My Writing Life–Every Word is Worth it

Writing is one of my favorite things and my love of words started at a young age. Not things like poetry, but the language itself. I am still fascinated by the way the words themselves are formed. I am awestruck by the variety of ways words can be transformed into sentences and subsequently into stories. In school, I loved the Dictionary games and deciphering a word’s meaning based on its parts. In one elementary school class, I remember memorizing the prepositions. (Yes all of them, in alphabetical order and I am still able to recite most of them.) I was very proud of myself for these things, these odd abilities.

I got an old desk when I was around 10 years old. I loved that desk and would “set it up” so that I could pretend to be a writer. I had stacks of paper and pens and pencils. I had managed a handful of office supplies; a mini-stapler, some tape, and a pair of scissors. I remember sitting there for hours creating. My step-dad who was never very encouraging questioned me about my new behavior followed by the lecture that “Writer’s don’t make any money and it’s not a good job option.” Finishing his lecture with the comment that my handwriting was awful.

To say my dreams were subdued by this incident is, to say the least. I allowed my dreams to crash themselves and break on the shore—evaporating into thin air. I did work on my handwriting though but I never really wrote again. I even had to be pushed to write basic things like letters or thank you notes. Not because I didn’t want to but because it hurt too much to write. It broke my heart when I tried.

I didn’t really have to face that fear again until high school, at which point I ended up with a decent English teacher who pushed just hard enough to stir that dream again from its sleep. It wasn’t much, but I wrote again for a little while. And then, life happens as it does and I wasn’t able to write and didn’t allow it to take precedence. That is until my late 20’s when I went back to college.

I probably wasn’t as serious about college as I should have been. But it did stir that urge to write again and this time pushed a need to read along with it. That was nearly 20 years ago and my commitment to writing has been mainly sporadic until about 4 years ago when I started down my own road and paved it with self-education. Since then, I have read 17 books about writing (and am currently reading 3 others), Read and watched interviews, read blogs about writing, watched webinars, participated in a handful of writing groups around town and (most importantly) have been writing like crazy. It’s been over a year and a half that I have written every single day. Even if it was just for ten minutes, though most of the time I write for at least an hour or two.

So now my love of words comes full circle. I still play dictionary games but now it’s usually trying to find the right word. I try to spice up my preposition and verb choices. I put all the things I have learned into practice as I work to improve my prose and write better stories. I have learned to trust my voice and not listen to the little nagging voice that attempts to tell me that it’s all awful and that there is no point to it. Although, (it might be right), I have been writing steadily for 4 years and have not been paid one cent for my time even though I have technically written several novels worth by now. Who does that? Works for free? But it’s what I love to do. It brings together all the little parts that mean nothing by themselves.

Now, as an adult, I sit at one of my two desks to write. I have one for the organic writing (long-hand) and one for editing and word-processing (my computer). For the first time in my writing life, I am finishing stories and sending them out for submissions. I have a handful of helpful readers who give me feedback so that I can focus and tighten what I am trying to say. My final drafts are far more interesting than my first drafts and I suspect that is the way things are supposed to be. I love the writing process and that love has surpassed my love of words. My work has evolved, grown, and improved along with me. I am proud to say that every word has been worth it.

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My Dad was Mr. Rogers

I was separated from my father at an early age. It was a combination of divorce, circumstances and over 3,000 miles. This was in the 1970’s and I ended up being what they called a “latch-key kid”. What that meant essentially was that my primary caregivers (mom and step-dad) worked so much that I was left alone at home with instructions to keep the door locked and not let anyone in. The concern was that I would and could possibly get snatched up. We lived in Florida and at that time, there were children all over the state being taken mostly from public places and mostly because the parents turned their backs for only a moment. That was all it took.

 
I missed my fun and kind father, despite the strange things my mother told me about him and why he left. I remembered him wearing a sweater and his black hair was parted on one side and laid obediently next to the others, swooping to the opposite side. I had a few pictures of him. He looked like Mr. Rogers to me, only less gray.

 
I ran across the show one morning and began to fantasize that this is why I never saw my father because he was too busy making this caring show for all the kids in the world. So he was too busy and important to come to see little old me. I could see his face every time the show came on and it brought me a little closer to him. It eased my pain. It comforted the scared little girl who felt alienated from the entire world. Since he could not come to me, I would go to him every day and watch him interact and teach me things from inside his tubed box.

 
I must have known in my heart that it was just something I made up. I don’t think I told anyone. I might have told mom, to which I am certain she must have told me how ridiculous that was. I remember being devastated when my step-dad lost his job and was home for a few weeks and I was told to stay in my room and not allowed to watch their TV. I missed seeing my dad and my alienation grew.

