My mom taught me arithmetic and multiplication, but my dad took me to the library almost every afternoon after his night shift as a postal clerk. He would sit in a big dark wooden table surrounded by newspapers and magazines. I was on the other side of the building–in the children’s area–sitting in a teeny tiny bright yellow chair, devouring picture books. Years later, it didn’t matter that I studied hours into the night if I was in a library surrounded by others who were head-down, scribbling, memorizing.
Ever since I was a little kid, my life’s passion has been reading and writing. I turned bright red one morning over breakfast when my mom told me she found a story I’d been working on. It was a love story about a girl named Elizabeth who nicknamed herself Zoey. She said she really liked it. I was relieved. My mom was really strict and I thought she’d frown at the story’s romance. I love everything about the written word on the page whether I wrote it or someone else did.
When I’m asked what my biggest regret is, I always tell people it’s that I never lived in New York. But that’s wrong. My biggest regret is that I didn’t believe in myself enough to do exactly what I wanted to do: write.
I took great pride in the fact that I wasn’t ‘just’ an English major. It made me feel like I was smarter than the other liberal arts majors. I mean, really, what do you do with an English degree? Now, I feel like the dumb one. While I was muddying up my education with the sciences, those other liberal arts majors were focused, honing their craft. Who’s the dumb one now, eh?
Now as I attend Litquake events, listening to Jane Smiley, Terry McMillan, Phil Bronstein, I wish I could go back in time. Writing was what I really wanted to do, but I didn’t listen to my heart. I wanted to make a living. I wanted to make a lot of money.
One of the events I attended tonight was a competition with the winner awarded one-on-one time with a publishing agent. Five people read their pieces ranging from fiction to poetry. I thought a couple of them were good. I thought the rest were mediocre. In fact, I was surprised some of them had been selected to read. “I can write better than that,” I thought.
But more surprising was the person who won. I didn’t think he would. He wrote a fairy-tale from the perspective of a child. The judges unanimously agreed. The publishing agent who was also one of the judges commented at the end that he had such a unique, different voice. He read something that was completely different from all the rest.
My writing isn’t unique. My voice is not unique. But the lessons I learned from Litquake are food for thought as I think of ways to branch out.