For my first blog post, I thought I would tell you a little about how I am becoming a creative writer.
I suppose it starts with a love of books. Books from school, books purchased by my parents with S&H Green Stamps from the supermarket, borrowed books from the bookmobile. Reading in bed, at the kitchen table, on the floor with the TV blaring. Getting underfoot and reading whatever I can get my hands on -- a history book, Nancy Drew, a biology textbook, adventure stories, Johnny Tremain, or the Bible. It didn’t worry me if I didn’t comprehend because I still liked the sound of the words, the way they looked on the page, black ink on cream or white, smooth or rough paper, and the weight of the book or magazine in my hands. The raspy sound of flipping pages…And I liked the different smells paper takes on: brand new or old, dusty, moldy, and the sharp chemical scent of textbooks.
And I also suppose the physical act of writing plays a part. For me, writing began with a fat red pencil. I remember my penmanship classes, this was when it was taught in school. I remember the grainy mustard-colored paper with the faint but solid lines to guide where the tops of capital letters should touch, and the broken middle lines that told me where to begin lower case letters. Loops and curves, sharp stops, reversals, and dramatic, striking lines. I don’t take for granted how I was taught to read and write when a child because my grandparents struggled with literacy. And English was a foreign language to them and my parents. So I am grateful to have learned.
In high school and university, I read plays, essays, and poetry. All new and intimidating. How should I take their meaning? There are different ways of writing, I learn, with different aims. To please, to inform, to make you feel happy or sad or outraged at misfortune or gratified at just desserts. And in graduate school, technical writing. Research papers, theses, legal briefs, pleadings, decisions, and appeals. With this kind of writing, I learn a feeling of responsibility to “not waste people’s time.” I suppose this approach is engrained in me, growing up with people who were always busy working at something. And living in a place and time where “time is money,” it’s funny to think that I began to write seriously when I had no money, but lots of time.
I lost my job during the Great Recession of 2008. I had never been without a job in my adult life, and it was a shock. I felt lost. Who was I without a job? How could I describe myself? Would I be understated and shrug it off, or angry and blame evil bosses, or would I stay positive and call it a break? Maybe I could say I was weighing my options? These all seemed like little lies. Euphemisms to cover up my embarrassment and shame at not having a paycheck. I felt lost.
This experience forced me to take stock, not unlike perhaps, how the pandemic has forced people to do so.
And so I began to write anything that came to mind, free-writing in a notebook. Some of it was therapeutic. Journal writing is a wonderful habit, built upon the habit of holding the fat red pencil, I could say. I hadn’t written for myself since I was an angsty youth and at first, it did seem as if I were simply making lists. I started with one line, two lines, snippets, words that sound good together. That built into more lines, maybe something aphoristic that made me feel smart or clever, and on to small poems, working with rhyme and sound, and then little vignettes, based on a memory or an observation. The point was to try and describe something that I was observing, to really see it, whatever it was. And by doing this maybe I would learn something greater.
I took my own life as a starting point, and it developed from there. I took some writing workshops, and attended conferences, and kept scribbling away. Over the course of this period I, cautious as a cat, started showing my work, bearing the criticism, sometimes painfully, I’ll admit. But I persisted.
Over a year later, when I did find a full-time job again, I didn’t stop writing. I kept it up in my spare time, nights and weekends. I began to send things out, stories and poems, waiting for acceptance or rejection.
In my professional life, I have written grant applications, reports, budgets, chapters in textbooks, opinion pieces, reviews, and legal documents.
And now fiction and poetry. The time I used to think would be a waste because I was not earning money was not a waste after all. In losing my job, I found meaningful work, rewarding and satisfying.
I look forward to sharing it with you.