I have to admit that I have an odd love-hate relationship with writing at this stage in my life. I love the idea of it…how it makes me feel when I look back on it, but I hate the fact that it sometimes seems like a chore, or simply something that I want to do, but can’t bring my hand to write or fingers to type.
To be honest, I don’t consider myself to be a good writer nowadays, which is odd because I felt that I was at one time. I’m not sure if my ability has weakened, my perception has changed, or both. I do feel as if I hit a wall when I started college and it’s blocked me from writing what I want to write and doing it how I want to do it, and I’m not exactly sure why. I think that it may have to do with the fact that when I started college, I suddenly felt that my writing mattered to someone other than myself. Well, really it may not have actually mattered to them, but I knew that others would be seriously judging it in terms of grades and such. In high school and middle school, I didn’t feel the same pressure that I did when I began my post-secondary studies. It was like I hit a point in my life where I knew I wanted to major in English, and therefore I felt that my writing had to be up to par, and I just felt that it wasn’t. Of course, feeling inadequate isn’t something that anyone enjoys and so I began to dread writing, especially if I knew that others would have to read it.
I guess I should start at what I consider the beginning. I was a talker. Of course, I have no memory of this, but my mother, father and grandparents claim that I was saying small phrases and words at seven months. I assume it was just repetition. Later, just as expected, when I became able to make up my own sentences to communicate, I started and never stopped. There are numerous stories of me chit-chatting with strangers in the grocery store line from my child-seat in the cart as well as me talking and making up songs from the backseat of our car. Like I said, I don’t remember talking at such an early age, but I do remember being young and people noticing that I talked fast. I still talk fast, and for the most part, I consider it a burden because I generally have to repeat what I say (at least to people who aren’t used to my speech), and it makes public speaking a bit more worrisome than usual.
At such a young age, I guess I was pretty interested in communication. Besides talking a lot, my mother says that at the age of two I would get pieces of paper I found lying around (notebook paper, newspaper, mail, TV Guide) and whatever writing utensil (pen, pencil, crayon) and ask her to write the letters of my name, or as she would quote me, “draw me an A, Mommy.” This I don’t remember. What I do remember is being at a young age, like three or four years old, and desperately wanting to be able to read. Reading was something that amazed me. At this time, my mother read romance novels between cooking, cleaning and caring for me. While I played quietly or watched cartoons, she chose to sit quietly and motionlessly curled on one end of the sofa with a book in hand. It was beyond me how such a book with so many pictureless pages would create a story. I can remember crawling up next to her and asking her to read a section to me aloud. She would always trace the line she was reading with her finger and I would try my best to see in the page what she was saying. I couldn’t wait to learn to read or go to school. To make the wait until Kindergarten easier, my mother (and father when he wasn’t working) would play small games with me by quizzing me about letters of the alphabet or asking me what letters were in my name, and sometimes we would ‘play school’ which would consist of me imitating what I’d previously seen on television programs.
At one point at the age of four, my parents and family were convinced that I was genius, although I’m definitely not. I just like to have things a certain way. I should explain beforehand that I’ve always had a habit of wanting to do things backwards. When I read a magazine article, I have an overwhelming urge to read the last paragraph first and work my way up, or if I’m reading a book, I want to start with the last page. I don’t actually read the words backwards. I still read those in the same order, but the paragraphs themselves are what I read in reverse. Nowadays, I don’t normally do it, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s something I want to do. Anyway, I do remember the night that this came about. My parents were watching a movie and I was absolutely bored out of my mind, so I tried to think of songs that I could put letters in (much like the Alphabet Song). I recited the alphabet to myself backwards several times and decided that I liked it much better that way, so I told my parents. They paused the movie to ask me to do it again, and after I did it, they wrote the alphabet out so they could check to see if I was correctly reciting them in reverse. I was, and of course, they thought they’d raised a genius although they simply didn’t realize that doing things backwards was more normal for me than doing them forwards. I have to say that this hasn’t affected me negatively. I’ve never had problems with spelling, but I just think of it as an odd quirk that I have and at the time I didn’t think much about it at all. I just wanted to read.
Once I finally made to Kindergarten and learned to read simple words, I wanted to go straight into the kinds of books that my mother read. I quickly learned that I had to be patient in order to reach that level, and so for that time, my reading selection was limited to age-appropriate books and flash cards. In Kindergarten, I don’t recall doing a lot of writing besides my name and words like “cat”, “dog” or “help.” I do vaguely remember being able to write small sentences with the words I knew, even if those sentences didn’t make sense or weren’t true, like, “I am a cat.”
First grade, however, was a different story. I had a teacher who was used to teaching older grades, and so looking back there were times that I think that she forgot how young we were. There were times that she would yell at us at length because we’d either misspelled a word or mispronounced it when it came up on a flash card. An example would be the word “island” because many of us would anger her by pronouncing it “is-land” on sight. This drove me to be a word-nazi who never failed a spelling test in her life or even miss more than five words throughout all of elementary school.
On a more positive note, this was the grade in which I was introduced to journal entries. I can remember being horrified that it was something that I was somehow incapable of doing, yet I was excited to become what I thought of as a real writer. I don’t remember what we were supposed to write about specifically, except for maybe what we thought about that day with our name and date above it. I think that the majority of our entries in that class, including mine, consisted of little blurbs such as, “It is raining today” or “I like my puppy.” This new assignment made me feel grown up and important and I would go home and write other journal entries for that day, although they were usually one or two small sentences.
