The following is an essay I wrote about six years ago when applying for an A Room Of Her Own grant. I came across it while looking for the first few chapters of a novel I had started. As I read through it tonight, I loved that my feelings on what my writing means to me and why I write have not changed. Just thought I would share…
I see a young woman who doesn’t believe in her artistic gifts, her view of life off balance because of her life experiences. I see a little girl, sparked by creative thoughts, lighting up as an idea comes to her mind. She runs to the computer to type it down before it gets away. I see a little boy, full of tall tales, his sense of humor getting the best of him as he laughs at his own story. I see a baby girl who stands on her tiptoes to reach the piano keys, full of wonder at the sound she is able to create, so full of joy at the sound of music that her own belly laugh catches her off guard.
These images hold within them the overflowing potential for life. They are at the core of what my writing means to me. My writing has enabled me to be an example to my children. It is important to me as a mother for these imaginative children to see firsthand that creative thinking is a blessing, a gift that allows you to see similarities and differences in the everyday people, places, and ideas in the world.
I did not raise my daughter, April. The stark differences in her outlook on life compared to the children who have grown up under my care reinforce my feelings about setting an example for my children. I have the privilege of observing my children absorb the written word, developing a love and appreciation for the words, stories, and treasures to be found in books. My 10 year-old daughter, Queenie, is my writer. She has countless journals filled and stacked precisely in her closet. She has completed four chapters in her own book. It is rewarding to be able to foster this in her. We encourage each other. We share our frustrations with each other. We love the competition of working towards our goals. My 8 year-old son, Bass, is my reader. He becomes so engrossed in the written word, that he cannot put books down. His books are carried with him everywhere. The standing joke in the house is the pile of books in the bathroom, all belonging to Bass. My 1 year-old, Lulu Grace, is already my little musician, loving the rhythm of music, the tone of the same note played over and over on the piano, turning her musical mobile on the minute she wakes up in her crib.
I watch these children and see myself. Since I was a young girl, I have been engrossed in language, words, spelling, the beauty of handwriting, the art of punctuation and proper grammar. I was always thought of as a bit weird. As an adult, my mind still works the same way. To be myself, I have to write. It’s who I am. My husband knows it. My children see it.
As a writer your mind is in constant motion, always on the lookout for the beautiful, the deceptive, the ugly, the touching, the devastating, the joyful, and the bitter. You see the highs and lows in life from a different perspective, one of appreciation and interest. You feel the resignation and weight of a baby as she surrenders to sleep, her eyelashes fluttering like the wings of a delicate butterfly. You are able to witness and hear the cruelty of survival as a hawk soars, circling and plucking a baby rabbit from the safety of the ground. You are taken by the humor of life’s oddities as you examine a seven-toed cat. You marvel at the intricate patterns of frost formed by nature’s hand on a drafty old window. You are stricken by the tragedy of dreams unfulfilled as you pay for gas and carefully watch the woman on the other side of the counter, hard, coarse, and broken.
This ability to visualize life in its most basic forms and to translate that for another to see through your eyes is a reward of the thoughts floating in your head. It has taken most of my adult life to realize these things for myself. It has taken time to harness the imaginings, phrases, and ideas and put them in order, to formulate plans and goals that now freely flow out of my head to the paper before me. It is a gratifying feeling to look at a blank piece of paper and suddenly have it fill with letters that form words, that form paragraphs, that form a story that will form into a vision in another’s mind’s eye. It brings immense satisfaction and delight to see a person or scene in my own thoughts and bring it to life and clarity on paper.
Daily life often gets in the way of writing. Doubts creep in. Bills have to be paid. Children have to be diapered or sent off to school. It is easier to tell myself that this dream just costs too much emotionally. The daily grind of working, being a mother and wife, running a household, seep in and steal away the desire to put the day’s thoughts down onto paper.
