I always feel like a fraud when I read about other writers who “always wanted to be a writer.” I never did. Until I was.
And then there are those who wrote for the school newspaper, or majored in journalism, or went on to get their MFA. They’re the legitimate ones.
Still others are lifetime members of book groups or writing groups (or both) so at least have some expertise to claim.
When I look back, I can only identify the tiniest embers of my future writing life.
There was the autobiography in which I pasted family photographs on construction paper and wrote about myself in handwriting that was so crude, it could have been crayon.
Then there was the English II assignment requiring I write something with directions. As the oldest of 6, I wrote about diaper changing, and even brought some extra Pampers and a baby Tender Love to illustrate. I don’t remember anyone being impressed. Definitely not Mr. Breslin.
During my senior year my writing flashed–for a moment–when Sister Saint Jervase escorted us out of her classroom under the Shakespeare bust, down the marbled hallway, through the foyer and into the auditorium.
One by one, she had us to step up on the stage and stand in front of the podium to do the impossible. Address an audience. I spoke about the only thing I knew well enough to tell–my family. I introduced each member, including the pets–like Cecilia, the German Shepard, who ate the diapers right off the toddlers bums and toilet paper right off the roll, before Lester, my Gram’s boyfriend, took her for a “ride,” and she never jumped through our front screen door again.
To my surprise, my fellow classmates laughed–out loud. At first I was amused, and then concerned. It never occurred to me that anyone else would be entertained by our day-to-day lives.
The next year I went off to college, where I avoided classes with writing whenever possible. I wrote one brilliant descriptive essay my freshman year–on pizza–which earned me a disappointing “C”; and then my sophomore year, I did a research paper for Abnormal Psychology on the topic of divorce–sadly inspired by real-life events.
It was at that time that I discovered journaling; and dozens of volumes later, I had nurtured a lifelong friend who helped me navigate ongoing pain, confusion and heartbreak.
I also became an avid letter writer. This of course, was in the eighties, long before Facebook or cellphones, or even email. Interestingly enough, friends would tell me that they saved my letters or shared them with others; but their voices were also laced with guilt. “Don’t worry about writing back right away,” I say, but I knew my writing pressured them.
Even as a child, my voice was non-stop. My grandparents called me chatterbox; my mother asked me to “Please shut up for a minute;” and my third grade teacher, Mrs. Campbell, resorted to putting tape on my mouth on our way to the library.
Thank god someone invented blogging so that I could communicate incessantly with someone besides myself; and without overwhelming any one person.
This is who I am as a writer–someone without a degree or a pedigree or a life-long desire to be; and this is how my writing turned toward memoir–born out of homework assignments and life’s pain and the love of family and connecting with others.
I fell into published writing in much the same way, unintentionally. First I interviewed others, and then after my second child, when I had no longer had any extra time on my hands, I resorted to sharing writing about myself.
Eventually, I sold a handful of stories to Chicken Soup, wishing I was more literary than that, but realizing that my voice was common, everyday; and that the world needs that too.
Kelly Salasin, October 2011