‘You identify with what you do!’ He said it with more of ah-ha than surprise. ‘I sure do,’ I said. ‘I’m a writer, and mentor, and I love all the pieces.’ He asked for more. I rarely get this sort of interest from someone who’s not a writer. ‘It’s different for everyone,’ I said. For me, I love the challenge of finding a way to say it so others can experience something for themselves thru my words. I love following a story, getting to know a character, the surprise and discovery in the journey. I love the connection writing & mentoring creates. + It’s cool to see someone feel empowered in their process, and share their triumphs.
He’d never thought about it that way, he said. Then he asked the big question: Did I always want to be a writer. Ha! No! Writing was something that happened.
I planned my first book in 2nd grade. I had a theme, a table of contents, a few stories written. My parents thought it wonderful. I let it go. It felt like drudgery, despite being fairy tales.
My first writer’s block was in 3rd grade. Prompted by a poem in a school newsletter, I thought a poem something I could do. I never showed it to anyone. I was unsure it was really a poem, or if was any good. I was afraid of rejection.
My first award for writing was in 6th grade. The story displayed at a school arts fair. Heloise is good at creative writing written in my report card. I don’t remember what the story was about. I know it was long. . . 11 handwritten pages.
At 18 I failed creative writing in college. Every Friday we had one assignment: Write. Each Friday I turned in a blank sheet of paper. I didn’t know what to say, or how to start. I told myself it didn’t matter. I wanted to be an artist, anyway.
Nine years later, I left a physically, psychologically, and emotionally abusive marriage. I was alone, felt devastated and full of fear. I got my first journal, and poured my heart into it—questions, doubts, joys, yearnings. And as if by magic, poems flew in like angels and birds, unbidden, fully formed. At all hours. When I laid in the dark, feeling the pain. As I washed dishes, wondering how I’d get thru. I was in awe whenever it happened. Those poems were evidence I was OK, even when I did things I was ashamed of. They left as suddenly as they appeared.
Over the next ten years I let my journal go. I wrote for jobs. Wrote letters and cards to friends. And I went back to school for the fifth time to complete my bachelor’s. You know how you look back, see the turning point of your life? How it led to where you are now, even if years passed before you picked up the trail, again? This was it.
I heard the word patriarchy for the first time, and heard young women students talk about date rape as an accepted risk. Something inside me ignited. I became a tireless activist for women on that HUGE university campus. I fought for awareness and sought alliances, speaking to groups, students, faculty, and the provost. Another student and I founded a campus-wide newsletter for women students and faculty.I announced at a student leaders retreat there’d be a Women’s Center on campus before I graduated 18 mos. later. Something they said was impossible.
In that experience I found my Voice, and learned the power of using it, both as a student writing what matters to her, and as an activist. When the Women’s Center opened on the eve of my graduation,I didn’t know how to own this thingfar bigger than me created for others. It took seeing it in writing to realize the true power of my Voice.
Ten years later, I realized I’d lost my Voice. Something vital was stripped from me. I remembered that empowered feeling I had.
By accident or by angels, I met a woman who led prompted writing circles. For one afternoon each week we wrote to prompts, read our raw work aloud, and responded to one another’s work. Every time I read, I left the group mute. I vowed I’d quit. I was encouraged to stick with it, until finally I asked the right question. . .what can I do to connect? I took her answer and perfected my craft, and dove into all the things writers do. And I learned the power of story and connection. And that I was a writer.
The other day I noticed the most extraordinary things on my morning walk. One could call it budding. I call it babies. Young, short cholla cactus with what I know are their first blooms ever in life. Young, short prickly pear cactus with what I know are their first ‘apples’ plumping up. New growth on a longleaf pine, how the long needles cling tight in a shaft, in their birth tribe, before spreading out. The beginnings of pine cones, something I didn’t know.
I stopped at the very,very big tree I visit each morning, paused like I do before walking to the rose garden across the long grassy park sprinkled with clover. Above me, the clearest, loudest song caused me to look up. A small sparrow, with a blushed red throat, 10 ft. up on a limb sang those clear, really loud notes. I watched its throat move in and out, amazed. That little body, using its Voice!
There are so many beginnings happening all the time, inside and outside us. Song to a new morning. First blooms and fruit. The cluster of needles before each stretches, becomes part of the tree on its own. Thoughts and emotions. Words on a page. Birth. It may be a tree or a cactus or a bird, or words. . .and, by golly, it’s not *just* a tree or a cactus or a bird, or words.
Those poems that flew in those many years ago. . .they were me, telling my story from within. In a lyric I could feel thru the pain. I didn’t think myself a poet. I never thought to be a writer.
And the books I’ve written. . .the characters and stories chose me. I never thought I’m going to write a book. I got curious.
That need at the huge university campus. . .it touched my heart in a way that sparked passion, and gave me my Voice.
“All of us are scared: of looking dumb, of running out of ideas, of never selling our copy, of not getting noticed.
We fiction writers make a business of being scared, and not just of looking dumb. Some of these fears may never go away, and we may just have to learn to live with them.”
~ Jack Bickman
We show up, say Yes, try it on. And find what matters. What I know for sure, our Voice always matters. We are made to create. Writing chose me.
- What creative projects have you ‘tried on?’
- What matters to you?
- Do you feel empowered when you write, even if it’s not perfect?
- What can you say Yes to?
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