Second and third grade are a blur. I don’t remember any specific writing or reading that I did. Fourth grade, on the other hand, was when I discovered R.L. Stine and his books. At this point, I’d only owned a few Babysitters’ Club books, but that year I began loving R.L. Stine books and I started ordering them from the mini Scholastic book catalogs that my class receive every week or so. I ordered some from the Goosebumps series, which were more age appropriate at the time, but several that I ordered were aimed more for high school students and had teen characters in high school scenarios. Throughout that year (and the next several years after that) I went through these books like they were candy. I gobbled up these books and stories like I was afraid I would never read again. I was usually able to read a whole book in a day, and I read these same books over and over again. Although they were not considered high art or good reading material (as compared to literature), my teachers and parents were just happy that I enjoyed reading as much as I did. I remember coming across new words and either asking what they meant or looking them up, and then finding ways to use them in conversation with adults. I don’t think I did it with my friends or peers because they didn’t know those words, but just the adults because they’re whom I wanted to impress. I think that I just wanted to appear more grown up and mature. At the time, I was used to my teachers, principal and other adults praising me for my good behavior in class and for acting mature for my age, and I enjoyed the praise, so I did anything else I could do to appear even more mature and well behaved, including reading a lot and throwing around new vocabulary.
From fourth grade all the way up to high school, I read a lot and I read it fast. Throughout those earlier years, my school had a program called Book It in which the students would read a book approved by their teacher, do a book report on it, and then get a sticker to put on a button, which they would turn in to Pizza Hut to get a free personal pan pizza. I think you got a free pizza for every eight stickers you had, and so as a child, this was just one more incentive for me to read as much as possible as quickly as possible.
In middle school and high school, I don’t remember anything spectacular about reading or writing. I generally got A’s and B’s, and my papers were satisfactory in my opinion, but I don’t think I ever wrote anything that I was particularly proud of. I do remember feeling good about a couple of papers because of getting a good grade, but a lot times those types of papers were ones that I simply wasn’t interested in or ones that I felt were mechanical in terms of writing style. There wasn’t a lot that felt natural to me at the time. I’ve always preferred any type of writing where I can just write exactly how I think or talk. For example, that’s how I’m handing this particular literacy narrative. This is a piece that’s coming from inside of me, and so the style of my writing is as if it comes right out of my head or mouth. Today, papers that I have to write in a more formal style are the ones that I tend to dread, and I basically felt the same at the time, but whenever I did something that I felt was truly me, like poetry or journal entries, I would either rip them up or throw them away within a week after they were written. Why? I’m not exactly sure. I’ve always had a fear of people reading my pieces. I think that I have a fear of writing in general because it’s like an invasion of privacy. I think that when you write something, it’s like making thoughts tangible, vulnerable, and, worst of all, public. I hate that. I think it’s because I feel that when something like that is public, people know something about you, or at least they think that they do. I’ve always considered knowledge to be power, and so it’s like weird power struggle where people know what you think and feel, and then of course there’s the potential for misinterpretation. As you can probably guess, I don’t like to have others read anything that I write, including this.
College was a bit of a turning point for me. Actually, I have to say that my Writing II class (taught by none other than the great Nancy Peterson herself) was important. In that class, we all wrote a multi-genre research project about something personal we’d experienced that affected women (topics ranged from abuse to eating disorders). I won’t disclose what mine was about, but I will say that I remember Dr. Peterson telling me at an end-of-the-semester conference that in my multi-genre research project, I had a “strong voice.” That was one of the meaningful (and useful) compliments that I’d ever received about my writing. Before that, I’d never considered what kind of voice my writing had and it wasn’t something that I’d worked at. For me, it was something that had come naturally. The downside now is that when I write things, I constantly worry that I don’t have a strong voice or it’s one that is spouting out cluttered and mangled garbage, and I feel that worrying too much about it is simply ruining my writing and all the potential that it, and I, have.
As a graduate student, I still have the fears of not having a strong voice, of making my inner-most thoughts public for the world to see and of simply not being good enough. I fear that these issues are things that I won’t ever truly get over, and maybe that’s just how it will always be. Having said that, I recently started keeping a notebook in which I intend to write anything and everything that I want without immediately throwing it away. I have to admit that I’ve written one thing in it and it’s hard to fight the urge to just trash it. I’m not teaching yet, but I do plan to one day. I fear that my love-hate relationship with writing will affect how I teach my students, and also their own feeling of writing. As a teacher, I would never want to have a negative influence on my students’ feelings on writing or reading, and writing is the one area I fear this could happen.
From this point forward, I want to stop worrying so much and just enjoy what I do accomplish. I hate the fact that I feel like I sabotage myself in so many ways, and in particular, with my own writing. I feel that in order to be a successful writer, you first have to accept the bad with the good because we all have to make the journey to be what we want to be, which in this case is a good writer by our own definition, whatever that may mean. I only hope that one day soon I can be satisfied with what I write or attempt to write, and by satisfied I simply mean that I hope that I can look at something that I create and see it as something worthy of not being transformed into a wadded up piece of trash at the bottom of a basket. At this point, I feel that’s all I can hope for.