Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My First Blog!

I’ve been undergoing some blog performance anxiety, so today I decided to stop torturing myself and keep it simple; I’m going to write about what I think I was put on this planet to do, what has defined my life thus far: writing.  I have been writing, and reading, for as long as I can remember.  When I was young, my mother used to have to take away my Nancy Drew book at bedtime, so I wouldn’t stay up, reading through the night.  As I grew up, the book she tucked under her arm after kissing me good night changed—after the Nancy Drew series, it became V.C. Andrews, then C.S. Lewis, then Tolkien, then Danielle Steel.  What remained the same was that I would rather read than sleep.

I started writing early in my life, and even in elementary school, English was my favorite subject.  With the exception of sports, there was nothing I relished more than losing myself, entirely, in a story.  I loved endings, but I hated the end.  In third or fourth grade, I was invited to join some special class, in which the goal was to write.  A lot.  I wrote a storybook, complete with atrocious pictures (I still find it difficult to draw a straight line; I amuse my literature students with pathetic illustrations of Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory).  My storybook was called THE PILLOWCASE FIGHT.  All the characters were named after my friends, and the plot was, I admit, fairly stupid.  But the teacher sewed us each a cover, and she bound our books.  I created a book!  Over twenty years later, I still have it.  It lives in my fireproof safe.  I consider it a testament to my future, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Later, in high school, when my journal captured all my thoughts and I embraced my intense moodiness far too easily, I adopted the family typewriter as my own and started writing a novel.  I’m not kidding—I actually planned to write a novel.  Recently, when my parents moved out of the home I spent half my childhood in, I was called upon to sift through years of crap piled precariously in my closet (ironically, I was doing the same in therapy!).  It was there I found the pages—there were twenty—and laughed out loud.  First it was the onionskin typing paper that amused me.  Then it was my blatant, teenaged attempt to re-create the style, mood and typical plot of the very-prolific writer whose books I reserved on a regular basis at the library: Danielle Steel.  I didn’t do a bad job, really—the melodrama bounced to life on the page.  I did create a terrifically stupid plot (again); I merely inserted all the pieces of my limited but nonetheless puzzling teenage life—tennis, failed romances, friends and cliques, family issues and, of course, the one source of true agony in my youth—math. 

I decided to re-read my unfinished opus once, and then destroy it.  At the time, I was halfway through my MFA in Creative Writing, and producing pages on a daily basis.  I was thriving in an artistic, creative environment and surrounded by people who share my need to live life through a pen.  I didn’t want the weightlessness of the onionskin pages to weigh me down.  I read my homage to Ms. Steel once, and then I ripped up the pages.  It was easy to do because I no longer needed them; I know who I am, and I know exactly how I got here.  My writing skills are (mostly) learned; they may have resided within me, nascent and numb, for some time, but they were certainly nourished and prodded.  They are skills I twisted and turned and tussled with; they are skills I cried over, deflated or dismayed some days, elated and encouraged other days.  They are skills that were fostered by all the right people (see CLOSER TO FINE, Acknowledgments), and they were also bought and paid for (250 dollars, once a month, to student loan payments, probably for the rest of my life).  While the skills (and the money) are significant, it is the recognition I am most grateful for, because I have a feeling some people never connect with their one true thing.  It wasn’t until college that I realized I wanted to be a writer—just a writer.  As a kid, I wanted to be an ambulance driver or a private detective (just like Pat Crispi, the PI in town).  I don’t think I realized I could be a writer, literally, and only a writer.  I think I thought all writers had day jobs, and then at night, they wrote (the irony that I now do have a day job and write at night is not lost on me).  In my twenties, however, I finally crossed over to the Dark (or Light, depending) Side and recognized the spirit that rests within me; I am a writer, and all I want to do is write.  I process my life (and yours) in words, in descriptions, in metaphors.  I understand the written word in a way I don’t understand the world in general.  I can’t explain further, except to compare it to how I feel when I hear “Shriner’s Park” by Melissa Etheridge or “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn or “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits or “Virginia Woolf” by the Indigo Girls or pretty much anything by Bob Dylan.  I feel an ache, an acute longing.  I wish I had created it—I wish that it were borne of me.  In college, when I read (or re-read) A SEPARATE PEACE, THE TEMPEST, THE GREAT GATSBY, THE SUN ALSO RISES, O PIONEERS!, THE AWAKENING and so many other books, I felt possessed, not just by the stories and characters, but by the actual words.  When it came time to write papers about the literature that was changing my life, my words fell onto the page, tumbling over one another, with ease.  I still longed and ached to have created these literary masterpieces, but with books, I realized, as opposed to music or painting or, god help us all, singing, I could create the emotions and the tension; lovely, perfect sentences could be borne of me.  This is not to imply writing—whether it is fiction, non-fiction or poetry—is easy; it is not.  But after years of composing academically artful papers; long, graceful letters; and promising, neophyte fiction, I pushed myself to learn, from living writers, from writing instructors, from peers who write, from long-dead masters of the craft and, finally, right around the time I found the onionskin pages, the last piece clicked into place: confidence.  Without confidence, skill is useless.

And so, many years after that surly teen sat down at a typewriter to purge whatever troubled her, listening, no doubt, to Depeche Mode, I now present to you my novel, CLOSER TO FINE, a story that has nothing and everything to do with my life.  It is, without a doubt, the greatest achievement of my life.  It was, without a doubt, the most difficult accomplishment of my life.  It is, in every sense of the word, my baby. I am extremely nervous about its debut in the world.  I want, very badly, for it (not me) to succeed.  It is worthy of success, I am certain.  I honestly believe it can appeal to and engage just about any reader.  It will make you laugh, and it might make you cry.  This time, I promise, the plot is not stupid.  Not at all.

2 comments:

MM said...

I've never read a more down-to-earth, insightful, and entertaining piece about how someone came to know herself as a writer. you simultaneously made me laugh and feel your struggle--math! I can't wait to hold your novel in my hands. It's obviously the gift of your lifetime, thusfar.

jenn said...

Keep writing Meri! Not only have you been blessed with an extraordinary mind and a remarkable talent, but you have passionately and purposefully fostered your skill(s) with the dedication and discipline necessary for success. Your ability to render words in an artful manner is not (simply) what makes you an artist; it is your desire, willingness, and-as you aptly point out- "confidence" to share your gift(s) with others that enables you to be the artist--the Writer--you were destined to be.