Technically, I have been writing for a very long time. Anytime I was feeling the stereotypical teenage angst, I would write a poem. It was with the encouragement of my English teacher (who later became my creative writing teacher) that I branched out into prose. The original assignment was to write a journal.
Since I procrastinated on the assignment, I was stuck trying to write an entire semester of entries in a few days. I grabbed that notebook and started writing as fast as I could. I picked a traumatic life event, and then proceeded to write twenty-eight pages longhand. It forced me to not only complete my assignment, but to process the event I had been avoiding. That stupid journal ended up being a lifesaver.
It led Miss. Kalina right to me, even though I was just another confused sixteen-year-old.
It was also the beginning of learning how to write, learning when to show and when to tell. To this day, I still use most of the same creative writing techniques. That includes keeping a tiny notebook in my purse and a stubborn insistence that it is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with a preposition. Even half a life later, I remember all of her funny life phrases. “I’ve always been a bit hippy.” “If people can’t figure out they should vacate a burning building, they’re beyond my help.” I found humor and salience in everything that she said. Even her criticisms were perfectly worded.
I remember her because she touched my life; she mentored me in a subject that’s nearly impossible to mentor, and she did it with style and constant good humor. She also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis; she could barely move some days, but she was single and lived alone. It never made any sense to me that someone as wonderful as her did not have a partner. I always assumed every man who dated her must have been an idiot (or there were simply things I didn’t know).
When I went to college, I ended up majoring in English. I took several creative writing classes, but I never had another teacher or professor who spoke to me the same way. Most of the time I just wrote what I needed to write, either for a school assignment or for my own personal edification. Occasionally, I would write prose that I know she would have liked. Those were always the writings that filled me with pride.
And then came the drought. I graduated from college. I found a job and got married. I moved to New York. I had children. I stopped writing in tiny notebooks. For almost ten years, I wrote nothing. The longest things I wrote were the e-mails I sent to friends, which weren’t all that frequent or all that informative. Most of the time I would only give half the story anyway. That is what we all do; we choose what to reveal and what to conceal.
There were a couple of failed writing efforts, but that was it. I tried to write about my oldest son once, but I couldn’t do it. I wrote one page, crying like a human faucet throughout, only to be interrupted by him waking up from a nap. Quite frankly, I think I was relieved.
Then one day, about a year ago, I started to write again. At first, I wrote things that I found funny, things that were charming and light. Gradually, I started delving deeper, writing about health issues, relationships, and lastly, sharing the story of my family. Along the way, with each story, I would process events and learn things about myself. Things that didn’t make sense to me began to make sense. Truth is much harder to ignore when you’re looking at it in black and white.
I began to understand things about myself, and I also began to realize that I needed to write. I had ten years of stories seeping out of every pore. All the sudden, I remembered what I had loved about writing. Through the written word, we get the chance to perfect ourselves, to say everything we didn’t think to say the first time around, to say everything we might be afraid of saying in our real lives. We can be as vulnerable or as invulnerable as we choose to be, the whole time knowing that there is value in both.
I’m just a normal, everyday person, but when I write I’m able to pry out the secret parts of myself and reveal them. When I write, I realize that I have enough courage to deal with everything else. When I write, I am a lion.