 
I ended up seeing him twice over the years between 5 and 16. Once when I was about 6 or 7, not too long after both of my parents were remarried and once when I was 11, just before my grandfather died. Both times I remember him changing his shoes when he got home and putting on a button-up sweater. It doesn’t matter if this part was true or happened, it happened for me. The fantasy in my head played it out over and over again. In my mind, my dad was Mr. Rogers. And if as an adult I had to compare him to an iconic figure, that would be the one. Even though I rarely saw my father during my formative years, he was always with me, always guiding me and always told me he loved me.

 

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A Black Crayon

 

The smell of crayons always takes me back to my first childhood memories of creativity. Crayons were almost always available and easy enough to use though I was never “that kind” of an artist. To this day, I love the way the wax slides across the paper and catches every bump or imperfection both in the paper and from the surface underneath it. I still love the smell of a fresh brand new box and can hear in my head the sound of the paper being torn off as the crayon leaves itself behind on the paper.
The black crayon was always my favorite. I saw it as the most useful of all the colors because you can use it to outline anything, like the way a tattoo artist or coloring book does. It creates the lines and structure of your focus. It conducts your direction like the line on a road. It is the color of ladybugs and window frames.
Now as an adult, I get to show my grandkids the cool things one can do with a crayon and I love when they think I have some sort of magical powers. “How do you know how to do that Grandma?” my grandson Lucas will ask, his voice filled with wonder. “Because when I was your age, I practiced,” I tell him smiling.
I hope he always sees me as magical, just as I did my first box of 64 Crayola crayons, the cool one with the sharpener in the back. The box was so much better than that smaller, plain, nondescript box of crayons that mom got me before that, which broke, randomly melted, and honestly did not even write the same as the Crayola brand. I remember feeling rich when I opened that package on Christmas day! I am sure that it came with a coloring book but I have long since forgotten what book that could possibly have been.
I do remember emptying the entire box on a regular basis. I used the four inserts to arrange the crayons in color coordinating patterns, resulting in the colors beaming back at me like some confused sort of rainbow. Crayons, in some ways, symbolize my first OCD moments, which as an adult continue to play out in my color coordinated closets and pantry’s, outlined in black. I manage my OCD with a strong dose of writing and have long since traded my crayons for pens and my drawings for stories.

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The Divided States

In some ways, our country has always been divided. Our two system party, the American Dream vs. Big Brother, North vs. South, Rich vs. Poor, Cowboys vs. Indians… Yet even with the violence of the civil war, our current divide seems more dangerous and more deadly. Is it because of our ever-growing population? Is it because of the ease of modern communication? Is it because of our growing and impassioned beliefs? Is it because of politics and the political systems in place? Or does it simply boil down to the fact that we are human and have a very primal human nature? Or is it because these continuing issues seem to be uniquely American in nature and are forever woven into the fabric of our life and our flag?
Our divided states are like one big chopping block instead of a melting pot. Combining and emersion are not encouraged; keep things divided, separate from others not like you, alienate anyone who is different. This is how the dividing occurs and we are willing participants because we all have opinions and preferences. I would rather not indulge some of our cultures worst traits, yet maintaining freedom means those traits get to stay. It is a serrated edge that cuts and separates the “what could be” from the “what is”.
“They” have us fighting with each other, solidifying the division, closing our ears and our hearts off to viable solutions. Alienate. That is what an abuser does. If he can alienate his victim, then the abuse can go on as directed, without interruption. The abused usually is clueless as to what is going on, too busy trying to juggle the blame and horror of the situation. That is what many of us are doing or experiencing. And yet we are blind to it.
If you say to me, “The kids don’t know anything about gun control! They were just eating Tide Pods last month!” Perhaps you are right. Still, as adults we are supposed to protect the children until they are old enough to make their own decisions, that is our job. It is our job to raise “responsible members of civilized society”. Whether as an adult or a parent, you have to realize that if we don’t like what the children are doing, then we need to educate them and guide them, not belittle them. The age of abuse is passing out of existence and we must lovingly evolve our thinking. Let us use communication as a tool instead of a weapon.
I believe that we are mainly divided by those who want change and those who don’t. It’s almost like a couple who is continually fighting. One side thinks everything is “just fine just how it is” and the other side is showing all the ways things aren’t fine. Perhaps there are some things that shouldn’t change. But we obviously need to sit down and really look at what is working and what isn’t. Isn’t that what you would do with car trouble? Or financial issues? What is working well and what needs to change? And then how do we change it? It is pointless to constantly point the finger of blame and not provide or explore working solutions.
I believe sometimes problems arise so that we can (together) find solutions. Perhaps strength and change come from having the hard and difficult discussions. Perhaps this is where we find our true humanity. Perhaps in the process of breaking down is where we create the strength of building up. Perhaps this is where we bridge the divide. Let’s fix this rift before it gets wide enough to swallow us up. We can fix things without losing what we have. But if we continue to fight amongst ourselves we could lose all that we have built. Divided cannot be United.

