In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Express Yourself!.”
Welcome to Day 12 of my 31-day blogging streak! Not sure what I’m talking about? Click here!
I’m a writer. I can’t dance and I’m not good at drawing or painting or working with my hands. Words are my art.
I know everybody says this about their gifts and hobbies, but I really have loved the written word my entire life. Like most writers, my love of writing was borne of a love of reading. My mom kept a baby book for me, and there is a note in it about how I loved to play with books. I couldn’t even read them yet and I already wanted to get my hands on them!
As a shy, introverted child, I craved a way to connect with the world and the people in it without having to talk all the time or compete for attention in large groups. Books were the answer. In 2nd and 3rd grade I was devouring Goosebumps, Sweet Valley and Babysitters Club books, years before statistical averages claimed I was supposed to be understanding and enjoying them. I got more excited for a trip to Barnes and Noble than to Toys ‘R’ Us, and I wold bring a book with me everywhere I went in case of a long wait at the auto shop or a boring drive across town.
But it wasn’t enough: the more I read stories, the more I itched to create my own. I was the kid in class who asked if I could use the back of the worksheet when I was done with the assignment – not to draw or doodle, but to write a story. I was constantly churning out stories in elementary school – of course, the were all about cheetahs and jungle animals and dinosaurs and gem stones and the occasional haunted mansion (there’s that Goosebumps influence!), but for a little kid I had a pretty decent flair for characterization and plot. And vocabulary: I still remember a day in the 3rd grade when my teacher called me out in front of the whole class to point out my excellent use of vocabulary in my dinosaur story du jour. She was really impressed that my 8-year-old self had used the phrase “the dinosaur nodded off,” instead of just “the dinosaur fell asleep.” As quiet and reserved as I was, I had an imagination that wouldn’t sit still for a minute.
My reading choices eventually grew more complex, as did my writing. In 7th grade, after reading the book Mick Harte Was Here, I wrote my own story about a kid dealing with the aftermath and grief of her cousin’s death in a car crash, even though I had never experienced that personally, and I shared it with my teachers, who were really impressed by it (and hopefully not worried). It was the first time I can remember writing about something that wasn’t about me but rather trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes and imagine a situation that was foreign to me.
There was one moment I can point to that really taught me what it means to be a writer and what is so important about that gift. It was in my 9th grade Language Arts (I think most of you probably just called it “English”) class. Our teacher was an older woman named Mrs. Novy and she always struck me as the type of person who should be on Broadway. She was loud, vivacious, and gregarious but she was also tough. She told it like it is and we had been warned by upperclassmen that she wasn’t the type of teacher who gave praise easily.
Around Christmastime, Mrs. Novy gave us an assignment to write a holiday story. I don’t remember the details, just that it had to be a story from the holidays and I think it had to be true. I couldn’t think of any cool stories, so I just wrote about how for years, we kept all of our Christmas stuff in the basement in a tattered cardboard box that my dad had affectionately labeled “CHRISTMAS SHIT” in block Sharpie letters. I don’t remember what all was in the story, and I will hate myself forever and ever that I didn’t save a copy of it to look back on, but ol’ difficult-to-impress Mrs. Novy loved the story. She thought it was a riot.
When I came into class the next day Mrs. Novy was telling everyone what a funny guy my dad is. Since I was 14 years old and my priority in life was being a total smartass all the time, my natural response to her compliment was “how do you know? You’ve never met my dad before.”
Without missing a beat, Mrs. Novy said: “Yes I did. I met him through your story.”
Sadly, writing and reading only continued to get harder after that. The demands of high school and college to constantly read and write as homework really wore on my creativity and my desire to write – and when I was still motivated, it was hard to find the time. When I would write, it became less fictional and more personal essay type writing, about things I was learning and thinking and realizing, that I would just share with my friends. They would always love it and nothing meant more to me than hearing my friends say that something I wrote impacted them and really made them think. But I just seemed to stall out from there.
I thought it would get better once I was finally done with those years of mandatory reading and writing, but I found that once I was out of an academic environment and saddled with the demands of being a productive member of adult society, it just became even harder. Now, even with a blog, I often find myself struggling. Writing is like a muscle – it will always be there, but if I’m not using it regularly, it starts to get weak and rusty.
I also struggle to find an attentive audience. I know that the people in my life care about me and what I have to say, so I guess it’s just my bad luck that I ran into the social media and technology age, where everyone is already inundated with more information than they know what to do with on a daily basis. Not to be a curmudgeon, but it seems like “these days,” people only want to look at pictures and read short listicles. Word count is like makeup: less is more. So what is a writer to do when people’s tolerance for paragraphs full of text has been whittled down to essentially nothing, but my need to express myself with words is greater than ever?
I’m glad this was the topic for the WordPress Daily Prompt today, and that it dug up memories of my life as a writer and what writing means to me. While I don’t think my blogging streak, or this prompt alone, will be the silver bullet that reignites my creativity, I’m glad for this reminder. Thanks for reading.