Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My first sort-of-assignment-don’t-really-know-if-i-have-to-turn-this-in-or-not thing.

A lot of my writer friends have wanted to be writers their entire lives. They wrote stories when they were little and always dreamed of selling their first novel and going on book tours. That was not me. The first job I ever remember wanting was to be a glassblower. I think I must have seen a demonstration about it at some Civil War something or other back when I was little and got the idea stuck in my head that it would be a suitable career path. My parents just smiled and nodded and let it go, probably hoping I'd forget all about it at some point and pick a more fruitful calling. They were right about the first part, I did forget about it. If I've found a prosperous future for myself is yet to be seen. It certainly is fun anyway.

I've loved to read as long as I've been able. From the moment those squiggly lines became letters and those letters turned to words and those words bloomed into stories, I've been in love. I used to get in trouble in math class for reading a book under my desk instead of paying attention.

"Maria," scolded Mr. Math Teacher, "this is math class, you shouldn't be reading."

"But you have to be able to read to do math," my younger self reasoned innocently, thinking of all those insufferable word problems my brain had no patience for.

"That's not the point, put the book away."

I took, "put the book away," to mean "hide the book better," and kept reading. At this same time I was also writing. I wrote silly little stories about my favorite Star Wars characters and my 13 year old attempt at original science fiction, but never gave writing much thought. In high school I started to travel. I always kept a journal when I traveled overseas and wrote in it every day, recording the day's events and trying (usually unsuccessfully) to record at least a little of how I felt. I was terrified of forgetting. But still, I never gave writing any thought. It's just something everyone does, right? Everyone records the day's observations on little scraps of paper or on the pages of the millions of blank notebooks they have yet keep buying, right? Scout, in To Kill A Mockingbird, explains the exact way I felt about writing in her own regard to reading. "Until I feared I'd lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

Then I went to college, majored in English, and was instantly lonely. When you've had the same best friends since elementary school, a time before self esteem issues and shyness sets in, making friends out in the real world is hard. So I wrote about it. I wrote a silly little story with my best friends from home as main characters, imagining what we would all be daydreaming about if we were all together, bored in class. I finished it, let a few of said friends read it, then put it away and forgot about it until the next year.

Sophomore year I joined my school's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society, giving in completely to the fact that I was indeed a huge nerd. I wanted to submit something creative to the annual convention the Society had every year. All I had was the daydream story, so that's what I sent in. To my great surprise it was accepted. I went to Pittsburgh, read my story in front of a room full of people (not my cup of tea) and was astonished to find that people laughed where I meant to be funny and were silent during the serious bits. Even more astonishing was that people actually like my story.

Now I can't imagine a life for myself where I was not making up stories in my head and collecting names for future characters. My focus has been all over fiction and non-fiction and everywhere in between, but more recently I've found a comfortable little place in Young Adult fiction. I'd say that, as far as an answer to the question of why I write, it would be a tie between 'to entertain' and 'personal satisfaction.' There is nothing like the feeling you get when someone reads your work and enjoy it. I like to make people laugh and am still working on making them cry. However somewhere up there, 'to educate' would also be a reason to write. I have never wanted to be a teacher, I don't have the incredible patience or intelligent insight to teach others, but that's not necessarily what it means to educate.

A few years ago I heard Neil Gaiman speak at one of those nerdy Sigma Tau Delta conventions I was talking about. He said that the books we read before the age of twelve shape the rest of our lives as far as what we read and who we become. I wholeheartedly agree with this which is why I feel that writing Young Adult literature is not only lots of fun, but a great responsibility. I don't know about you, but I don't want any children I may or may not end up having growing up idolizing Edward and Bella from Twilight. I want them to grow up with Harry, Ron and Hermione like I did and explore the halls of Hogwarts in their innermost imaginations. I want them to go to Neverland when they close their eyes at night and dream of a world where they never have to grow up. I want them to read about strong characters that are so life-like that they love them as if they were real and cry when they die. These are the sorts of stories and characters that shaped me, and these are the stories I want to write.

I think the thing that has defined me as a reader, writer and overall person the most is my incurable Peter Pan syndrome. I had a happy childhood and wanted for nothing, have a supportive family and great friends (all reasons I'll never sell one non-fiction book. Who wants to read about a happy childhood anyway?). Growing up in such a stable and loving environment meant I never had to abandon my childlike sensibilities, something I'll be forever grateful. The child within me is my Muse, and man is she crazy. She can't sit still for more than five seconds which is probably the reason I tend to write so sporadically. I write at random times of day depending on what is going on and where I am. Sometimes I write nonstop for months, other times not touching pen to paper for weeks on end. I hope this year to not tame that crazy kid by any means, but maybe try and get her into more of a routine. And get her to stop eating so much chocolate. She'll rot my teeth out.

I would describe myself as an artist with reclusive tendencies, striving to gain social networking skills. I'm not talking about facebook here, I mean real, live social networking with real people. I am far too comfortable with shutting myself up in my room for hours on end with music playing and a word document on my computer screen. One of my goals for the year is to meet as many people as I can and make some connections. Even if that only means finding a few new writing buddies I'll count it a success. But first and foremost, I want to come out of this year a better writer. I want my Masters Degree to mean something, to mean that I spent a year in Oxford dedicating myself to being a better writer, and actually became one.

In the long run, I want to write books. In my wildest money-is-miraculously-not-an-issue dreams I see myself traveling around the world and writing books. I'm crossing my fingers, and so is my grubby, chocolate covered Muse. What a brat.



DeeRoo said...

So I guess you need to find out if you need to turn this in!

Glad you had a happy childhood....sure makes us feel good.

Here's to hoping your pie-in-the-sky dreams come true. xoxo

Tanner said...

Mark one down for "reads your work and enjoys it." I totally "loled" at the image of your chocolate-spattered "muse," and found the observation of fantasy material being educational... educational.

Kelsey Austin Threatte said...

We're reading Neil Gaiman in my english class in your honor. It's definitely not part of the curriculum. I am telling all my students that my best friend met him and that she is an author in England and they are going to explode with amazement... or that's the plan anyways. I might force you to Skype conference me in my class one day to talk about your masters program. For real though... let's talk about that. I MISS YOU! Oh, and I'm making my kids write stories instead of taking tests... I think I am going to be fired and will have to live with you at Lasalle... just to warn you : )