Monday, March 1, 2010

SKIPPING THE RECORD OF MY LIFE- Who inspires me to write

“I CAN’T read- I’ll NEVER be able to! Sydie can and I’ll NEVER EVER be able to. STUPID books!”

I’ll never forget those words and the struggle that accompanied my daughter PJ’s earlier years. She was so hard on herself and extremely impatient. It infuriated her watching her older sister do things she couldn’t. PJ wasn’t witness to the learning process her sister went through, so it appeared things came easy to her sibling, further exacerbating her aggravation.

Fast forward several years, she, of course, had learned how to read. Life was moving along in our house and I was managing the crazy life of marriage, working full time and raising two growing children. My job was a job. I’d had one objective as a young adult- get a college degree. That paper was supposed to be my ticket to a better life. Unfortunately, I struggled to decide a major and ended up with a generic degree that represented no passion of mine.

I stumbled from one job to another, moderately successful but always searching for “it”; that thing I was meant to do. Clinging to the belief that everyone was bestowed with a unique gift was, at times, the only thing that pulled me through. My husband was blessed to have discovered a passion in golf, which he made into a career. I was a bystander with an intimate view of his life, watching as he pursued a career with passion and purpose, guided by his own truth.

The frustration, embarrassment and despair I experienced at my inability to determine my “gift” was a low level energy scratching the surface, skipping the record of my life. My search was incessant- it became an infatuation, and my obsession with it took me on many paths, almost all which led me back to the same excruciating beginning.

I’m not sure what transpired, but I sat down one day to write about my grandfather. Papa, an integral and cherished part of my youth, died before I married. An unseen force impelled me to put pen to paper, something I’d only experienced one other time. In high school I wrote an English paper my teacher was astounded by. I have no idea where the words came from for that paper- I’d clearly accessed a hidden part of my soul.

I wrote several pieces about my experiences with Papa. The visions were vivid, the words spontaneous. In the process of writing, there was a shift for me, my essence sending up a flare of hope.

My daughters never knew Papa or the fundamental role he played in my early life. They never witnessed the anguish I experienced when he died. My brother, always one to suppress his feelings, clung to me and we sobbed during Papa’s visitation. No one knew how to console us.

In addition to expending some of the grief of losing an adored grandfather, reading to my daughters about Papa was a way to share the part of my soul he was indelibly stamped on. I hoped they’d understand more of themselves in knowing of my life with him. Akin to a snowball’s mass that expands as it rolls downhill, I believed our interactions, perhaps even over centuries, formed one’s experience of life.

As PJ became more familiar with her great-grandfather through my stories, she latched onto writing as a creative outlet. This former 5-year-old who thought she’d never be able to read was realizing her love of not only reading, but of writing. I have stacks of her early writings, the letters wobbly and uneven, the spelling phonetic and the plots rudimentary. Her teachers chuckled at the length of her stories. “Can I just write?” she’d ask me. “Do I really have to do math?”

Trees continued to drop their leaves each autumn and flowers reached for sunshine every spring as the years paraded on. PJ, who knew how much I enjoyed writing, would ask, “When are you going to write more momma?” Usually in the midst of fixing dinner, doing laundry or shuffling kids to practice, I’d answer, “Oh, I will someday honey.” My writing had stopped; hers continued to develop.

Fast forward, PJ’s writing, at 13-years-old, had improved dramatically. Even at such a young age, she declared herself a writer, introduced herself as such and wrote passionately for hours on end. She’d been saying for years she would someday be a published novelist. There has never been a sliver of doubt in my mind she would be.
Through all the years, though, my daughter never stopped asking me when I would write again. Under all the static of my life, she heard a part of my soul longing to be pronounced I was not yet ready to embrace. She held it precious, though, never forgotten, ready to hand over to me when I found the courage.

Recently, at the age of 42, I mustered the courage to stop hiding behind the excuses and indecision. The cost of watching my flame die out, knowing I was the extinguisher, became too much to shoulder. Up to that point I’d been able to justify the simplicity of my predictable, apathetic life. Life was leaving me in the dirt, though, and I’d become a cliché, one of the masses going through the motions like a zombie. I could no longer bear it.

I’d known all along that writing was where my gift and passion resided. Each time PJ inquired about my writing, it was like the point of a knife nicked and drew blood. I’d wince, lick the wound and move on with the abyss of my life. Those scars became a visible scoreboard of her honoring my spirit.

Actually putting my words out in the world was the most frightening, yet galvanizing thing I’d ever experienced. Taking that first step of joining a website where others could see and critique my writing, though harrowing, was all it took; there was no turning back.

Not long after my emancipation, a friend introduced me to a stranger who curiously asked, “What do you do?” A split second of the paralyzing, familiar insecurity surfaced, followed by a life-changing decision. “I’m a writer,” I declared. My life hasn’t been the same since.

Without that tiny slip of a daughter so passionate about her own writing, so unwilling to let her mother forget that glimpse of soul she’d shared in Papa’s stories, I would’ve long ago let the dream of my writing slide into oblivion. Because of my PJ’s belief in me, I’ve found my truth, my essence and my vocation. Regardless of whether my dream of being a published novelist is realized, every time I write, I’m intensifying the flame that was starved for the oxygen essential to shine its brilliance. PJ kept that flame burning for me, sharing what had first kindled in her soul from my stories. Watching her continue to embrace her own dream further inspires me to welcome the fear and push on in spite of it.

Thank you my PJ for the exquisite gift you wouldn’t allow me to deny myself.


  1. Wow - that was wonderful. Honest and moving. To be honest, I teared up at an Xmas party this year when someone introduced me as a writer.

  2. Welcome to the crazy writer's world, Cathy! Some years ago, The Husband lit a fire under me with some not-so-subtle insult about my many, many unfinished manuscripts, but I guess, four pubbed novels later, I should thank him, no? ;-)

    In all seriousness, your post WAS moving and wonderful, and it's so terrific to hear your daughter's early commitment to writing. Whether you're published or not, you ARE a writer. Go forth and conquer!