Saturday, March 1, 2014
How I Became a Writer: My Story.
We all have a story. Mine started in a small community in Iowa on a farm, where your self-worth was directly connected to your productivity. As a kid, I loved to draw and read, but feeding hay, hauling firewood and scooping manure did not allow much time for my sedentary creative pursuits. I always felt a bit indulgent when I stole time to make some art or finish a chapter. But I did it anyway, because deep down, even though I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, I knew I wasn’t meant for manual labor.
After 4 ½ years of floundering in college, I left with an art degree and a great uncertainty in my ability to make it as an artist. In fact, I didn’t even feel comfortable calling myself an artist.
When you graduate from college, people love asking the question, “What are you going to DO?”
I would answer with the obvious, having just spent 4 ½ years sketching naked people, “I plan on becoming an astronaut.”
Then I would laugh and say, “I’m not sure about my career, but I do want a family.”
This was an appalling revelation. People looked at me like I had a third eyeball growing out of my forehead. Apparently, in the mid-90’s it was cool to get your hair cut into “The Rachel”, but it wasn't in fashion to announce that motherhood was potentially your sole goal in life. Yet I knew that being a Mother was something important. No one could deny that fact, no matter how much Gloria Steinem they read. Besides, I didn't know what else I wanted to DO and motherhood seemed like a solid fallback.
I threw my college degree in a box and moved it something like 438 times during my 20’s. I worked crappy jobs while making crappy money and dating … well, some crappy men. And I got a cat! My singular life goal of motherhood was looking bleak. I was lost.
In my 30’s, I married a quality man. We decided to breed some babies. Never mind the fact that I had always considered babysitting a form of torture. I would love my own children! Right? I was going to become a mother and I would never again have to struggle with the question, “What do you DO?” Because I would be a mother, and that is damn hard work. And productive too! I would no longer have issues with my self-worth! BONUS!
There was one problem; about 6 months into fresh motherhood, my soul was still unsatisfied. In fact, I was starting to lose sight of the real me as I morphed into a human food dispenser, a laundry maid and a house cleaner. Being a parent was not the be-all and end-all that I anticipated. I needed more. By the time my second child arrived I was fully aware that putting all my eggs into the motherhood basket was a bad plan for me. Sure, my kids were great, and motherhood was hands down the most important thing I had ever done, but if someone were judging my worthiness solely on my parenting, they would see many epic fails.
Both of my kids have fallen on their heads. Both of my kids have attempted to chew gum they found stuck on a public table. Both of my kids have satisfied their thirst by drinking from the horse trough. Both of my kids have pooped in the tub, hence bathing in their own feces. Both of my kids lick grocery carts.
My track record was marred. I was feeling more lost and conflicted than ever. I had an epiphany about the reality of my lack of direction- Only being a mother was going to put unfair pressure on my children. I realized I was giving my kids tools to handle their lives, so that part of me could live vicariously through their accomplishments. I needed to lead by example. I needed to handle my own life. “Crap”, I cursed myself, “why couldn’t I have simply loved accounting?”
So I set back out on my path. What was I going to DO? I talked to my girlfriends. I confided in my husband. I mulled it over with wine. I would lay in bed at night and pray about it. My prayers often sounded something like this:
Lord! Please help me find my path in this life. I want to DO something- whatever it is I was put here to do! Show me what I am supposed to DO. Help me realize… did I turn off the oven? Did anyone put that chicken in the fridge? Oh crap. I think I left a load of laundry in the dryer. I hate ironing. I wonder if I could… we need vanilla extract. I always forget to write the baking stuff down. Do I have tinfoil? I enjoyed talking with Amy today. We came up with a lot of great ideas for books. I really do enjoy writing. Maybe I should journal more. Maybe I should do something with all those short stories sitting in my computer… where was I? Oh yeah. Oh Lord, I obviously need help finding my calling. And maybe some focus. Give a sign. Just a sign! I swear I’ll notice it. Amen.
I must have prayed like this 40 times, and each time in the middle of the prayer my muddled mom mind would wander to writing. Wait. Was that my sign? But I wasn’t a writer! Or was I? No… I couldn’t. It was too scary.
Then I thought about my sweet, loud, oh so loud boys. I reminded myself that I wasn’t going to put extra pressure on them because I was never brave enough to find my own path. I reminded myself that I was strong. I yelled at myself to embrace my creativity rather than mocking and avoiding it. I forced myself to step outside of my comfort zone and tackle my fears of rejection, judgment, criticism… and even success. In reality, I have always been my own worst critic.
So I did it for myself. And I did it my boys. I wrote fearlessly. I threw it out there for people to read. And some of it... sucked. Royally. Some of it was pretty great. But no matter the quality of what I produced, I kept writing. I did it almost daily. And I started drawing again; silly cartoons that accentuated my stories and made people laugh. And I liked the process. Creating was cathartic and invigorating. The best part was, I felt like I was helping people. I was giving my natural gifts of laughter, sarcasm and joy. (Sarcasm is totally a gift.)
After three years of writing, something powerful happened. Someone asked me that same, tired question, “What do you DO?”
I answered with confidence, “I DO the dishes. I DO the laundry. And when I’m not too tired, I DO my husband. I AM a mother of two amazing boys. I’m a writer, an artist, and a photographer… and probably more. I’m kind of a work in progress.”
Then I said, “Tell me about yourself. What’s your story?”