I am a writer after-the-fact. My favorite class in middle school was a literature class where our teacher (oh, how I wish I could remember that heroine’s name) encouraged some of the best poetry I’ve ever written, and taught us how to write persuasively through the most horrible song ever made up. Seriously – it “REECed.” Specifically – it was a labored rhythmic chant to the acronym she created – “ASPIREEREEREEC,” and if you write persuasive anythings, I’m sure you can fill in the words. My favorite high school class was Mrs. Amy Leeson’s Literature class where we combined neuvo-geek with drama-chic with half the academic bowl team that she ran also active members of the school’s drama club (Ms. Leeson directing). I still have the T-shirts – one with a puffy brain on it and the other with a shield that warned our opponents we were either coming home, “With our shields or on them!” I can still sing all the lyrics to “Guys and Dolls,” and I still remember my first awareness of a transgender person in the form of 20th century artist, Wendy Walter. Enlightenment. That’s what the written word meant in my formative years.
But only dreamers, those who are impractical from their youth with no good parenting or influence to set them right about financial security, responsibility, and avoidance of embarrassment, only those people would ever pursue a writing career out of high school. Duh. So I joined the Army Reserve, went to college for nearly eleven years before settling on a major and finishing it, and had two successful careers into my nearly middle age. As a woman who observed typical corporate gender roles without question in my twenties, and later became a member of executive leadership in a tax-funded organization, I saw why feminism is still so relevant today. I experienced proof, in my own journey, that the “American Dream” where your hard work and perseverance leads to success. can be true. True, that is, if you are okay with the concept that success means upper-middle class but probably not Mercedes or Rolls Royce type of success.
I am a writer after-the-fact, because after a winding path to a place where I recognize the importance of balance, the ability to pay bills and have a roof over my head and still be home spending quality time with loved ones, still reaching out to friends from time to time and enjoying a latte, or hilarious conversation with wit flying at breakneck speeds – after coming to that conclusion, I am taking advantage of a tiny crack in reality that has opened up. I am walking away from an 18 year career that I love, a great paycheck too, and returning to the land of “hand to mouth,” in order to write. I find it fascinating that it took me 22 years to lift myself up by my bootstraps from poverty to the “upper-middle class” I mentioned, yet in just 42 days I will be immediately demoted to a level just slightly above that $17,000 annual salary I made in 1997. I’m sure I’ll enjoy writing about that one day.
For now, suffice to say that my wife will be paying our bills and bringing home the bacon (in the form of the healthiest food we can afford for meals). Instead of the “shotgun-style” three room house (in “Crackville”) I rented back then, we’ll be comfortable and happy in our lovely home with a gorgeous view of the Olympic mountains. Granted – we’ll be paying on two mortgages: this one and the one we rent (thankfully) to a dutiful family in the South. Granted – we’ll be biting our nails, hoping the skylights in the roof don’t spring a leak in one of the rainiest areas of the U.S., or the septic tank holds up, or the already warping wooden deck in the back doesn’t fall apart. But we’ll have each other, and friends, and I’ll be writing anywhere from 3000 – 6000 words a day, and isn’t that what dreams are all about?
Amazing too, that it only took 22 years to ponder how it might have been if I’d ignored the corporate plantation owners’ offers to rack up credit card debt, the government subsidized bank offers to accumulate massive student loans and spend the next years of my life in servitude to those debts. To consider the possibility of being happy with what can come from me instead of how hard I need to work to get things to come to me. Perhaps the real lesson to be explored is how much I would even be able to write effectively if not for the trip down Al-Anon pain, debt-stress, heartaches, and coming out among the hundreds of other ingredients into the who I have become. But again, that’s for another day.
If I had it all to do over, I’d take more classes on writing. And literature. I remember thinking how I could cut down on my amount of required reading in college by limiting the Lit classes I took. Messed up thinking. At 41 years old, I find myself doing nerdy things like picking up a college literature text for a bargain at a Salvation Army Store and drooling over its variety of content once home. I pour over the tiny text (and cringing, I admit to keeping a magnifying glass handy whilst reading it) and recall why I fell in love with Twain, Woolf, Poe, and others.
I am a writer after-the-fact, but I do wonder what I might have been if I’d been one of the irresponsible dreamers and become a writer before it all. Would my children be those books I blush at, and shake my head about the travesty that anyone could make a killing off such base and carnal fruits – so simple and formulaic they don’t require a spellchecker or a care for unique plot design? Was that a low blow? The difference is: I don’t care at 41 years of triumph. Have I read them? Would I be able to speak with such clarity as to their contents if I hadn’t? But I wouldn’t pay my hard earned money for them. I know, I know. I digress.
Would I be a writer of clarity and intelligence, or a rambling idiot who thinks twerking is something worth writing about? Would I seek to write something with literary value, or be forced to the debt plantations anyway, striving toward a publishing contract that would pay my growing bills? I will never know.
I used to detest the upper classes. I used to writhe in hatred for the entitled oblivious, the self-interested pundits, and shake my fist at the unfairness of it all. I looked at writers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and all the others and thought, “Of course she/he can write something deep and meaningful – they can sit around in their ‘writing bungalow’ comforted by their inherited money and just spill words of virtue whenever the mood strikes them, no fiscal or leadership care in the world.” I connected with the Kafka’s and those others who wrote from poverty or while struggling with the realities of 99 percent of humanity. Yet, here I am. In just 42 days I will be able to say – I am a writer, after-the-fact, who can write with limited care, surrounded by friends and family who don’t need me to supervise anything or make any crucial decisions. I am a writer with stories and time.