26 February 2008

Why I am not a writer.

There are culture wars that you encounter before you even know that they actually exist.

There has never been a time in my life when I considered myself to be a writer. I have been a person who writes out of necessity, a person who has taken a seminar( in which speaking is the primary mode of communication) who then has forced herself to write a paper because she had to--not necessarily because she wanted to write one.

These attitudes about writing and communication, I think, are shaped early on. At times, these things are influenced by parents and other family members, but more often by the people with whom one spends a great deal of time.

A high school teacher.

During my formative years, I was told quite simply, "You're not a writer. You're not meant to be one."

She sat in her corner office--or at least I think that it was in the corner--and she said this to me in an oh so matter of fact tone.

There had been a unit on poetry. I was fourteen and had been asked to write a poem.

I had nothing to give: No experiences, no losses, no gains, or at the very least I hadn't viewed them as such at the time. I couldn't give her what she wanted--the award winning angst filled poetry of a supposedly gifted freshman in high school.

I relied on the fact that I knew I could write an essay. Or so I thought.

When the time came for me to conceive of my first essay on that Daphne Du Marier book Rebecca (or was it something more standard like Romeo and Juliet?), I wrote and wrote. I thought. I rewrote. I thought again. I needed to prove that I could at least do that task.

If I couldn't be one of the prophetesses of the word, I could be a handmaiden.

She said it again. "You are not a writer."

She called my mother in to talk about how much help I was getting at home. That it was impossible that I could have written an essay like that at fourteen. That surely, surely, surely someone else was helping me. She implied that I was incapable of this work.

My mother, of course, was offended, but polite.

I hadn't shown my essay to anyone. I had a friend whose mother would type and edit her essays, and not a malicious word was said.

"Of course she did well on this essay. She's a writer."

I went home and cried.

I had always been a good student. I wasn't used to anyone implying that I could be anything other than a good student. I knew that I didn't spend my time writing poetry or plays or stories, but I read them.

I never wrote, mainly because I could never write as well as the people whose words I loved to read.

I never felt like I had stories. I didn't have the boundless imagination of the one girl who had written a novel by the time we were in tenth grade. I felt like I could have had something in me, but it wasn't allowed to sit dormant for a while.

In that place, you were often placed into a box, a womb, catacomb. Whatever. It's no different in most schools.

Secretly, I hoped for the invitation to the "writer's workshop."

It never came.

It was the possibility of writing that had been taken from me. I was hardly rebellious then. More timid than I am now.

I was fourteen, so I let it go.

Now I have stories. I'm now trying to figure out how to write them. How to tell them.

And I have never told any of my students that they aren't writers.

One never knows what will happen.

5 comments:

Megarita said...

UNBELIEVABLE. I cannot explain such an occurrence without words like "she was bitter and jealous." You're the most lucid writer I know! Lordy.

And apologies for the blog negligence. I totally lost your address for some reason. But I'm back! Woot!

a little of this, a little of that... said...

I am not sure what I think of the 'writer' label. Sure, some folks write professionally, or desire to do so. To me, anyone who writes is a writer. It may not be 'good' writing, or in a style that you prefer, or on a topic that you prefer, but it is writing. The same mode of communication we use on blogs, email, and text messaging. I guess the label of 'a writer' or 'not a writer' irks me because it is more an expression of someone's value judgment, rather than an acknowledgment that they have written something.

I'm glad the experience made you stronger.

Allison said...

I, personally, have always enjoyed reading your writing. I think that any time someone has something interesting to say, the words sort of take over and write themselves. No one should judge whether someone else is a writer or not. It's all about the type of writing voice one prefers!

Jen said...

First, of course you're a writer. No question there.

Second, this reminds me of a story I have heard about another writer who was discouraged by an early teacher who couldn't believe he wrote what he turned in...August Wilson. I wish I could not be a writer like him.

susan said...

Wow. What on earth could she have possibly thought there was to gain by saying such a discouraging and hurtful thing? To a high school freshman! Thank goodness we aren't all insecure and impressionable at that age, no sir. Sheesh.