I have a confession to make: I don’t love drawing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it a lot, it’s an integral part of who I am, and it’s something that’s been second nature to me all my life. A by-product, if you will, of coming from a family full of visual artists. While most families played board games or had meaningful conversations, we drew and painted. It’s a little like sleeping – I do it without thinking about it, but I don’t miss it until it’s unavailable. A necessity, but not a consciously loved activity.
Along the same lines, reading books is like oxygen for me, and I would most certainly die without it. Sewing and photography are rapidly making it up the ranks of things Highly Important. But what I am truly, madly, hopelessly, actively in love with is writing.
I’ve always loved it, but rarely told anyone. As a kid, I secretly wrote stories in my Hello Kitty journal, only to abandon them halfway because I knew they were terrible.
In my junior year of high school, I wanted to get into Honors English more than anything. I had heard rumors from reliable sources that the teacher was excellent and that she focused on creative writing. She was also known for supplying awesome college recommendations and being an easy grader. I was a dork of the highest order so I actually tried to practice for the essay test required for Honors English admittance. I remember standing in front of the classroom door, staring at the posted list of accepted students. My name wasn’t on it. Nada. Zip. Most of my friends had gotten in, so I stood there mortified, with a frozen smile.
I was a bit bitter in my Not-Honors-But-Advanced English class, feeling like a second rate student (I am Asian and over-achievement was relentlessly hammered into my psyche from toddlerhood; anything less than top grade was akin to failure). What I refused to acknowledge was that there was an incredible amount of creative writing happening and that I was learning so much. My teacher, the amazing Mrs. Serrano, pulled me aside one day and told me earnestly that I had a “voice” – my pimply sixteen-year-old self stared at her blankly, not comprehending. All I kept thinking was that I didn’t get into Honors English and my future was doomed (oh adolescent melodrama, how I do not miss thee).
In college, my favorite class was Russian literature. I gobbled up the sordid, often depressing yet oddly humorous works of Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky. I wrote my papers with unbridled enthusiasm but they kept coming back with the professor’s hastily scrawled critiques of “your writing is very pretty and flowery but lacks substance”. I became paranoid that my writing made me sound like an airhead…
Whenever I felt lost, I would bury myself in my journal and write for hours and naturally I was secretive about my furious scribblings. There was a period in my twenties when I lived in San Francisco and felt particularly lost — I remembered Mrs. Serrano’s words and thought I’d give creative writing a try beyond my journaling. Time to finally flex this “voice” she kept telling me about. I signed up for a writing workshop (motivated no doubt by the picture of the instructor who was very easy on the eyes).
The instructor turned out to be even better-looking in person but was also very married so I focused on the lessons. We went through many writing exercises and the only person who had anything nice to say about my stories was a sweet Chinese man who stood at least four inches shorter and surely weighed twenty-five pounds less than me. I was always afraid I might crush him whenever I bumped into him in the cramped room. He kept offering me a ride home. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think he may have had ulterior motives.
There was also a disastrous poetry-reading I participated in…suffice it to say, I was not invited back.
Over and over, I have been snubbed in the arena of writing. Yet it’s been the only thing I’ve done regularly and consistently in my patchworked life (If you recall, I’ve had 25 jobs…). I’ve realized that it’s largely because of Mrs. Serrano’s encouraging words that I’ve persisted. For all I know, she told all her students that they have a “voice”, but that small effort she made gave me a kind of inner compass, a grounding.
Do you have anything like that? Something you’ve felt compelled to do despite evidence that you might not be very good at it? Or had someone utterly believe in you even though you had a hard time believing in yourself?
So given my track record, it’s always a little unnerving for me to hit “publish” (even though you have all been so so kind to me), but hey, I figure I can’t get better at this craft I love so wholeheartedly without practicing. In the practicing spirit, I think I will include regular “essay” types of posts that might be a little longer, which is probably a blogging no-no.
All the writing books say “write what you know” so I will keep a-going in my myopic, self-absorbed way of talking about myself until I discover that I’m an expert in something other than navel-gazing…speaking of books on writing, my favorite that I should re-read is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lammott. And one of my daily reads just posted some helpful writing resources, and I’ll definitely be checking those out!