This Writing Life

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On May second I realized a dream. I finished the revision of  my novel The Portrait. I didn’t really take the time until this past weekend to recognize what I had done. The dream I’ve nurtured and fed has finally came true. It was a five year journey, longer if I count when the idea actually came to me, and it took lots of hard work and many hours of research and writing and rewriting.

Why did I decide to write? I think I’m creative. I always have been. When I was younger it was visual arts that captured my interest. I used to pass hours and hours alone with my drawing pad and pencil shading with my finger to create depth and dimension, but I never had any formal art training. In fact when I went to college, I wanted to be an artist, but I thought I didn’t have the skill or talent to do that. I still think that’s the case because I’ve seen true artistic talent. What I have is not that.

I was pretty good at writing in high school, but I wrote for academic classes, not for pleasure. It wasn’t until I went to University of Georgia and took a class from my English professor, Dr. Kilgo, that I even attempted to write fiction. He challenged my class to write a short story. I think his idea was we were reading them, so we should have an idea how to write them. That attempt may have been the worst thing I ever wrote, but it opened my eyes to a new way to express myself. And in that first attempt I felt like a little kid who didn’t even know how to hold the pencil. That’s how clumsy I felt, but somewhere along the way fiction took hold of my imagination, first through reading and then through writing. Writing became how I made sense of my world.

Hemingway once told George Plimpton in an interview in The Paris Review, “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of.” Isn’t that lovely?

I write because I love putting words together to make something never seen before, never felt before I formed the image. I can create people who never existed, places and weather, sunsets and music, steaming buttermilk biscuits, anything I want! When I’m writing, I feel like I take part in something sacred, like I am part of a mystical experience and am a conduit for what I write rather than the creator. That may not make sense to some people, but it’s the best way to describe the creative act when the muse takes hold of me, when time passes unnoticed when I’m in the midst of the writing. I don’t know where inspiration comes from, but I know it doesn’t all come from me.

I found out after my grandmother died many years ago that she had harbored a desire to write and be published, but her dreams never came true. She wrote many poems, mostly about her children, and I treasure them. My son Erik is also an aspiring writer. He is so far ahead of where I was at his age that I am amazed. He has already written stories and served as an editor for his college’s literary magazine, and he has in the planning stage a science fiction novel I hope he brings into the world one day. I am so impressed by his drive and talent and know he will succeed beyond his wildest dreams if he chooses to pursue writing. I hope he doesn’t wait as I have to follow his dream but makes time for the muse in spite of life happening around him at lightning speed. Because that is what we all must do if we want this writing life.

These two people, my grandmother and my son, remind me that the great passions of our lives should drive our choices and guide us in what we do. It is never too late to choose to follow our passions where they lead. It’s never too late to fulfill a dream. My dream of completing a novel is realized, but I have many more books in my imagination waiting to be born. Do you have a dream nagging you, one that is waiting to be realized? Do you have the courage to follow your passion where it leads?

On May second I realized a dream. I finished the revision of  my novel The Portrait. I didn’t really take the time until this past weekend to recognize what I had done. The dream I’ve nurtured and fed has finally came true. It was a five year journey, longer if I count when the idea actually came to me, and it took lots of hard work and many hours of research and writing and rewriting.

Why did I decide to write? I think I’m creative. I always have been. When I was younger it was visual arts that captured my interest. I used to pass hours and hours alone with my drawing pad and pencil shading with my finger to create depth and dimension, but I never had any formal art training. In fact when I went to college, I wanted to be an artist, but I thought I didn’t have the skill or talent to do that. I still think that’s the case because I’ve seen true artistic talent. What I have is not that.

I was pretty good at writing in high school, but I wrote for academic classes, not for pleasure. It wasn’t until I went to University of Georgia and took a class from my English professor, Dr. Kilgo, that I even attempted to write fiction. He challenged my class to write a short story. I think his idea was we were reading them, so we should have an idea how to write them. That attempt may have been the worst thing I ever wrote, but it opened my eyes to a new way to express myself. And in that first attempt I felt like a little kid who didn’t even know how to hold the pencil. That’s how clumsy I felt, but somewhere along the way fiction took hold of my imagination, first through reading and then through writing. Writing became how I made sense of my world.

