A Writer’s Lament
When I was in high school, my friends marveled at not only how well I could write but that I spent time writing at all. The act of writing was anathema to them. They never said it out loud, but I saw it in their eyes, sometimes. “Why how/do you do this? It’s so hard!”
I was often tasked with helping them write their papers for this or that class. Unfortunately, I often wrote a good bit of the content myself, and said, "Now you rewrite it as if you were saying it." Yes, at one time, a student handed in the paper I had composed, complete with my handwriting, and we both got in trouble. I was lucky the teacher understood that I hadn't tried to do the work, I was just doing then what I do now - developmental editing.
I wrote prolifically in those days; a new short story every week. Always by hand. No typewriter in my house, at the time. I used a pencil. I smeared the words across the page because I am left-handed. I kept several pointed, well-sharpened pencils at hand, changing from one worn down to nothing, to a pristine, beautifully sharpened one, throughout the writing process.
I did love my sharpened pencils in my little pencil case, which I still have to this day.
Several of my girlfriends were avid readers of my stories. When I graduated, I was given the accolade in our yearbook of “most likely to get published.”
The stories I wrote were sad works about the trials and tribulations of my life; one teen girl wishing and hoping for a better world to grow up in. As expected, there was an abundance of mystery, confusion, unhappiness, and angst. Perhaps my stories were more compelling than the stories my friends might have written, or perhaps they created a world that was all too familiar to them, and my friends enjoyed reading the narration of a teen girl who was so much like them.
I don’t really know.
But I do know that my teachers and my classmates are the reasons I am a writer today. I am not the big success they all imagined. I have yet to pen the great American novel – though, I may surprise them yet with that.
I am published. I have two self-published books to my name and a number of other works published in various newspapers or magazines, over the years. And, I work with other writers helping them write, publish, and market their books. I think that counts.
But the truth of being a writer is that it’s a lifelong venture. No matter who you are or how well you write, it’s imperative you live in ‘learning mode’, studying your craft by reading classics, by writing everything and anything, and by attending workshops or holding your own. To do less is to risk creating stale, poorly understood, almost unreadable copy.
Enter the Son
I put it upon myself to do more writing and learn the true intricacies of this amazing craft, after I had my third child, a son, who was much welcomed into the family, after the arrival of two daughters.
I admit I marveled at the perfectness of this child, even as I held back tears of frustration. He, and his two-year-old sister, were demanding. The six-year-old was in school and was full of a young girl’s independent nature. She embraced her life and world in ways I know I never did at that age. Since her brother and sister were of an age that needed constant supervision and care, she was often compelled to help with one thing or another. She did so without complaint. I would learn later on that the complaints were there; she just never spoke them aloud.
As I nursed my son, hoping his two-year-old sister would actually take more than a 15-minute nap while the eldest was a school, I mused on the fact that as a teenager I was determined never to marry and have children. Not I. I was going to be a novelist, live in New York City, and be both wildly successful and a hermit. I surmised as a young girl that being mysterious was very attractive to the paying public.
Yet, there I was. Married, mother of three, tired beyond belief, and feeling like an old dishrag.
How did that happen?
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know how it happened. Even if I was less than attentive in biology and giggled through the videos on having your first period, back in 7th grade, I knew how babies were made.
The problem was – life had led me along this rocky path for so many years, as if I were blind and purposely dumb, that when I at last arrived at a destination, this destination – motherhood – it was a surprise. A big surprise.
The children became my life. The children were too precious to ignore. I know others, women and men, other writers, if stories be true, turned their back on their children, in favor of the almighty novel.
Not I. I was too deep in the play. I was too committed to these little human beings who were, while the most wonderful things I had ever dreamed of creating, seemed also to be robbing me of the life I once imagined for myself - as a published author.
I felt robbed. And yet, the robbery was willingly offered to them. The time I wanted to use to write, to compose, to feed my inner creative soul, went to tending to the children.
I was an okay Mom. Not great. I saw other mothers, in our coffee klatches, who were better mothers than I. I saw that they were not torn between motherhood and…something else. I sometimes spoke of other 'urges', a desire to be something more. I was met with frowns and shakes of pretty heads. Sometimes with laughter.
“What are you talking about?” they asked.
I stopped talking.
Inside, I whispered Walt Whitman’s poem, O Me! O Life! “Of all the sordid crowds I see around me.”
by Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
That was how it was.
The powerful play does go on.
All the stage is a play, so we hear from Shakespeare. We are but players, bit players, I sense. Whitman tells us, our job is to contribute a verse.
The “job” of being a Mom was all-consuming. I resented the housework. I resented cooking dinner. How can one make chicken exciting over and over? (It's easier today with Instagram and TikTok). I did wonder if the new me, the Mom, was now so dominant, that the old me, the girl who was a writer, my “identity”, was dying a silent death in the recesses of my memory.
Once a writer, always a writer.
The children grew and went off to school, in search of their own identity. The care continued, but I was, at last, offered several hours in the day to do as I pleased.
I turned back to my writing.
I felt powerful.
I felt alive.
The magazines and anthologies I mailed my short stories to weekly, were not always kind, but when they were, they justified my hours at the new electric typewriter.
And so, I learned to embrace the world of Mom, with the life of a writer.
Over time, a good bit of time, I learned to appreciate the varying ways I could be a writer. I was a blogger, a self-published author, and a book coach.
I was a woman with a new focus on a new life.
Yes, the powerful play goes on, as Whitman tells us, and we contribute a verse or two. Sometimes, the verse is full of darkness and shadows. Other times it’s a wondrous thing of sunlight and wings.
If we knew, as children, what the powerful play held for us, would we be better for it? Or, is the discovery, the mystery, the unfolding of life our best way? The best way?
I lived a life not planned for. I often felt that life did not want me, that I should let it go, and save my tears for whatever the alternative was. The mystery was too dark and cold, I sometimes thought. I existed in shadow. I was the girl who was 'different' because I didn't party or care about dating boys. I was depressed and no one, not even myself, knew it.
In my depression, I wrote a journal of dark thoughts. Of why I was never meant to be. Of why I would never see the age of 50. And after the children came, the journal story shifted to why I needed to stay around for them. For them. There was never a me in the equation.
And yet, I persevered. I kept on. I fell into crevices now and then, and got back up. I called it quits more than once - but life was not done with me and I continued with it. Over time, much time, I got to this place.
I became me.
Writing is truly a lifelong journey. You may write a post on LinkedIn today, and a proposal to a new client tomorrow. Each has its own language. Each is writing for a purpose.
We are all in this powerful play together. We tell stories of this or that, for laughter or tears, and hope someone, at least one someone, will be transformed by it. Because in the powerful play, each of us has an opportunity to transform the lives of another - by writing the story they want to read.
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