Working with Words

Working with words is in my genes.  My grandmother never wrote a simple note; it was always in verse.  In response to a request from her son for a loan, she scratched on an envelope, “You have been to me kind and true / So I’ll fork over a five to you.”  A generation down the line, my mother kept meticulous trip records.  Apparently, it really is hereditary as my daughter graduated with Screenwriting and English majors.   As for me, I remember beginning my first short story on a family trip when I was eight or nine.  It was one of those Bulwer-Lytton prize-winning gems, starting off something like, “The midnight clock struck in the village. Bong!  Bong!  B—“  You get the picture.  I know I didn’t get past the fourth or fifth “Bong!”.  So much for the Pulitzer Prize in literature.

From there I worked my way into high school poetry, filled with angst and word choice so purple as to be almost fluorescent.  Some of it I have since reworked, and, like Kafka, I hope the old stuff is burned.  Eventually, experiences I observed or experienced began a persistent knocking on the inside of my brain, and I had to get them down on paper. Writing essays taught me that I could slash and burn; editing didn’t leave scars.

Over the 25 years I spent in the trenches with beginning writers, teaching middle school and high school English, I complained about not having enough time to do “outside” things, such as reading.  Finally, I simply made time to read.  Similarly, I wanted to write more, but didn’t have the time.  However, a few years ago, that persistent, albeit infrequent, knocking from inside my head to write something down became poundings and hollerings.  Fortuitously, on an airplane from Los Angeles to Milwaukee, I had packed a yellow legal pad and a pen in my carry-on, and finally gave in to those demands.  By the time we landed, I had sixteen pages of frantic scrawlings as I transcribed the voices of the women talking inside my head.  It had begun with an offhand reminiscence by my mother: “I learned to golf so I could smoke.”  From that, lives began to emerge, and I simply had to write it all down.

At the moment, my own story, my writing life, continues to evolve, and that is the one story over which I have very little control.  That doesn’t bother me.  I am having far too much fun watching where all this is taking me.  I thought I’d somehow “dry up,” but writing seems to be a lot like reading; once you start, the first just makes you thirsty for another, and then another.  I continue to write because I am compelled to.