I went to get my blood drawn at the local lab in town. (And now Im thinking about how best to draw blood; pen and ink? Colored pencils?) It was soon after my pub date, so I was giddy with the newness of being a published author, and maybe slightly lightheaded from the pre-bloodwork fasting. When the 20-something technician asked me my occupation, I blurted, “I’m a writer. My book just came out!” She was sweet and said, “That’s cool! How long did it take you to write your book?”

“Fifty-six years,” I answered.

The picture to the right was in a stack of photos I came across the other day when I was straightening up my desk. (Read: Avoiding writing this post.) Lots of years ago, my brother, sister, and I were preparing for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and we gathered and sorted photos for a series of photo albums we were putting together. This picture was in the “reject” pile as it only had me in it and we couldn’t really tell where it had been taken. When I found it the other day, I realized it showed clearly that I was destined to be a woman of letters...a writer. (It also foretold how I would feel about footwear.)

As I held the picture in my hands, a flurry of images flew through my brain and in each one, I was writing. Or preparing to write. Or teaching others to write. And in one unforgettable memory, getting out of writing: My ninth grade English teacher gave our class the assignment to keep a journal for the semester. I wrote the entire thing one sunny afternoon in my backyard a day or two before it was due, a calendar in one hand and a pen full of teenage angst in the other. I got an A.

I have always depended on writing to get me through my life. And, it seems from the photographic evidence, it began early on. My brother and sister and I used to write plays we performed in our basement for the neighborhood kids and variety shows we put on for my parents. Together we wrote songs and poems and menus and thank-you notes. As I got older (and I was the eldest) I passed contraband notes to friends in class, I wrote short stories that showcased my incredible talent for mystery, and corresponded with love notes to non-existent boyfriends. I wrote in square, faux-leather diaries I kept locked with a gold clasp and in black-and-white composition books I used as journals. (When I actually kept one for real.) I was incurable in so many ways, and I documented most of it in writing.

I have always understood that writing is a means for people to understand and process the experience that is their lives. I believe in writing for its power and its powers. I have yet to teach a class where at least one person doesn’t discover something about his or her self that has been hidden behind years of inattention or overwork. That’s what writing means to me.

So, back to that young writer in the picture, holding on to the blank paper, not even knowing what to do with it - as I still sometimes feel. It has taken me all of my fifty-six years to make this book happen, and hopefully, I’m not done yet. It is the call of the writer to seek meaning through combinations of words. Over and over again. Not that it always makes sense, but that’s what calls do; insist that you keep at it. I liberated that young writer’s picture from the pile under which it sat for years and have given it a prominent spot on my writing desk. When I feel like I can’t make sense out of anything, a glance over at my younger (and barefoot) self reminds me that there will always be blank pages to fill. If I’ve been at it this long, it’s a good bet I can keep going.

 

What keeps you going? Is your writing a call? How would you describe it?

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Comment by Laurie Isabella Blair on July 22, 2014 at 7:11pm

A calling, a gift, sometimes a curse, a discipline, an impulse...I write because I can't NOT write, and I still have the sloppy little paper books where I had my parents write what I dictated to them when I was too young to write the words myself. Grammar is important to me. Spelling is. Brevity is, but it rarely happens. Segues are a challenge, but when inspiration strikes!! And I could chime in here too about the teachers and professors and friends and relatives who said "You are writing publishable stuff. Do something with it." But I got really hysterical reading about your journal - with me, it was Mrs. Anderson, also in grade 9. She too assigned a journal. I didn't do it all in one day (though I've done other stuff like that). I wrote it over the semester and really got into it. I got an "A" as well and a nice comment: "One of the few who actually wrote anything meaningful for this assignment." I still feel a little guilty as it was 95% bullshit!

Comment by Leslie Johansen Nack on June 29, 2014 at 5:38pm

I'm not sure if writing is a calling for me or not. I'm currently writing my memoir about my crazy adventurous life growing up on the high seas and with a torrent of a father. I always knew I'd write my own story, and I always documented our lives when I was younger, writing stories about our family as things happened. It's interesting because I had an idea for a novel recently, one which got me pretty excited, but I'm buried in the memoir now and must push on with that. If I write the novel, or attempt it, I may then know if writing is a calling for me. Up until now writing my memoir is the only calling I can be sure of.  

Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on June 26, 2014 at 8:42am

Yes, writing is a calling for me, and a gift, and time spent engaging in the craft has allowed me to reap greater skill. ~:0) I know that one day I will publish another book. In the meantime, I have my in-progress manuscripts and my blogs...and I read a great deal. I take my writing seriously as a sacred path...your willingness to do the same for so many years is so heartening....gives me extra inspiration! Thank you, Cindy.

Comment by Pat Sabiston on June 24, 2014 at 12:40pm

I believe writing is a God-given gifting, talent or no, because it's a craft you can improve upon.  I've had the desire, like you, since I was too young to read.  I sat in front of my grandmother's ancient black Underwood, and wondered what it would be like to compose.  In elementary school, I compiled a neighborhood newsletter that I nailed to a tree for everyone to see, until it disintegrated from the elements, and dissolved in the wind.  But my desire for the written word never dissipated.  In my junior year of high school, my English teacher said:  "You are a writer."  From her mouth to God's ears, and that's how I make my living to this day.  I can't imagine a day with no writing in it, which is cathartic in every sense of the word.  Just finished writing my first novel, 30 years in the making!  What's the rush?

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