As I pulled the van up to the curb in front of our house this afternoon, Tink chirped from the backseat, “What else are we doing today, Mom?”
We were both in wet bathing suits and sitting on our beach towels after a long morning at the pool for a swim meet. I put the car in park and turned off the engine. “I have to work this afternoon, sweetie. I have a two blog posts I have to write. One is for my blog, but the other is for a client. I have a deadline on Tuesday, so I have to write it if I want to get paid.”
“You get paid to write blog posts? Why? I thought you just did it for fun.”
“I do write blog posts for fun on my blog, but sometimes someone hires me to write a blog post on their blog and then they pay me. It’s a good thing.” I gathered up the pool bags, got out of the car and walked around to the sidewalk. Tink was still sitting in the car with both the car door and her mouth wide open, staring at me.
“Mommy, are you a writer?!!”
First, there was a small, red, blank book with gold edging in which I wrote stories of mice and toe shoes. I was 6. Then came illustrated stories on notebook paper about cats who were princesses. I read Harriet the Spy, and, while I didn’t start a spy route, I began to keep a notebook where I wrote daily, making note of my observations about the world. Harriet the Spy taught me to become a watcher, both of myself and the world around me. I saw the way my mother flicked her middle finger against her first finger in a dry, raspy rhythm when she was thinking. I took note of the freckles that flooded across the backs of my father’s hands and down onto his fingers. I observed my sister’s left hand, fingernails bitten short, the pads of her fingers dented by violin strings. Writing is in the watching. You have to watch for the quick flash of the small things, before you can catch them up, and set them down on your page.
After Harriet, I began to write poetry – small snapshots of my world. I will admit to starting with unicorns. What is it with young girls and unicorns? Then I moved on to the thing every girl goes to after unicorns – fan fiction. (What? You didn’t?) In those awkward preteen years, my friend and I wrote “stories” together. We immortalized our love of the band Duran Duran by creating elaborate tales about our idealized and older selves meeting the members of the band, who would, of course, fall madly in love with us. I was Meg Dobbs, dark-haired and fiery. I drove a 1960s red Mustang. I wore a fedora and jazz shoes. (It was the 80s.) Simon LeBon could not resist me, regardless of the scenario. Sometimes we lived happily ever after; sometimes our love was doomed. I passed my 9th grade English class by turning in notebook after notebook filled with these stories. I can’t imagine the teacher ever read any of it. He must have just flipped through the pages, densly packed with words in blue ballpoint pen, and put a check mark in his grade book.
After unicorns, after Duran Duran, I moved to boys – real ones. I began to write poetry exclusively because I couldn’t really understand what was happening to me. The rush of emotions and hormones made it impossible to catch more than a moment in words. I wrote short bursts of overwrought images to match my overwrought and overwhelming thoughts. I wrote for the school literary magazine. I took creative writing classes. I went to writing camp. I met a different boy. I wrote more poems to catch my memories like fireflies in a jar.
the smell of sweet mowed grass,
the heavy wet heat of being wrapped in a sopping towel,
the acoustic guitars stumming on a balcony and the accompanying voices,
as light as a birdsong,
as soothing as a mother’s lullaby,
floating on opalescent bubbles and cigarette smoke.
In college, I filled more notebooks, majored in English and minored in writing. I published poems in the literary magazine. I envisioned a life as an academic – teaching college English to support my writing. I met the boy who would be my husband. I went off to grad school in literature. I wrote papers on literary theory. I fell in love with autobiography. I wrote more poems.
After grad school, I taught other people how to write. I learned to write scripts for television and I began to get paid for those words. Then I became a mother. When I had my children, my words, my observations, dried up like breast milk. I didn’t use them, and they slowed down to a trickle and then they were gone. One journal lasted me for years – full of pristine and reproachful blank pages instead of words.
Never, at any point in this journey, did I say, “I am a writer.”
“You need to write,” my husband said, and he was right. It was an effort not to write. I could hear the words skittering and scattering in their jar, their lights barely flashing. I had to intentionally ignore them. I added more and more observations to the jar until it was thickly abuzz with words, but I would never let any out. “I don’t even have time to think,” I said. “I don’t have time to write anymore,” I said. “What’s the point? It’s not like I can make any money at it,” I said. I transferred all the effort I once put into writing into not writing. It was hard not to write, and, if I even looked at the blank pages of the journal on my nightstand, I felt bottled up myself, trapped.
“You need to write,” my husband said and he made me this blog. This one you’re looking at right now. He made me this lovely space and I named it and then I sat in front of it with my fingers poised over the keyboard. It took a long time – 2 years really – before I felt safe enough to write more than an occasional entry about what my kids were doing. It took 2 years before I cracked open the lid on the jar and let a few fireflies out to crawl into the text box here and blink at me. “Look!” they blinked. “This is what you are meant to do.”
Once I started, I kept going. Post after post, this blog brought my words back. Six years. Six years of posts about anything and everything. Six years of my life are all lined up here in tidy lines. The more I write, the more I write, and the more I write, the more I am sure of one thing.
“Mommy, are you a writer?” Tink asked me.
“Yes, I am.” I told her without hesitation. I stood on my front lawn in a dripping bathing suit and declared, “I am a writer. Of course, I am a writer.”
I am not a writer because someone pays me to write (although I certainly enjoy it when they do.) I am not a writer because I have published a book. I am not even a writer because you, my dear readers, come here to this blog to read my words.
I am a writer because I write. It is what I do. It is part of the fabric of who I am. I have always been a writer since I first learned to arrange letters into words. Even when I wasn’t writing, I had to actively keep myself from it.
You may never see my name in the New York Times Book Review. You may never order my latest work off of Amazon. Or maybe you will one day . . . . it really doesn’t make a difference.
I am a writer and I’ll be out here, catching fireflies, always.
****This post is an entry in this month’s Living Out Loud project – Volume 29: On Writing. Follow the link to see the prompt and don’t forget to check back with GenieAlisa at ….in a Bottle to see the the recap of all this month’s entries.****