The classroom was silent except for the occasional whisper of pencil lead sliding across ruled paper. The thoughts inside my head might be loud with words and imagery, but the classroom was silent—except for the creak of a desk as a girl shifted in her seat, or a boy yawned, or a pen dropped to the floor. It was my favorite class in high school with minimal instruction, or interruption as I thought of it, and maximum output. I arrived early each day, sat down, pulled out my spiral notebook and began to write even before the passing bell had stopped ringing. For an entire hour, five days a week, for an entire semester, I was expected to do what I loved most. In this creative writing class there were no limitations on what form of writing or what genre I could explore; the sky was the limit and the possibilities seemed infinite.
I limited myself to poetry. I loved prose more than anything in the world, but when I sat down to write, poetry leaked out. I wrote cryptically with all the angst of a sixteen-year-old emerging from the upheaval of the sixties. Page after page of sentimental rubbish.
Occasionally, our teacher would have us read aloud to the class some piece that had caught her notice. One day, a boy stood up to read a short story he had written. He was the quiet sort, the kind of quiet that kept him from getting noticed; I didn’t even know his name. I won’t ever forget his story. Each line that he read took something away from me. By the time he was finished I was sure of one thing: I would never be able to write as well as he could.
So I didn’t.
I wrote passable essays for my English Literature classes in college and then I was done. Onward with life. I married, worked in a bank to put my husband through grad school, and gave birth. After that, there were the endless days of diapers, spilled milk, skinned knees, and scattered toys. I sat down in front of a mountain of laundry one evening after a dentist appointment and wailed inconsolably to my husband, “I have to do all of this, and now I have to floss my teeth too!” There wasn’t any room in my schedule for writing—or so I told myself.
Then, when my youngest daughter was nearly three, a longing took hold of me. The longing turned into an ache that haunted my quiet moments. I wanted to write again. A story. Perhaps even a novel, though it felt too large an undertaking to even begin. But my mother used to tell me: “Can’t, can’t do anything.” When I was a child, she and I would think up plots for the book that she was sure I would write someday. I decided not to think about writing a book, but to begin by writing just one chapter.
So I did.
Then I wrote another one, and another one. I still didn’t have much time for it, but instead of watching television or reading in the evenings after the kids were in bed, sometimes I wrote. Some years I wrote more than others. Some years passed with hardly any writing in them at all.
When I read David Copperfield for the first time, I heard the voice of pessimism sneering in my ear, “What makes you think you can write a book? You'll never be able to write like this.” I silenced the cynic with a clout of defiance. “I’m just writing a story, not the Great American Novel!” Not much of a one-two punch, but it served.
A few years ago my husband was out of work and he took over most of the household duties so that I could finish my novel. When it was done, I began another one. I’ve written a children’s book too, and started this blog to keep the wheels greased and turning. I haven’t had anything published yet, but I won’t let the fear that there is someone out there cleverer than I am keep me from trying. Instead, I am now afraid that with so many stories rattling around inside me like rocks in a tumbler, there isn’t enough time left in my life to get them all polished. I write slowly, after all of these years that isn't likely to change, but I am not standing still anymore.
I never consciously made a decision not to write, I just let it happen which is much the same thing. The diapers, spilled milk and scraped knees have been replaced by other demands, and I still need to floss, but I have resolved this year to write something every day even if it is no longer than a blog comment or thank-you note.
So, I am...
So, I am...
Woman Writing by Henri Lebasque