A perennial flower, blossoming, blooming, thriving, then dying; going to seed, returning to earth, waiting a season or three, then blossoming, blooming again: let’s say that’s why my portfolio is so slim, so sporadic. I’m a late bloomer.
I didn’t think it was going to happen that way. I was 9 or 10 when I started writing in earnest. By high school, I believed I was going to win a Pulitzer by the age of 30.
My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Morgan, gave us weekly creative writing assignments. They were always due on a Monday. One weekend, on or around Groundhog’s Day, I had been procrastinating, and didn’t work on the assignment until the last minute, Monday morning at my desk, waiting for the bell to ring.
That glorious Monday, I learned about the power of deadline, and under pressure, produced a masterpiece.
The masterpiece, a poem in trochaic tetrameter with ‘abab’ rhyme scheme, was called “The Groundhog.” I astonished myself with the way it flew from my pencil, fully formed, instantly apprehended. That piece, and the way it came to me, assured me of my Gift. “The Groundhog” won first place in a district-wide competition for creative writing at the end of the school year, and with that little taste of victory, I grew hungry for more.
In the 6th grade, our D.A.R.E. program featured an essay contest. My treatise on why drugs and alcohol were bad won. That was also the year I won our district’s spelling bee, and took home a trophy nearly as tall as I was.
But it went underground a few years– middle school, 9th grade, I wasn’t writing. I mean, I may have journaled some, but there are no poems or stories from those years, when I was just anxious a lot of the time. Sassy magazine was my bible and I conjured a nascent feminist identity from its glossy pages, among ads for T’rific skin care products and Caboodles. All around me girls were turning into women, but I was small-breasted, with glasses and braces, painfully adolescent.
I guess I was too busy trying to author my womanhood to do any writing then. It makes sense that I started up again in the 10th, 11th grade, just as I was getting comfortable in my skin. Braces gave way to perfectly straight teeth; the boobs I wanted never quite got to the size I’d have liked, but at least there was something there; I got contact lenses. Emerging into confident teenagehood, my pen was suddenly prolific. Short stories became my new preferred genre, and I cranked them out weekly. My junior year I submitted a slew of my work for Barstow’s Desert Heritage Writing Contest, and practically swept all the awards in every category.
At college, I invested a lot in the cultivation of a proper aesthetic. I started exploring poetry. I worked hard on reading it, writing it, made friends with fellow poets and harbored a secret desire to read at a poetry slam like the ones I sometimes went to. I won Gonzaga’s poetry prize, the Costello Award, in 1999. I got a plaque and $100. The plaque was presented to me by the chair of the department at a ceremony where most of the honorees were faculty. I listened with great interest to the kinds of academic work that was being recognized; it was my first glimpse at what professors did when they weren’t teaching. After the ceremony, I approached the English Department chair, my Shakespeare and Milton instructor, to ask him about the $100, which was not presented at the ceremony. He sent me to the Department secretary, who sent me to the Registrar’s office, where I eventually did get my check, but first he said to me, “Yes, seize upon that prize money, make sure that you get it; it may be the most you’re ever paid for your poetry.”
I mean, I know where he was coming from– after all, this was the guy who had told us that more volumes of poetry are shoplifted than sold at bookstores each year– but, still.
I decided shortly thereafter that my life and needs would best be suited by a career in academia. After all, why would anyone want to hear anything I might have to say, before I was fully versed in the Greats?
That misapprehension lasted about five years, before I took my Master’s and fled. It took another five years before I’d put pen to paper, fingers to keys, and start calling myself a writer again.
I’m a writer. I’m writing my first book right now. I’m writing it because it seems silly to be thirty two and have a bibliography of zero. There’s a lot of work I have to do, lots of books I have to write, that I have been waiting to write. I’ve got a lot more reading to do, as well. But I’ll never make any of it happen if I don’t get all this out first. The memoir. The story of the life, up to now. My introduction to the world of letters. What I see, how I see it, in the way I want it told.