After a rough day, my husband sees the struggle within me, the need to just get it all out. After running a hot bath for me, he takes my hand, eases me into the steam and bubbles, and then leaves, gently closing the door behind him. The click of that door allows my mind to shift gears. He allows me space, time to relax, so that I am once again my own person – not a mom, not a co-worker, not a wife, not a daughter or sister – just myself. I sit in the tub, steam pouring over me, until I can begin to see clearly through the fog of my own thoughts.
It is a gift that after 20 years together, my husband is able to do this for me. It is his gift to be able to see and share my struggles and find ways to support and encourage my dreams. That may mean that he puts the kids to bed after his own exhausting day roofing a picky customer’s house. It may mean reinforcing the “quiet rules” of the house when Mom is writing. It may mean taking the kids away for the weekend on their own little getaway to give me time. It may mean encouraging me when the uncertainty of whether I even possess the talent to write overtakes me. It may mean sacrificing his time with me as I write until 2:00 a.m., but always being there ready to wrap his arms around me as I crawl into bed, eyes weary and fingers sore.
My husband’s support and encouragement drives me to be my best. His belief in my writing, his staunch support of my abilities, his love for my creative side, won’t allow me to give up. I feel the weight of this responsibility to him, to my children, but most importantly, to myself.
Life’s experiences have empowered my writing in ways I never would have anticipated. I could not have envisioned how placing our oldest daughter for adoption when I was 15 would lead to a reunion with her when I turned 29. I could not have foreseen the impact our reunion would have on all of the children, on my husband, our extended families, or on myself. I have experienced the highs and lows of giving birth to four children, and raising three.
I have looked on helplessly as mental illness ravaged the minds of those close to me, rendering them incapable of understanding the importance of their own lives. I observed how their own creativity drove them to dark places. I have stood by my father’s bedside, not recognizing him, his physical deformities so severe after a tragic car accident.
But I also watched as those people in my life have surmounted those incredible obstacles of mental illness, to begin to rebuild their lives. I was given the gift of being able to tell my father on his 60th birthday how his perseverance and determination throughout his lifetime, and especially following his accident, gives me hope every day. In these instances, I was spared the ultimate grief of losing these important influences in my life, but I lost little pieces of them and myself along the way.
I have experienced poverty at times in my life. I have experienced a privileged life at times. I know the depths of grief, where the pain was too intense for there to be tears to cry. I know the overflowing of true joy, where the tears come so easily. I know that these life experiences have provided me a depth of character and understanding of others, lending to my writing the same depth and feeling of authenticity.
I am able to pull from these experiences in my writing. It is has a cathartic effect, healing and liberating. It puts perspective on life. It allows me to reflect and appreciate even the worst of times, because there is always some part of my life during those moments of darkness and despair which has been worthy of my thankfulness.
I want to feel that the things I put onto paper will touch another person’s life, providing a release from the every day through reading, but also allowing them to grow and change by learning something about themselves in the process. I want to provide a sense of hope and direction, a starting point, for those trying to unravel the interwoven threads of their lives. It’s a long, arduous process to untangle those threads, to make sense of the unthinkable losses suffered in life. The journey itself is half of the reward, and that often goes unrecognized. The journey allows us to become the people we are meant to be. We are always waiting for that day when things get better, for dreams to be fulfilled. But if we don’t enjoy the journey of getting there, taking the good and the bad, we miss one of the biggest gifts of life.
I will always write, because it allows me to discover more about myself and about my own hidden thoughts. I find myself answering my own questions about life through the story of someone else, suddenly realizing that the thoughts and phrases from my character’s minds are hidden in me. It is an incredible moment when a torrent of words appears on the page before me, and it is the message I have needed to hear in my own life.
There is one lesson I have learned from pursuing my dream to be a writer. It is what keeps me motivated when the dream seems too lofty. Life is what you make it. If you rise to the challenges put before you, whether you fail or succeed, life provides its rewards. Those rewards may not have been what you thought they were going to be. You may even have to look really hard to figure out what the reward is, but it’s there if you’re willing to read between the lines.