I discovered recently that I really enjoy writing. I’ve always felt I had a book in me (maybe it’s a play, who can say?), but I’ve faced a conundrum up until recently. You see, I have disappointingly uninspired “creative writing” skills. Faced with the blank page and an assignment: to craft an original piece of fiction to be read aloud in class, uh oh, this always ended badly. Creative writing was the only college course I can ever remember taking in which I didn’t earn at least a B. I got a C, and even at that, I only received the C because the teacher took pity on me. The last day of class she took me aside to tell me that though I had earned a D (it wasn’t a shock to me. I’m far from stupid, I can calculate a grade), she was giving me a C. She told me she felt bad awarding me a D because my writing was excellent, I just never quite accomplished the goals assigned.
But if I couldn’t be a creative fiction writer, well then I must not have a book in me right? At least that was my thinking for decades. I knew you could write biographies and auto-biographies, and historical novels if you were famous, infamous, or Doctored, but I was none of these things. Besides, wouldn’t my life be too boring to justify editorializing it. Who would be Interested in the story of my life?
One mantra I took to heart, and would later put to use was: “Write What You Know”. I’ve experienced life as a running dialogue for as long as I can remember. It’s changed throughout the years. Initially it centered around super heroes, and science fiction fantasies. Over the years it would transform into a dramatic series based around a pitiful outcast pre-teen, an insecure college co-ed, a family drama, and finally the sitcom I thought about writing centered around my sassy ex-wife (and post grad) and (adorable) seven year old son living with my husband Pete (professional conductor and musician) and me (hair salon owner) in the studio apartment attached to our house (ok, I know this is a dreadfully bad sentence, but I just can’t seem to reword it with the same meaning, sorry, just deal with it, ok). This story also includes three wacky mother/step-mother/mother-in-laws, a beautiful, and well-trained husky, a somewhat “ditzy” disapproving Christian sister, a continually un-lucky house keeper, and a salon full of intriguing clients ( a different story every day!). The magic is, it’s butone chapter in the absolute true story of my life. I’ve continually updated this storyline since around 3rd grade. I was a very shy kid with almost no friends, except for my books. They gave my life a narrative I preferred to my real life.
A few years back I was talking to my step-mother, a woman I adore by the way, and she told me she had been going through old photos in the closet where she had come across my old report cards. At first I was delighted that she had saved them all. The next sentence pretty much validate my memories/feelings of childhood. She asked me if I realized that I had been a straight A student all through grade school? I actually chuckled, which hit me as ridiculously melodramatic after the fact, but yes, I did in fact know that, I said. She hadn’t, she admitted. As sad as that story is, I know my step-mother had issues she was dealing with, with her own two sons. I wasn’t a troublemaker, so I tended to blend into the background. I worked hard to acquire that skill, so I only have myself to blame. I also heard her confession as the apology I believe it was meant to be.
So you can see why I might have a cultivated “inner life”. For much of my life I never pondered that protected inner life basically being a narrative which transformed with the day-to-day tribulations my life would take. Often in my personal television show I hosted an instructional show centered around hair styling, or possibly cooking the dinner in the evening as a fantasy cooking show, or even more recently imagining my laptop as being some futuristic 21st century super computer that I can actually dictate a story to like on Star Trek! Oh wait, that last one is actually true, but you get my point. But for some strange reason, when putting pen to paper (in a purely literary sense), my imagination gets writer’s block.
For a long time I just assumed writing wasn’t my thing. It was way too hard anyway. Besides, once again, I’m not really a writer, I’m just a blogger. Even as a hair stylist I don’t consider myself to be “an innovator,” I’m more of a “craftsman”. I look at the craft of hair, as well as my writing style, as a more technical pursuit. If you needed me to write ad copy, or draft a letter to the editors, or even a monthly newsletter, I’m your go to guy. Then one day a good friend of mine asked me to write a food column. Well, not only do I love dining out, it seemed like something right up my alley! I could write, but it would be in a bit more of a journalistic way, and what do you know? I liked it. The editor who had drafted me to the food column suggested I start a blog somewhere along the way, and suddenly a writer was conceived.
The blog was a blast. It was also cathartic and empowering. Little by little I discovered how to live up to the mantra: “Write what you know.”
The interesting thing is, nothing about my writing skill, or credentials, had actually changed. It was just my “perception” that had changed. My world view, if you will. I simply believed I could, and there you go. The freedom to write led to the discoveries of hidden family stories, differing views of life experiences, and an amazingly complex story of how different my narrative is, from the facts as seen by different people in my life.
Perceptions are tricky. I decided to write some of my life history for my son William. There are so many gaps in my knowledge of my mother and father, and I wanted William to have something in my words. So I began to write life essays. One of my most transformative was Call Me Barbara, but the one that I found to be the most life altering, was the story of my half-brother (still in the development stage). The narrative I had been given by my grandmother turned out to be completely untrue. I had long believed my father’s animosity to my mother to be the result of her leaving him with a broken heart, when in fact it is more likely to be guilt brought on by some poor choices that a number of people made. Life is very rarely one-sided. It was such a vastly different story, that it felt as if I had actually lived somebody else’s life. One of these days I will stop learning the same lessons.