When you published your first book, an allegory on dot matrix pages filled with colored pencil illustrations, held together with yarn and glue, you were told by the big sister-like teacher with the cinnamon hair in the Young Writer’s Workshop that you were a writer. You liked the sound of that. It was the thing you had been waiting to hear, the explanation for your impulse to observe, mute, a soothing from the shame of “stare hard, retard”.
Because you were young enough to believe just about anything, for a while you needed nothing more than the go-ahead of the teacher with the cinnamon hair. You wrote stories, all illustrated. You and a friend made up your own comic.
Your body too was changing when you stopped believing, no longer content with what you had been writing, afraid to write the things that sat like a heavy meal in your gut. Terrified you weren’t a writer after all, afraid to have nothing to show, you took the poem about a flamingo offered by your generous, concerned friend and put your name on it so that you would have something to show.
You started to journal and your aunts, who must have sensed your need for guidance or perhaps were once there themselves, bought you books that called you writer, offered you exercises to build-a-better-body, a body that could endure the strain of story-making.
You began to write the things that mattered, though your stories then, like the teen who wrote them, mostly only pointed and balked. You wanted to keep writing then more than anything though. In fact, those stories were the only thing you trusted and you were sure without them you were nothing.
You believed this less when you became a mother,then a teacher, and it was hard to write in those years and you were so aware of that hollow, just as you were the beating of your own heart that first year of teaching. You wrote in fits, though you often felt guilty and were sure that your family must be lost without you. Selfish of you to have this page, this pen, this separate pleasure! You sometimes snuck in writing time.
It wasn’t just that you loosed your grasp on what you never could control, though that helped. You persisted, sometimes you really just limped along and lied. Now you’ve got your MFA and you know without a doubt, like you did when you published your first book, an allegory on dot matrix pages held together with yarn and glue, that this is the thing you must do and that you must in some way do it every day. When you doubt that, you will remember the rush of relief, love, and joy you felt the first time your fifteen-year-old son spent the bulk of one day struggling to master a song on his electric blue Fender guitar.