Through-out my childhood I read a lot and wrote a lot as a teen but I was never supposed to grow up to be a writer. It was too artsy, too unpredictable, too much the opposite of what my mother wanted for her life, thereby dictating what I should want for mine. Writing was something you did "on the side" but your main job was something like being a secretary or a teacher or an interpreter at the United Nations (a job I considered briefly in High School.) The message I got was that writing was a hobby, not a career.
I grew up in a single parent household and my mom worked hard for a company that didn't really reward her efforts. No pension at a time when pensions were popular, no gold watch when she left, nothing. So the messages sent to me, sometimes subliminal and sometimes outright spoken words, were that security mattered more than anything else. You needed a regular job with a regular paycheck and benefits. Gotta have those all important benefits. I don't recall anyone ever sending the message to do what makes you happy. I don't remember anyone ever ASKING what made me happy. And perhaps, as a child, I didn't know myself.
I'm sure my mom would have a different memory and that's okay. I think of the quote by Anne Sexton that says, "It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was." That's the way it is with memories.
When I read autobiographies of writers who grew up in creative homes with parents who were writers or musicians or artists I feel pangs of jealously. I wanted to grow up in a home where creativity was celebrated and encouraged. Here's what I remember of creativity growing up:
- My mom bought me a lot of craft kits, the old string art things and the little colored bits of gravel that you glued down to make a picture.
- Embroidery, which felt a lot like mending to me.
- Making doll clothes.
- Making mud rivers and floating boats made from walnut shells
- Hammering things from leftover wood my grandfather gave me.
I remember making cards for my mom on all occasions and writing poems (bad ones) to go in lots of them. She saved them, I know this because they are in the scrapbooks she gave me but I don't remember much literary encouragement. But I don't remember being encouraged to do those things and explore. I think my mom and my grandmother were just worried about me being bored. I'm sure their memories of those days are different too.
There really wasn't a lot of reading material in our house. I remember we had a lot of Reader's Digest Condensed books and not a lot of any other books except the Bible. I can picture my mom or my grandmother reading the newspaper but that was about it. I can't bring to mind any image of them reading.
I had books, a lot, in part, to my Uncle Fred who used to bring them as gifts, and later, thanks to my mom who let me order as many from the Scholastic book clubs as I wanted.
But I never felt like I had that cheerleader in my corner saying, "You love words. I know you love words. So write and see where it takes you."
I can understand wanting a better life for your child. I'm a parent and I want my children to have good lives, secure in the ways that tell them they have a place to live and food on the table. But I also want them to follow their dreams, no matter how impossible they might seem.
In Junior High (Glenbrook Intermediate, Concord California) I had two English teachers who unlocked the door for me. Vicki Hackett and Mrs. England (can'tremember her first name.) They read my words and told me I had talent. They encouraged me to keep writing. I became the editor of the school paper. I wrote plays for the class to perform. I stayed after school just to sit in that old school desk in an environment that celebrated words, my words, and wrote and wrote and wrote. It was there, I am sure, that my writer self was born.
In high school (Mt. Diablo and Ygnacio Valley, also in Concord, California for anyone keeping track) I had more great teachers, Chuck Foster and Robert Sillonis, who pushed me to explore my world in words. From them I first heard the words to dig deep and write the truth but it would be years before I was a brave enough writer to actually do so.
I took a lot of different paths trying hard to NOT be a writer and to do something to make my mom proud of me. I got married (too young), had kids (also too young), did a variety of home-based business to prove I could earn some money (I couldn't) and finally gave up and came pretty close to having a nervous breakdown before I finally admitted how much I wanted to write and threw myself into it heart and soul.
My mom is proud of me in her own way. I've just finally figured out that she doesn't show it in the ways I always wanted see. And most of the time, that's okay with me. I've become my own cheerleader, my own encourager of dreams. I try something, I fall down, I get up and try again. I write and erase and submit and get rejected and start all over again. Because that's what a writer does. And because that's what I am.
I've finally become the writer I was supposed to be.
Write on, right now.