Why I Write
My Creative Awakening
Early in my life, I discovered that I could draw. More specifically I could draw the Campbell's Soup Kids, those cute, round-faced cartoon characters used by the Campbell's Soup Company to advertise their products. When I learned I could reproduce those faces it was an ah-ha moment for me. Then I began to see if I could reproduce other objects.
I soon learned that Campbell's Soup Kids were easy to reproduce compared to other things. Just draw a circle and put the cute little eyes, nose and mouth on and you had a Campbell's Soup Kid. No worries about shading or perspective. Other things were a little more complicated.
These difficulties didn't stop me, however. I kept trying. Give me some pencils and a sketch pad and I was a happy kid. I even sought out books and materials to help me learn about shading and such. Then when I was about eleven or twelve I got a Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw book. One of the best Christmas gifts I ever received. And I practiced and practiced and practiced using that book.
Over time, I got a little better. I never thought I was great. I just thought I loved drawing.
Commercial Featuring Campbell's Soup Kids
Achieving a Little Recognition....
When I was in high school, my school added art to the curriculum for the very first time. I signed up, of course, but so did many other students who had no interest in art but thought this would be an easy class. Our teacher, who was a novice at teaching, was a good instructor but not so good at controlling the students' behavior, so the class was often bedlam.
In spite of the bedlam, I still loved this class. I was learning about art.
Our poor teacher left teaching after that year, but at the end of the year before he left he sent in a recommendation for me to attend a workshop that was being offered at our state university during the summer break for art students with promise.
I was excited to attend this workshop that was being taught by a couple of award winning artists, but I was a shy little teenager and more than a little nervous about being there. I had been the best art student in my small high school, but I was in class with other 'best art students' from across the state. Right away, I began comparing myself to these other students and came out on the losing end.
By the time I left that workshop that summer I was asking myself, "Why did I think I was any good at art?" I decided I was wasting my time pursuing art. I quit drawing. It was one of the worst decisions I ever made. I still regret it.
During this period of my life, though, I was dealing with interests other than art. Besides dealing with the normal teenage angst about dating and fitting in, I was returning to high school to finish my senior year and begin thinking about college. And there were other high school classes besides art that appealed to me.
I may be biased about this, but it seems to me the best high school teachers are often the English teachers. That was certainly true in my case. My English teacher, Mrs. Fraim, was a pleasant, intelligent, long-time teacher with a genuine love of literature, the English language, and her students. Some students complained because she could also be quite demanding in her requirements. One of her requirements was that we write a paper almost every week while in her class.
Mrs. Fraim's requirements never seemed demanding to me. I took to the writing the same way I had taken to art. It was definitely more fun than conjugating verbs. And if Mrs. Fraim liked your writing, she was good about singing your praises. That always helps.
I suppose it was good there were no summer workshops for writing students in our universities because this enjoyment of writing stayed with me and served me well all through my university years. I even liked the essay tests in college that most students complained about.
The culmination of my writing career in college was the Advanced Composition course my last semester before graduation. Our professor in this class audaciously asked us to take the articles from The Atlantic magazine and see if we could improve them based on the principles he was illustrating. I loved it.
A Good Reason to Write
"The problem is never our grieving or grievances...........The pain that cripples is the pain that is borne alone -- never put into words. This is the pain that becomes a pool of tears hidden away inside, keeping us from connecting in any important way with others."
Quote by Elizabeth O'Connor author of Journey Inward, Journey Outward.
Since I often wrote about my pain and grief during these years, my journals became, at times, a place for my 'pool of tears'. Writing kept me sane.
Writing Becomes a Habit
After university, I had few requirements to continue writing. By this time, though, I had replaced my sketch book with a journal, so I kept writing things down. At first, it was just negative things I'd write down--negative feelings and events. Then I'd read them later, get depressed and throw them out. Over time, I threw fewer things away and settled into just writing down the details of my life.
By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I was married with two small children and a part-time job as a teacher. I loved being a mother (still do) and I loved teaching, but I didn't love my role as a wife. So I gave that up. The divorce, though, was brutal, as they often are, and left me wounded and fragile.
I decided my two small children (who had not asked to be born) deserved the best life I could give them, so I picked my wounded and fragile self up and began creating our new life. I had to leave my part time job that I loved and take a full time job I didn't particularly like because I needed benefits like retirement and health insurance.
Through all of this life, my journals stayed with me. They became the verbal sketch books of my life, written, often dispassionately, to record the joys and the tragedies of a life. At times the events themselves would seem overwhelming and almost too much to face head on. So I'd write them down to come back to later and do the proper grieving when I felt stronger.
I wrote about the death of our first baby shortly after birth.
I wrote about caring for my mother during the early stages of her Alzheimer's disease.
I wrote about the divorce and the financial hardships that followed. The illnesses of my children. Their joys and their sorrows. And the loneliness of being a single parent.
I wrote these journals and tucked them away, often forgetting they were there. Sometimes I come across those journals unexpectedly, read through them, and find myself grieving for events I couldn't grieve about at the time they occurred. I still can't read through the journal I kept about my mother's illness though. It's too painful, forty years later.
From NOW I BECOME MYSELF by May Sarton
Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
‘Hurry, you will be dead before-‘........
Other than keeping journals, I never considered doing anything more with writing. After my divorce, I was consumed with putting bread on the table and keeping a roof over our heads while nurturing and supporting my two beautiful daughters. Emotionally and financially, it was a trying time.
The first summer after my divorce my daughters spent two weeks with their father during the summer. Afterward, a friend asked me what I had done during that time. "I had a nervous breakdown," I told her, "and I'm going to do that every year when they're gone." I spent a good part of the first week lying on my couch and crying. The second week I lay on my couch and read.
My reading material that week consisted of three books: Journal of a Solitude by Mae Sarton, What Color is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles, and Journey Inward, Journey Outward by Elizabeth O'Connor. Reading these books was my gift to myself and by reading them I developed a very firm sense of who I was and what I wanted out of my life.
One of the things I decided during that week and the weeks and years that followed is that I would like to pursue writing. But I never considered writing as a way to make a living, and I desperately needed to find employment to support my family. Most of my energy in these years was devoted to making a home for me and my girls. This dream, however, was always there in the back of my mind.
To keep this dream alive, I often read about writing--how to do it, how others had done it. And I also wrote in my journals about the life I was living
The end of the poem NOW I BECOME MYSELF
".....Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!"
What motivates you to write
When Dreams Come True
In addition to chronicling my life, my journals were also a record of my dreams and aspirations. I developed a habit of periodically making short lists of the things I really wanted out of my life. The welfare of my children and financial security were usually at the top of those lists during those early years. But there were always other dreams on the lists. Even though much of my energy went toward raising my daughters and achieving financial security, I consistently worked toward making the other dreams a reality.
One of those dreams was to have a home in the country. I read a book about contracting your own home and decided that would help me achieve that goal. I found a house plan for a small house I liked and carried it around in my planning book for years.
I was showing this house plan to one of my coworkers one day and pointed to one of the small bedrooms and said, "That's my grandchildren's room".
"And how many grandchildren do you have?"
"None," I told her "but if I build it they will come."
I am retired now and settled in to live in this house I built here in the country. My daughters are adults and have children of their own, so the little room at the back of my house (the red room, we call it) is often occupied by four little granddaughters.
Along the way, several years back, I met and married my soul mate. That was never on my lists of things I wanted. Just a little serendipity. But I cannot imagine my life without him now.
All that's left to do is write. I do that daily because I'm running out of time.
What's your story? Why do you write?