In high school, I admittedly struggled with writing. It took tremendous effort for me to string words together into a coherent sentence. I spent oodles of energy formulating paragraphs that had a beginning, a middle and an end. On more than one occasion, I rewrote an English paper to improve the grade. And on more than one occasion, I rewrote the same darn paper three different times. It wasn’t my idea. It was my mom’s. Trust me, I was content with a B- and I felt absolutely no gratification inching it up to a B by reworking the same sentence ten different ways. But when you go to an exclusive private school and your Jewish mom wants you to excel, you do what you’re told. So I took French, played tennis and rewrote my English papers as many times as the teacher deemed necessary.
Interestingly, I blossomed into a writer my first year of college. Maybe it was my newfound confidence, being out from under the microscope of a small school where your reputation preceded your actual presence. Maybe it was because I developed a freedom to express myself as I wanted instead of how a stodgy teacher insisted. All I know is I fell in love with words and my passion quickly became apparent to those who taught me.
“This is really fantastic,” my English prof noted after class, my essay in his hands and a crimson A scribbled across the top.
“Thanks,” I offered as I tried to halt the corners of my mouth from curling into a foolish smile.
“Have you thought about pursuing writing?” he inquired as he extended his arm and offered my paper.
“I’d love to be a writer,” I swooned, visions of coffee houses and round table discussions cluttering my head. I momentarily disappeared to the idea of sipping cocktails with Brett Easton Ellis and swapping literary genius with Binnie Kirshenbaum. Then my prof spoke.
“No, no – you can’t be a writer. You have to be a professor. That way you have an income to support your writing habit.”
My eyes pulled back and scanned the scene. His copper corduroy slacks were frayed at the hem and some of the raised lines running from hip to heel were worn shallow at the knee. The elbows of his green woolen sweater were threadbare and a part of the waistband was starting to unravel, loops of yarn loosely hanging in succession. The soles of his shoes were scuffed unevenly and the tired leather encasing his feet was worn beyond repair. From head to toe, he was tattered and torn. There was nothing about this man I aspired to be. Nothing. And so I shelved my writing aspirations and set out to become a lawyer.
Even though my dreams to become an author were dashed, my passion for writing never faded. It’s as if words run through my veins. I can be patiently waiting for a light to blink from red to green and a slice of dialog echoes in my head. I can be standing under a steady stream of water, suds of shampoo puddling at my feet, and a paragraph will suddenly spill from my brain. I can be just about anywhere when the urge strikes. If I know I’m within reach of a pen or computer, I repeat the idea over and over like a mantra, holding it in the present long enough to expel it through my fingers. Sometimes the idea blossoms into an essay. Sometimes it withers away into a jumble of confused words. But no matter what I pen, the public consumption of my creativity stalls out at this blog.
“Did you take a class for the GMAT?” I asked Leslie when she answered the phone.
“Yeah, why?” she probed, the clicking of her keyboard echoing in the distance.
“Because I’m thinking of taking the GRE.”
“Wait, for what?”
“Creative writing. An MFA in Creative Writing, to be exact. My blog is a dead end. And my passion is writing,” I explained, the idea clumsily tumbling from my mouth. I had pondered this next step for months but this conversation marked the very first time I had ever wrapped words around it all and then gone so far as to speak said words aloud.
“Wow, really?” Leslie asked.
“Uh huh. It’ll give me more credibility in the literary world plus I’ll have access to prof jobs. I can teach during the school year and have the summers off to pursue writing. Yeah, I know, me being a teacher makes about as much sense as polyester pants or acid wash denim but, you know, I think I’d enjoy teaching something I’m passionate about.”
“That’s awesome, Paige,” Leslie offered, a genuine warmth coating the sentiment.
“Well, I’m only in the beginning stages of research but I know some schools require the GRE.”
Leslie elaborated about what she did to prepare for the GMAT. Who she took a class from and why she preferred their method over other programs. After a few minutes, we ended the call and I turned back to the paperwork cluttering my desk. A to-do list sat just off to the side. I tugged at the pad, freeing a blank sheet from the back. I cleared off space in front of me and placed the paper down on my desk, the heel of my palm pressing down over it to remove any wrinkles. And then I wrote one simple sentence: I am a writer. Not a blogger. Not an insurance broker. A writer, dammit.
I pinned the note to my cork board, the paper fluttering right at eye level. So whenever I turn my attention from my monitor to my desk, I see it. Or whenever I reach to answer the phone and lift the receiver to my ear, I see it. Or whenever I get discouraged as I research MFA programs that have a 10% acceptance rate or pen essays to keep the pen going or pursue my future as a writer regardless of the capacity, I am reminded why I’m doing it all. I know it sounds very Tony Robbins. I know it sounds very inspirational-poster-ish. Simply put, I know how it sounds. But I also know it is just the gentle reminder I need to see this through.
PS: In light of my need to pour any and all energy into compiling a portfolio of work and editing personal statements and figuring out what programs to apply to and scraping up two or three people willing to write reference letters on my behalf, I will need to shelve my usual goal of two posts a week. I adore having this blog and don't necessarily see this as an end. Merely a pause to get me to an end point. In other words, I'll be here, just less often. Thanks for all of your kind words and enthusiastic praise. You readers are my grown-up version of a baby blanket - you make me feel safe in what can sometimes be a dark and scary world.