I was born to be a writer. I've known it since the seventh grade when Mrs. Spangler, my bespectacled English teacher announced to my parents that I had a "gift with language" and was writing well-above grade level. She predicted I would go on to do "great things" in the world of literature when I was grown.
I am now well into my fifties, and to date, that has been the only favorable comment made about my academic performance or life potential by a qualified professional.
Is it any wonder I never did a damn thing about it?
If she was wrong, I had no back up gift.
If she was wrong, I would be invisible and ordinary.
As long as I never tested her theory, I retained something special within and about myself. Something that allowed me to get through the hapless mediocrity of child rearing, toilet scrubbing and car pooling with a modicum of interior respectability.
While everyone else in the mundane hills of suburbia toiled around me with mindless but dedicated abandon, I tolerated the tedium. I carried out all the perfunctory duties with the requisite posture of obligatory martyrdom and thrived because I could say to myself, "I am not like the others."
I am a writer.
And I did write. I wrote letters, Christmas cards and grocery lists. As a young mother, I wrote glowing accounts of ' baby's first steps' in a scrapbook and reordered the table of contents and topic sentences in countless elementary-school book reports and science projects with the dedication and finesse of a Bronte sister.
After all, I was a writer. And as everyone knows, if you don't exercise your gifts, eventually they will atrophy and go away.
I kept journals in which I chronicled my exceptional interior delusions with a near pathological obsession. My words were all I had with the potential to distinguish my soul from that of the sodden lump, as it outwardly appeared to others. I was not about to let them out of my sight.
As a creative alternative to avoid exposing my writing gift publicly; and, therefore, risk revealing the possibility that I had no gift, I began ardently pursuing the visual arts.
I initially tried this approach the first and only year I attended college when I enrolled as a double major in art and English. I had one English professor in my creative writing class who adored everything I handed in; but in the other, more technical and rigorous English classes, I failed miserably.
What is the point of diagraming a sentence? I could see the relevancy in breaking down the visual landscape if we were preparing for a bank heist, but these are words. If you lay them out in a sentence and they don't sound right, you simply reorder them until they do. Isn't that writing?
But I was alone in my understanding and decided on the dreaded 'evaluation day' at the end of my freshman year; the day that the head of the Art department suggested I stick with my English major after I had come from being told just the opposite by the head of the English department, that I was not meant to go to college.
I would just have to find someone and get married.
Well? I couldn't be expected to get a job, could I? I was a writer. Writers write, and if I had to work, then I could not write. Right?
But I did work. I moved to New York City and worked as the administrative assistant to the Vice President of Hardcover at the New American Library. Basically, I typed letters, filed pending book proposals, ferried endless vats of coffee to my boss and to the boardroom, and learned that almost all authors crave thin-sliced pastrami on Rye with Russian dressing.
One day in an inexplicable fit of confidence, I sent some of my poetry to The Yale Literary Magazine.
The upshot from that was a visit from the editor. While he did not consider the poems I had submitted to be worthy of publication, he felt differently about those he read during our visit and offered to publish one of them. He also felt I should be writing full-time and sent a letter to my father hoping to solicit his financial support on my behalf.
That letter alone was worth the price of submission.
It was a page full of the most gilded accolades, the sort that take your breath away and leave a self-deprecating, underachiever like myself convinced that surely there must be an ulterior motive at play.
It was a letter only another writer, a poet, could write closing with the flourished psalm, "I am doing this for Susan, no, for what she will one day write. And let us both hope that when she writes she mentions
both of us -- for those poets mention live forever."
As an English major himself, my father was very proud. He made copies of the letter and sent them out to all of our relatives. Then he sent me back to the city on the five o'clock train. After all, I had work in the morning.
The reinstitution of Plan B went into effect well before reaching Grand Central Station, and although love and marriage were not quite as immediate, they eventually did happen.
I have been married for twenty-eight years, raised three children, numerous dogs, cats, reptiles and fowl. I've designed a line of greeting cards, artist rubber stamps, and jewelry. I've had numerous freelance illustration jobs from corporations to co-ops, made shrines and prayer dolls and sold my paintings in galleries and specialized shops in four states and two countries.
In all these years I have never stopped writing. I have boxes of copied correspondences to friends spanning four decades, shelves of journals stuffed with poetry, prose, drawings and dental appointments noted on hand-drawn calendars.
My world is filled with papers full of words; handwritten, typed and computerized.
I am a writer.
Yet I have never published one single word.