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Happy

Growing up my immediate family raised German Shepherds. In fact, during my school years, I watched 17 litters of puppies come and go. We bred, reared, and sold them to families or we trained them and sold them to the local Sherriff’s department. I was known as and referred to as “the girl with all the dogs”, yet none of them were mine. That is until my step-dad brought home a dog that we didn’t breed.

She was the perfect dog in every way. She was a black and silver German Shepherd about 2 years old. From the moment my eyes locked with hers, I knew we were connected. She was well trained before she came to me, beyond obedient. Her name was Happy, and she always looked like she was smiling, yet I always felt she carried a heavy shattered heart, just like me.

I always loved how different each dog was. I loved them all, but I never bonded with another dog the way I bonded with her. Only now, have I realized that she probably saved my life. She slept next to my bed. She sat next to me where ever I sat (except at the kitchen table). She walked next to me but never once got underfoot.  She responded to everyone but responded to me with an urgency and loyalty that I have never experienced before.

I remember Bob saying we got a good deal on her. Shepherd’s contained the vitality of his life’s commodities. We started going with him to his weekly training class, but I knew it was to train me rather than her. He tried to get me to show her, but my heart wasn’t really in it and it showed. She would perform all the right steps, but she didn’t want to either. I felt claustrophobic the times I did show her, and it was obviously awkward for us both.

I remember her hair was short and thick with a little touch of a wave that you could only see up close. Her eyes the color of rich amber. She was a medium size dog with a good lineage and her actual purchase had been with the intent to breed her with our stud, Dago, who had been imported from Germany as a puppy. The two were a good match and I watched with growing curiosity afterward, as her belly swelled until it was round and tight.

Over the years, I had been present for only a handful of actual live births by that point, usually, I chose to watch from a non-threatening distance. Some of the mothers were very territorial during and after giving birth. I had been growled at and nipped at enough to know where my place in the process was. I had a deep respect for what these mothers had to do, and I mourned with them when they lost one of their babies.

This was Happy’s first litter and she grew wearier as the birthing day approached. She seemed confused as to what was going on and often watched her own stomach move as the puppies wormed around inside her. As it happens, I was alone with her when she went into labor, with no back up arriving for hours. I had already staged the birthing area weeks prior, just in case.

The containment was a custom wood box Bob had made to keep the puppies enclosed until they were bigger and had been used by a handful of mothers before her. My job was always to cover the floor of the box with a thick layer of newspapers. Then making a nest of old blankets for the first few days in one corner. She looked worried as I ushered her into the box. I rubbed her stomach gently and gave her a lick at the water bowl when she looked like she needed it. We were both scared.

When the first sack came out it was unbroken. Happy and I both just looked at it. A little moving sausage with puppy ears smashed against the clear encasement. I moved cautiously towards the sack, seeing her trust and bewilderment, I poked a finger through the sack at an open spot between limbs and fluid spilled out onto the blankets. The pup moved wildly now, it’s head still stuck in the deepest part of the sack. She heard the peep it made and went to work bringing her first pup into the world, fully wet and shivering. After that, each new pup came out and was cleaned up without my assistance and by the fifth one, she was a pro.

In the end, she finished with four survivors. All beautiful and strong like their mother.

She was a natural in the weeks to come. You could tell she wasn’t one of those mother’s that just want to get away from the little parasites that draw their teats down into a funnel-shaped cone. Instead, she showed her offspring the same loyalty and dedication that she showed me. She cleaned them often and kept them close, concerned about the slightest peep, circling them when they played in the yard.

1983 ended up being one of the worst years of my childhood. There’s nothing like coming home from school only to have your parents tell you that they sold your dog. They gave me no warning as if it was a band-aid being ripped off a painful wound. That was a pain that I never really recovered from. I never forgave them for it and went into a pre-teen depression that matched my gloomy devastation. I was truly lost without my best friend.

