The first time I take a writing class is the summer before 8th grade. It is amazing. I am amazing. For some odd reason and for several glorious weeks, I am not awkward. Well, I probably still am, but location is everything. Me and a bunch of nerd boys read sci-fi and then write an adventure novel about a boy and a girl finding a map and heading off to glory. Basically, we shamelessly steal the plot from Goonies. We also bind our book together, and no, I don't know where it is. Which sucks; that thing was epic. For just finding and enrolling me in such a class, my parents should win a prize; chocolate for life or something good, not just a lame plaque. I still remember the looks of approval and respect when I write the girl character as a slob, rebel, and total tomboy. And we all know that nerd boys don't just hand out approval like oh so many Mardi Gras beads. That summer is a good summer, a life-changing summer. That summer is the first time that I think I might like to be a writer.
A thought that gets completely beaten out of me the next time I take a writing class. This writing class is taking place when I am 19 and in college. Writing is no longer about cute adventure tales. No, writing is serious business that belongs to the likes of Steinbeck and Kerouac. Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein. Upon reflection, I may be in some undiagnosed hipster/goth phase. But what I am certainly not in is a writing phase. The problem (other than my placing "writer" on an unattainable pedestal up there with President of the US, astronaut, and Wonder Woman) is that I am currently dating a self-described "writer," and everyone knows that in a relationship between two 19-year-olds there can only be one creative one. It is like Highlander or calling shotgun on the front seat. So, I resign myself to providing support and encouragement and calling vomit-inducing metaphors "really deep," because that is what you do when you are sitting in the back. And not even window-seat back, Readers; I am on the hump.
One might ask why I am even taking a writing class if I am on the hump. Well, we are in the stupid young love time when you think you have to do everything together, so I join him for his writing class. That is what I am there for; support, cheerleading, non-writer stuff. However, my official status is as one enrolled in the class, so I have no choice. I write like the rest of them. And I secretly love it. The creative flow, the wordplay. Entering into a magical place where anything is possible and your imagination is experiencing a combo snow day/field trip/that day in class when you watched a movie. What is not to love? And there is no pressure to be Kerouac or Plath because I am not a writer. I'm just hanging out here in the backseat. Suddenly, I am 11 again and soaring on the power of my own words, it is fabulous. But like Icarus, I fly a little too close to the sun and come crashing down pretty fast.
Now, I am sure that some of the verbal beatings that I endure are related to bad poetry about the "naked winter branches of longing" or other ridiculous 19-year-old nonsense, but most of it is not. Most of it is because I failed to yell shotgun fast enough. The teacher is totally kind, it isn't him, but have you ever tried to teach college writers? There is little he can do. Adolescents (which is what college kids are, ability to vote or not) are completely self-involved and desperate for attention. Snark reigns supreme; the fastest way to distract from one's own fragile ego is to hurl a couple rocks through the exposed ego over there. Hey, everybody, what's that noise? Oh, some dreams dying; let's go stare! And like sharks, the other students smell my bloody backseatness. I am ripped apart in our workshop time, and yes, I still remember it. "Nothing happens in your writing, Erin. It doesn't pop." "It is boring, like something my mom would write." "Women don't talk like that." "You are nice, but you can't write." My boyfriend is no help. He is sorry for my hurt feelings, but this is merely proof to his point. He is the writer, not me. I retreat to sporadic journaling and literary self-loathing for most of my 20s; good times.
I turn 30 in the safety of a solid marriage and the joyful confusion of a new baby. This keeps me busy until we move for residency, and suddenly I am all alone in a new city with 2 children and no friends. So, I do what any other not-so-sensible person does; I attempt mom dating at the local park and children's museum. Despite one total score with Excellent Mom, I am thwarted in my search for friends. Like majorly thwarted, in immensely awkward ways. I write about this on Facebook and to my friends back home. They offer limited support as they laugh their heads off. "Erin, write this stuff down, it is hilarious!" I hesitate. Blogging is a form of writing, isn't it? And since I am not a writer, I can't possibly blog. I give in. Oh what the heck, it isn't like anyone is going to read it anyway!
This all leads to yesterday, as I walk into the Liberal Arts building at the local community college for the third writing class of my life. Knowing that it probably won't be like the first one and praying that it won't be like the second one, I trepidatiously enter a room that is clearly used as a science lab during the day. I sit myself in the circle of tables and fix my carefully crafted blase gaze at the periodic table near the clock, as I work my mom-peripheral-vision like a maniac. I am trying to get a read on my fellow wannabe writers. Only four are present; all silver foxes and robust renaissance women in funky cat glasses. Hmmm...okay. Well, I am sure the goth Emily Dickinsons and the hipster Kurt Vonneguts will be fashionably late, I better brace myself. I brace myself, but those relics from college never darken the door (although, it appears my dramatic 19-year-old prose is making a come-back). Senior after senior pops through the door with more energy than a dozen toddlers, and in outfits just as eclectic. Nothing is the property of youth here, and I start to get a little worried. I am having trouble believing that I am going to be welcomed in this cocoon of wisdom and wealth. (Yes, that cocoon reference was totally on purpose.) We start going around the room, introducing ourselves and the richness of experience is intimidating to say the least. We are supposed to say why are are here tonight, what we write, what we want to write, our favorite books, and so on. I am starting to freak out, but I decide to go big or go home.
"Hi, my name is Erin, and I have a husband in medical residency, a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old. I came here tonight to get out of the house."
The laugh I get is huge, loving, and incredibly satisfying. Like nerd-boy-approval satisfying. They do say that the third time is the charm; Readers, I think I might actually be on my way to becoming a writer.
As we sit here and watch Super Preschooler make valentines, we are reminded that anyone who uses language in a written form is technically a writer. People who are published, with their books on shelves at Barnes and Noble or for sale on Amazon. People who are not, with their novels and poems stacked hopefully next to their computers. Journalists, bloggers. Folks who compile recipes and family histories. Those who write the descriptions in catalogs. The good people at Hallmark. Screenwriters, playwrights, and whoever made the program. Those who journal, daily or not. Letter writers. Postcard users. Tweeters or Facebookers. Lovers who leave pithy post-its sticking to the bathroom mirror. And Super Toddler, who wrote his name for the first time this past weekend. It might be easier to make a list of who isn't a writer. 1. Super Baby. 2. Other babies. End of list.
Show me these college ego breakers, Mommy.
I've got enough confidence for the both of us.