Archive for September 1st, 2009

Writing My Life

It took ten years of running road races, marathons and even an ultra marathon before I would call myself a runner but less than a month of writing before I called myself a writer.  Why?  What is the difference between the two?

For the first decade of running, running itself did not define me.  I was a person who sometimes ran.  I enjoyed it most of the time but if I couldn’t run for a week I would have survived and no one in my life would have noticed a difference.  Through experience and knowledge I fell in love with the sport and became a runner.  And therein lies the key to my question.  I became a runner.

I didn’t have to become a writer.  I was born a writer.  My mother laughs as I describe things that happened in our lives when I was two and three years old.  She is convinced I couldn’t actually remember what our house looked like, the belt with the metal holes or her fights with my father.  But I know that I soaked everything in and twirled the images around in my head looking for the good in the world around me.

I have always loved words.  Whether they were strung together to make a phrase, a sentence or a whole story I consumed them.  My love of words started before I could read.  I would sit quietly beside my mother as shegirl readingspoke with friends and listen to their words.  Even as a young child I judged people by the words they spoke.  I knew that the way they spoke meant as much as what they actually said.

I was a writer even then, gathering bits from my everyday life in order to create my own world.  A place where I could be safe and happy.  I would lie in my bed and think about the people I saw each day, dumping the ones I didn’t like into little bins in my mind and closing the lids tight. Expanding on the people I did like.  Creating stories of the lives they went home to and putting myself into their homes as their children.  In my mind, their houses were always bigger and cleaner.  There were no bugs and no angry parents.  I would sleep at night with visions of a safe and happy home.

Creating this world became easier when I discovered books.  Danny and the Dinosaur sat on an end table at the pediatrician’s office and it was the only book that was always available to me as a child.  I was not brought up in a family of readers and though books were available at school, I was never guaranteed an opportunity to read.  So, Danny and the Dinosaur was my book, the one I could count on.  Sid Hoff created a story I could build on.  In my stories Danny would return again and again to the museum.  Sometimes the dinosaur would come back to life.  Sometimes the suits of armor would battle. And sometimes Danny would become a part of the dinosaur’s world and travel back in time.

I seldom wrote my stories down, I didn’t need to.  They rolled through my mind and became a part of my inner bookshelf.  As I grew, I read more and more and created more and more stories.  I built on Little Women and the stories I read of Amelia Earhart.  Eventually, I started creating my own.  Stories of adventure and exploration but also stories of the life I would lead once I grew up.

These stories became goals and eventually guided me to college.  This was no small feat for a girl who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks with parents who didn’t see the value of education.  But the books I read and the stories I created in my head gave me hope.

In high school I toyed with the idea of being a writer.  I began to write my stories down and could tell I was improving, but the goal of leaving my childhood town won out. With no one to guide me I decided the only way to make a living and escape our trailer park was to major in business and leave the dreams of writing behind.

The stories still swirled through my head but I didn’t put them on paper.  I still read and got lost in books but I didn’t look at the words in search of creating better stories for myself.  I enjoyed the stories for what they were – portals into other worlds.

Over the years since I gave up writing, I have been told that I tell a good story.  That I have a way of bringing people into a scene they never witnessed.  I didn’t consider this a form of writing but now I see that it was.  Now I understand that the stories have been there the whole time waiting for me to let them out and when I refused to put them on paper they spilled out into my conversation.

Today, though I do put the stories on paper and share them on my blog or in magazines, I still find them spilling out when I am with friends and family and I try to remember to save them.  I try to put more of them on paper and look at the lessons learned through the events of my life.  Today, I look at all of these stories, starting with Danny and the Dinosaur and see that making the decision to become a writer was not a decision at all but a progression that had to happen.  Calling myself a writer was easy for me, not because I write often or well but because I am a writer and have always been.

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