making it back to writing

When I was a kid I wanted to be a writer. I had a full manuscript by the age of 8: a story of an evil chicken king who did karate and had to be fought by a duo of a frog and a flamingo, based off of my stuffed animals. I wrote and illustrated it, even typed it up on the computer and printed it in all its papyrus font glory.

And then I was in school where we had to write the personal narrative over and over and over until every mildly interesting story of my childhood life had been bled dry of interest. I can’t even begin to count the stories and essays I wrote about That Amazing Soccer Game or My Favorite Place.

After that, I endured the five paragraph essay: an attempt to compact the art of argument into an easily digestible form. But even then I refused to be limited. Instead of a 5 paragraph essay on the topic at hand, I wrote “the last will and testament of the 5 paragraph essay” and handed that in where I outlined the shortcomings of this type of assignment.

But then came the memoir. AP Language class my junior year with the teacher who inspired me to break out of these boundaries of writing we had been told. Who told me writing couldn’t be tested by what we produce in a 2 hour sitting.

I wish I could read what I wrote back then. That paper that I meticulously drafted and edited. I spent many pages of my notebooks on scribbles trying to get it right. Trying not to sound too flowery or embellished. Trying to be understood.

I used to keep a journal on me at all times to write out all the terrible thoughts I couldn’t get out of my head. I took what was in that notebook, I took what was happening, I took what had happened and poured it into this paper, this English class exercise of writing a memoir. I tried to wrestle with the idea of memory and what in my own brain I could trust. What could I believe when I couldn’t remember the words, but could only remember disconnecting from my body. I could only remember smells and sounds that to this day – 8 years later – still bring me back to that bed, to that car, to that living room.

And I wrote all of it, I edited it into a neat 10 page paper, attempting to reassure him that I was okay but I needed to be heard. I hadn’t told anyone of the yelling or the fear or the pain from the past year. And I trusted him. I trusted this teacher with my writing. True writing, edited down slightly, less swearing than my normal, but real. Not poking fun at the absurd assignment or attempting to have a new fresh take on some old literature. I can’t tell you why I trusted him. I guess I usually just get along well with teachers, I understand them and I felt like they understood me.

I don’t know when it was that he left. I only know we turned in this paper and a few weeks later we got comments. I cried when I read his comments. I remember he said something profound and thanked me for sharing with him.

Did I ever talk to him in person? I don’t know. I think he pulled me aside at some point to say we should sit down later. I don’t remember what he said. But I never saw him again after that.

He simply never came back into class. The rumor was that he was fired for having an affair with a previous student. I never found out more than that rumor. We were not allowed to ask questions.

And then came the endless stream of substitute teachers, mandated to stick to the AP curriculum, and the endless essays on standardized tests made my hands ache. And then college, where my first professor failed all of our first drafts of papers to “give us motivation to improve them”. And I stopped writing. I stopped writing poems for the people I fell in love with. I stopped scribbling thoughts into a haphazard assortment of journals.
Writing became something I was no longer good at. I’m terrible at academic writing, I can’t stand the stiff and emotionless lab reports and source analyses. Maybe I’m not terrible at it, but it just brings me absolutely no joy.

And now it feels like its too late to try writing again. Because I’m just a small and unqualified for everything I love. I want to be a writer or artist or mathematician or all three because really they are all the same to me but I don’t have the degrees or the college credits or experience.

But I’m still going to try.