an ability to be focused and specific. I fine-tuned each turn of a phrase. I grew.
I evolved as a person, as an author, and I realized, writing was my passion all along! I do not write because I want to say something. I write because I must express myself with written words. For me, if I do not write, I do not truly exist. I am barely alive. Thus, I write, and write, and write again.
"You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say."
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald [Author of the Great Gatsby. 1846 to 1940]
Why I Write. George Orwell. First published: Gangrel. London. Summer 1946.