Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
This may be a long post…hence, the “part 1.”
When I was in 6th grade, my teacher, Mr. Baker, told my mom, who was the school secretary at the time, that I should be a writer. Mr. Baker was a young teacher then- this would have been about 1977- and he wore turtlenecks and corduroy pants, although possibly not exclusively. In my memory he looks exactly like Jeff Daniels in Terms of Endearment. Google it. I’m not sure why he said that to my mom. I recall that I wrote a terrible “play,” a murder mystery, and he indulged me and allowed it to be performed by students in my class for other students. Other than that, I have no recollection of writing. Of course, my recollections from that long ago can safely be called suspect.
Flash forward about 25 years, and I was a 6th grade teacher myself. I may have even worn turtlenecks and corduroy pants at times, but I promise they were different from Mr. Baker’s and I would have never, ever, been mistaken for Jeff Daniels, at any point in his career. My path to that point was circuitous at best, and worthy of a post of its own, so just go with me here. (That’s why it’s called a flash forward, after all.). In my time in the classroom, I don’t think I enjoyed teaching anything as much as writing. I think I was even kind of good at it. I was a “young” teacher then, which really means “new,” as I wasn’t as young as Mr. Baker was in my memory by any stretch, but my students seemed to respond somehow, perhaps despite me. Still, there was something about writing that intrigued me then.
Let’s flash forward again, shall we? About 8 years ago I began my doctoral studies. That, too, is a post – or chapter- all its own. Suffice it to say that during my coursework in that program, I became something of an expert at churning out 10 page papers. This is a skill that can be developed, I learned. We read and wrote a lot. It was satisfying only in that seeing the syllabus no longer caused me to panic. The actual writing of the dissertation was another experience entirely, involving many moments of anger and doubt, amazing friends and colleagues shouting from the sidelines, (yes, sometimes shouting expletives…they all had their roles in my tortured path,) and, notably, to this non-Catholic, not-so-religious man, nuns. (Remind me to tell you about my conversations with my colleague and good Catholic friend Sharon at that time. I promise it will be worth it.) Nonetheless, I somehow made it through, and I am quite proud of both my success, both at finishing the dissertation and what my research and hours (months? years?) of effort produced, in written, approved, and, by God, bound and published form. Yet, for all of that, I wouldn’t recommend that anybody try to read it, except, maybe, another doctoral student. I’m not trashing my work here. Personally, I have just never come across a dissertation, mine included, that should be read except under duress, which is pretty much the definition of being a doctoral student.
But sometime during this period, things changed.