I don’t currently have any animals. I’ve had cats over the years, mostly because they are easy and so independent. I’ve thought many times about getting a dog, especially a Shepherd, but I doubt that any dog will ever compare to her. She is long gone by now, no doubt. I still think of her and her non-offensive dog breath and wonder how many puppies wander the earth with a piece of her smile or her huge heart.

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The Girl No One Saw

Growing up, I had what I will call, an alternative childhood. I loved books and one of my greatest unmet childhood desires was to be read to. My mom and step-dad worked crazy hours and there was rarely anyone around to guide me or nurture me let alone read to me. Without a present parent, the circumstances were far from ideal. I did not have sleepovers or even a best friend. How could a girl have a best friend when she had no clue how to even be a friend? Now, as an adult writer, it is my job to not only write about what happened to me but how it affected me and how I grew because of it. Most importantly, how I managed to get through to the other side.

I’ll be honest. I made it through by stumbling my way along, picking up experiences as I went. I learned life-lessons from sharp comments and public humiliation. I learned how to laugh because of social ostracization. I learned how to do things by watching others from the sidelines of life. The perpetual wallflower. The fly on the wall. The girl no one sees. Finding better ways to be ignored rather than to be abused or humiliated was my central goal during my early years. During this period, I tried to make myself small and insignificant– to which I succeeded for the most part but also hindering my growth.

Also, my alternative childhood left me too scared to try new things, a problem which has continued to plague my adult life. I was not taught that it was okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn; I wish I had been taught that one. Instead, I was taught that not only was making mistakes a bad horrible thing but that I was only good at making mistakes. That was my everlasting teenage state. I was always wrong. I was born wrong into a world that would always see me as wrong, a single weed in a valley full of beautiful flowers.

But in a way, these turned out to be good experiences. I learned to entertain myself. I learned to embrace my weirdness and used it to create laughter when I could. I was semi-cautious and managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. However, I’ve struggled as an adult to learn all the things I missed out on as a child. I’ve found that as a writer, I must observe everything around me in detail, and in doing so, I also am able to shine a light on my own flaws. “To succeed in life is to be able to transform.”

I think this is why I like writing so much. I can write to my heart’s content. I can let it all spill out on the page. I can use what I find within myself, deep below the surface. I can take what I learn about myself and transform my ideas both on paper and in my mind. I can choose what I focus on and how I focus on it. I can find my own alternatives and develop positive action.

When I share what I have written, I am always surprised to find others who feel how I feel, have had similar experiences, or who share my perspective. It reminds me that no matter how alone I feel, I’m not. There might not be many people like me in the world, but there are enough of us that I can finally open to the world around me. I cannot change it no matter how much I want to. All I can do is observe and adjust my own sails. I will always come up with solutions. Being resourceful is how I have made it to my alternative adulthood. Growing is how I made it to the other side.

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Personal Essay #42

During my childhood, I was starving to learn. There were no real books in our house and no one around to learn from as both my mom and my step-dad worked two jobs during those early years. I wanted to learn to work on cars, throw a ball, and climb trees. Instead, I was taught how to fold laundry, clean the bathroom, and do the dishes. I was rarely around people that I could really learn from and my life took on a very secluded and barren state. I wanted to learn to do real things. I wanted to grow.

I watched instead, longingly. I tried to watch and learn on the rare occasion that I was near someone working on a car before they shooed me away. I sat on the bench, watching others out on the field toss around and hit the softball with ease and grace. I watched nimble children climb trees. Even though I wasn’t the girlie type, I even watched the girls at school putting up their hair in pretty styles while I struggled to make the basic ponytail look good.

There are even more things I wanted to learn to do. I’ve always admired strong swimmers. I have never been one nor am I graceful when I do swim. All these things make me wonder, especially now that my own child has grown, why didn’t I learn these things? (I gave my son as many opportunities as I could afford.) Was it the opportunity? (I know I had few if any.) Was it just a lack of natural ability? (Please don’t throw me a softball as I am likely to catch it with my face.) Was it fear? (I’ve always been quite timid about learning new things even though I have a strong desire to learn them.)

I do have skills that I have learned over the years, many of them self-taught with minor instruction. Therefore, many of the things I can and do, are not done efficiently and most likely don’t fit into what is commonly taught. Although I do partially learn by watching, I also learn by doing and I have learned to do a great many things through trial and error.

The great thing about learning and about being self-taught is that I have learned to figure things out and to solve my way out of problems. I am rather successful at solving the majority of problems I have to face. I won’t lie, I still have plenty to learn, but I am done with watching things from the sidelines. I am halfway through my life and running out of time. It’s time to start doing.

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