Once upon a time, I realized I was a writer. It happened one bitter, cold winter in Ohio, when I was in my mid-twenties. I was three-quarters the way through my computer science classes, and working full time as a network engineer. I’d been in college for as much time as it typically takes someone to get a degree, but I’m changeable, and curious, and a lover of learning. Okay, that’s a very nice way of saying I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to be when I grew up.
I must back up for a moment. I started college as a wide-eyed pilot wanna-be. I had a private pilot certificate in hand, and I was attending the best aviation school in the country: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. It took me roughly three sessions of outright weeping in the bursar’s office to realize that I was poor, and that poor kids don’t get aviation degrees. There just isn’t enough loan power in the world to cover the expenses.
I gave up the dream, and set my sights solidly on relinquishing myself of the burden known as poverty. I tried my hand at Aerospace Engineering for a semester, and realized it was not to my liking. But this was the early 90’s, and computer degrees were all the rage. It was rumored that software engineers could name their own price, and ride high on jobs filled with benefits and accolades. I set my sights, and dove in. I was good with computers – a natural, my professors said. I was leading their labs and working as a tutor by second semester. I honestly wasn’t sure I agreed with their assessment of my abilities. I could do it, but I didn’t really love it. But man, that promise of a paycheck….
What I’d pushed aside was the encouragement and praise of my English professors. Sadly, they were largely dismissed by a school that only just tolerated the need for general education credits in order to produce an accredited degree program. Pam Herring, one of the English teachers, told me I should write more often, and asked if I planned on publishing. She encouraged me to submit stories and poetry to the school’s literary magazine. I did, and I was published every time. But it was just for fun, right? I had serious work to do.
When I moved to Ohio, I obviously had to change schools. Transferring into a large, diverse university with every degree program imaginable was overwhelming. It was also a school that placed deep value in the core classes, and I came up extremely short in the gen-ed department. I’d have to choose several “soft” classes to complement my Bachelor of Science degree, including a minor of some sort. I put it off for the first couple quarters. I’d also stopped writing for fun.
It hit me like a freight train one day when I sat down with a journal and just started scrawling. As characters and events took place on paper, my mind came alive and my soul took flight. I followed myself on a journey into the unknown, and produced a powerful flash-fiction apocalyptic piece. I sat, reading and re-reading my work, astounded at what had flowed through my hand and onto paper. Was it really mine? Did I really just do that?
I took a chance, and had a few friends read it. They told me I had talent, and reassured me that it was a fine hobby, and would make a suitable minor. I smiled politely, but the fire in my belly roared and begged for tinder and sparks and stoking.
I attempted to sign up for the Spring semester Creative Writing 202 class at the very last minute. It was full.
So I packed up my publications and my recently-written story, neatly tucked into a manila folder, and I found my way through the tunnels of Wright State University, where they kept the English professors (it’s okay, they have windows now). I rapped on the door of Jimmy Chesire, the professor of the full class that I knew I had to attend.
“I want to take Creative Writing 202, but it’s full,” I said, sitting with legs tucked under my chair, and hands clasped over the folder in my lap.
“You’ll have to wait until next quarter,” he said, giving me a sympathetic but understanding smile.
Next quarter would be after summer. “That’s in half a year. I need this now.”
“Now? Are you graduating?”
“No,” I said, holding out my little folder of collected works, “I really want to write. I need to, and I need to be in your class to do it.”
He laughed at my intensity. I laughed with him. It would not be the last bout of laughter we’d share together over several years. It was the moment that he became one of my biggest cheerleaders in life.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, glancing through my folder without really looking, “Come to the class. Usually people drop. As long as the room can accommodate you, I’ll work you into the roster.”
I thanked him profusely, and skipped off with a smile, not even minding the lingering chill of the early Spring air. Something in my universe shifted at that moment. I felt silly and self-conscious calling myself a writer, but that’s exactly what I was – what I am. A writer is not something one becomes, it’s simply an acknowledgement of what one is. Calling yourself a writer is an acceptance of reality, and I think the same is true with any type of artistic ability.
We can learn English, or math or science. We can be taught politics or business or medicine. But to be an artist in your field… that is something apart. We can get an education in methods, histories and mediums, but to truly be an artist takes a leap of conviction, determination and heaps and gobs of belief in one’s self. It takes the artist herself saying to the world without apology or hesitation, “This is who I am.”
I am a writer.
When someone in your life professes herself to be an artist in any form, realize that she is speaking with the voice of the soul. If you have an inkling to say, “That’s great. What’s your day job?” Just…. Don’t.
I’ve spent twenty years (Jimmy, can you believe it’s been TWENTY years?!) treating my soul as a hobby, and my job as my life. I settled for what was pragmatic, and pushed the rest aside. What I’ve found is that I was foregoing myself in the process.
I’m so incredibly grateful for the people of my past and present who have encouraged me without bias or judgment. Without Pam’s encouragement at ERAU, and Jimmy’s outright acceptance at Wright State, I’m not sure I’d have realized, even in a modest amount, who I was until it was too late. I’m apparently a little slow, because it still took me another twenty years to embrace it. And without my husband’s love, support and encouragement, I’m not sure I’d have found my voice and the courage to move forward and accept exactly who I am.
Now that I’ve awakened the artist inside, writing has become an insatiable need. I walk through every day with new eyes and a heart full of passion. I see a world full of possibilities, tangents, characters and motives. I chase plot bunnies and plant impossible gardens of thought in my head. I dwell on possibilities and daydream with ferocious intensity. It’s like the clouds burst, the ideas and inspirations are flowing over me, and instead of standing in the downpour with an umbrella, I’ve thrown my arms wide and my face upward to accept the rain.
I am a writer.
This is who I am.