Hemingway once told George Plimpton in an interview in The Paris Review, “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of.” Isn’t that lovely?

I write because I love putting words together to make something never seen before, never felt before I formed the image. I can create people who never existed, places and weather, sunsets and music, steaming buttermilk biscuits, anything I want! When I’m writing, I feel like I take part in something sacred, like I am part of a mystical experience and am a conduit for what I write rather than the creator. That may not make sense to some people, but it’s the best way to describe the creative act when the muse takes hold of me, when time passes unnoticed when I’m in the midst of the writing. I don’t know where inspiration comes from, but I know it doesn’t all come from me.

I found out after my grandmother died many years ago that she had harbored a desire to write and be published, but her dreams never came true. She wrote many poems, mostly about her children, and I treasure them. My son Erik is also an aspiring writer. He is so far ahead of where I was at his age that I am amazed. He has already written stories and served as an editor for his college’s literary magazine, and he has in the planning stage a science fiction novel I hope he brings into the world one day. I am so impressed by his drive and talent and know he will succeed beyond his wildest dreams if he chooses to pursue writing. I hope he doesn’t wait as I have to follow his dream but makes time for the muse in spite of life happening around him at lightning speed. Because that is what we all must do if we want this writing life.

These two people, my grandmother and my son, remind me that the great passions of our lives should drive our choices and guide us in what we do. It is never too late to choose to follow our passions where they lead. It’s never too late to fulfill a dream. My dream of completing a novel is realized, but I have many more books in my imagination waiting to be born. Do you have a dream nagging you, one that is waiting to be realized? Do you have the courage to follow your passion where it leads?

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Sneakers with Implications

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My birthday present this year was a brand new pair of Nike running shoes. Purple ones! I love them, but I didn’t think about the implication of having a snazzy pair of running shoes. Think about it. Who has really cool running shoes? Either a serious runner who is pretty fast or really in shape or someone who really isn’t a runner at all, but likes the fashion statement. I see myself as the former, but I’m afraid I might just be the latter.

I’ve had to face some pretty sobering ideas as I’ve aged. Gray hair has been hard to get used to especially when I see myself in photographs. Gaining weight around my waist has been no picnic since I always had a small waist until I turned forty. Not being able to have a couple of drinks without getting a migraine has put a real damper on my social life too especially since I live in Wisconsin (the state with more taverns per square mile than any other).

Maybe the most egregious insult of aging though is my lack of stamina. I just can’t work out the way I once did. I used to be able to go for a long run, then come home and work in the garden for a couple of hours, shower, cook supper, and then help the boys with their homework. I told Bruce the other day how I felt about my lack of energy and stamina after I had taken Stella on a run. Afterwards I could only shower and collapse for a couple of hours. He just looked at me skeptically and said I needed to get into better shape so I would have more energy. Can you see my crabby face?

Anyway, back to the purple running shoes. I fell in love with them instantly, but today when I was running, I had the notion that since I had such spiffy shoes, maybe I need to be able to back up the implication that I’m a good runner. I had this notion while I was walking, of course. My friend Amy and I are in a challenge of sorts to get back in shape after the long winter of sitting on our duffs. I end up doing this every summer, but at least this year I don’t have my usual five to seven pounds gained from teaching every year. So far Amy and I have stuck to the plans, and I’m seeing gains in both my energy and my fitness. It’s a painful process but the rewards will be evident long before the end of the summer when I disappear behind the walls of my house to prepare for the winter season of indoor activities.

Although the discomfort I still have after I run will last  a while longer, I am beginning to like running again. I started logging miles when I was sixteen to get in shape to play basketball and have been at it off and on over the years. Later in my life I ran to feel good, to sweat out too much beer in college, to shed weight after having babies, to be healthy. I have even run one marathon, The Chicago Marathon, and one half, The Fox Cities Half.  But the best running memory I have ever had was when I had the elusive runner’s high. That wonderful rush of endorphins made me feel as though I could run forever with no effort. It has remained the holy grail for me and is the reason, I think, that I remain in a pair of purple sneakers with implications.

What I realized today as I watched my feel hit the asphalt beneath me is that no matter what color my sneakers are, no matter how old I become, no matter how energized I feel, I will always be a runner whether that means I am svelte and competitive or plod along the breakneck speed of a turtle. And I love my purple sneakers!