Monday, September 25, 2006

Why Be Normal?

I’m complicated. When I was younger, no one could figure me out. How could I like Phil Collins and Nirvana? How could I love cars, yet couldn’t drive? How could I major in engineering and be learning dyslexic in math? How could I bake scrumptious brownies, yet not be able to fold a T-shirt to save my life? How could I live in Myrtle Beach and not have a tan? Let’s say I confused others and myself for a long time. My favorite question these days is how could I major in finance and now pursue my master’s in English? But, why not? Why can’t a business major switch to writing if that’s what she’s been doing her whole life anyway? I wrote newsletters when I was eight and decided to be a novelist when I was nine. Then something happened: I wanted to get a “real” job when I graduated from college and I didn’t even consider teaching or writing as a career. But, I still wrote on the sly for my high school’s paper and my college’s yearbook, and then later on for my sailing club’s newsletter. I became a shadow artist — I admit it. According to Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way, a shadow artist doesn’t admit she’s an artist, but wants to be around artists in the worst way. No wonder all of my dates were photographers. After college, I worked for Belk Department Stores, first in their advertising department, then in store management, and lastly in the buying office. Near the end of my career with them, I remember buying a book on writing your first novel and thinking I still needed to do this. Then, life happened when my son Daniel was born four years ago.
The fact is, I love change and complication and am not afraid of it. Change is good and it wakes up the soul. For without change, I wouldn’t be a writer, I wouldn’t have a new poetry book published, and I wouldn’t be within inches of earning my M.A. I’d probably still be in retail management, still believing that Saturdays are the worst day of the week. However, before we can change, we need to let some things go to free up the space for new people and experiences. Daniel made me realize that I’d done a lot of things over the years to please my parents, but once he was on the way, my parents decided to break off our relationship. Of course, I was disappointed and it still saddens me that Daniel has never met my parents, but if I think that my parents left a vacuum for me to change and grow, and now I can see their estrangement in a positive light. When they let me go, I was forced at twenty-nine to define who I was and where my life should turn. My husband and I got married, I kept my name and my 1996 red Mustang, and released myself from my retail career to find out what I really wanted. When on maternity leave, I signed up for correspondence course writing classes at UNC-CH, became more active in my book club, joined a writers’ group and plunged into motherhood — the hardest job on the planet. Slowly, but surely, I wrote bad short stories and sent them off to contests and then took advantage of all the North Carolina Writers’ Network conferences. I also read writing books and novels to study the craft and improve.
This summer I learned a lot and opened myself up to new experiences that were a little scary. I designed and uploaded my website. I published my first chapbook, Ghostcards. I wrote a blog and learned how to upload photos onto this blog. I created a MySpace page and think it's a great networking tool. I read poems and wrote poems, getting two of them published in literary journals (I’ve only started writing poetry since February). I taught a free writing workshop with fifteen participants. Then, I taught a fee-based workshop on creative nonfiction, and that was also successful. My first perfect-bound book of poetry, Right Lane Ends, will soon be hot off the presses and I can’t wait to keep my first dollar from the first sale. I should have started writing earlier. Maybe. But, the time wasn’t right and I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Now I do.

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