“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” ~ Malorie Blackman.
I was not a girlie girl when I was young. I am constantly flummoxed by the way little girls nowadays are in such a rush to grow up. I remember being quite annoyed at receiving a gift of a manicure set when I was about ten. Who cared about nails? I was probably around eleven when I was shocked to realize that both of my knees were free of cuts and scrapes. Usually one or the other would be baring the evidence of my latest encounter with the ground. This was not helped by the fact that the playground at my primary school was covered in marl!
I was recently invited to share my thoughts on why I write. One of the joys of my childhood was a trip to the local library. Books had the power to transport me to places I had never been, they entertained and distracted. I would become so attached to the characters that I would be quite disappointed to leave them at the end. Our local library was not very large, one room, with a small children’s section, so desperation would often make me reread stories, and I would sneak into the adult section for variety. When Christmas packages would arrive from aunts across the seas and contained books as gifts, I was overjoyed. Short stories could be teased out to last longer, I would dip into them and only allow myself to read a chapter if when I opened the book at random, it opened at the beginning of a new story.
My parents loved ‘a good read’ also. At one point in my life one of my father’s weekly tasks was to go to the library and select books for all three of us. He himself had a habit of reading not only the jacket to see if he liked a book, but also the first and the last couple of pages. I thought there was some kind of rule that you could not read the ending of the book until you got there, so I was quite shocked at my father’s habit! But life become quite confusing for him when authors began to include the first chapter of their next novel at the end of the prior one!
I wrote poems and short stories as a child, and of course wrote love poems as a teen, but since my high school classes were largely dictated by the availability of teachers, and my interests were more towards the sciences than the arts, my formal English Literature education ended by the time I was fourteen. In my last years in high school I studied Geography, Geology and Zoology, at least the last one gave me some foundation for my future as a nurse.
I don’t remember when it was that I started to scribble my own thoughts in unlined journals that I would buy on sale. I know I gave up reading for a while, when life was full of babies and work, work and babies. I had four kids in six years, life was a blur. The only time I seemed to have to do any reading was the few days I was in the hospital giving birth. But at some point I started to feel that I should write. I bought a second-hand electric typewriter from a pawn shop, and started to type. I signed up for a children’s writing course, and wrote a story. I dreamed about sending a submission to the Tropic, the Sunday magazine of the Miami Herald. I started my novel.
In the early 90’s, after having lived in Florida for thirteen years, I had my first opportunity to travel outside of the continental United States. I took my journal with me, and started writing on the plane. On my first trip to Jamaica in fourteen years, I saw the country, the people, the places as if for the first time, and tried to capture each memory at night, before I closed my eyes. In Jamaica I left my journal lying around, and my friend’s husband (a writer), found it and started reading it, thinking it was his wife’s. And he told me that I wrote well. Perhaps that was the validation I needed, for up until then I was the most successful unpublished, never been rejected, writer you could want to meet! It was shortly after that the book ‘How Stella got her groove back’ came out and I was mad. I should have written that book!
You never know what you can do until you try. We often play out thoughts in our heads, we imagine outcomes, see possible pending disasters, all to keep us from realizing our true potential. It takes that objective outsider to see us for what we can be. But exposing yourself to another is hard. A writer’s creation can be like a child, and it takes a while before you are confident to hear what someone thinks of your baby. Just as we think our own children are the most beautiful and talented children ever, we are not ready to hear that our writing needs work, that it could be improved.
I was fortunate to have the outlet of the internet, and a small but supportive group of readers who gave me positive feedback when I finally faced my fears and put my work out there. But quite apart from meeting my weekly commitment to continuing my father’s Friday Morning Message tradition, writing for me is therapy, a way to explore and connect, to teach and learn.
On this Friday morning I hope you face your fears and try something you have always wanted to do. Failure is only an opportunity to grow, evidence that we are human. Have a wonderful weekend, family!