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?

Happy Birthday, UGA!

About twenty seven years ago I walked beneath the black iron arch marking the north entrance to campus at the University of Georgia, my Alma mater, for the first time. Legend has it no student should walk beneath it until they have graduated. That was a significant day for me because walking under that arch marked the end of my career as a student at UGA and the beginning of my life with a college education. As the years have passed, I have become even more proud of my degree and my school. I am proud to be a Bulldog, proud to have attended and received my degree from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and proud to have been a student when Herschel Walker played football and took us to two Sugar Bowls. Most of all, however, I am proud to have been a part of the historic tradition of excellence at the University of Georgia.

The University of Georgia is the first ever Land Grant College founded in the United States. Founded by the state of Georgia in 1785, it was located in 1801 on a tract of 633 acres on the Oconee River in Athens, one of the greatest towns on the planet. Like all land grant institutions, it was established using the funding from the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 to teach agriculture, science, engineering and military science, a reflection of the concern people had at the time to respond to the industrial revolution, but still retain a classical education. Since its inception, the university has grown to include seventeen colleges, the first of which was the Franklin College named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, which carry on the work of teaching, research, and service for which the university has become known.

My paternal grandmother, who became a teacher as I have, attended the State Normal School located in Athens in the area known as Normaltown, made famous by the B52’s in their song “The Deadbeat Club”, and the Normaltown Flyers. The Normal School’s function of training teachers was later incorporated into the university. After that the university’s Department of Education began training teachers, so the State Normal School became Coordinate College and later was used to house freshmen and sophomore women. During the 1950’s the Normaltown campus was taken over by the Navy for their Supply Corps School, a development which would later directly affect my life. During my last quarter of school at UGA, I went out with my friend Laura Wyatt to O’Malley’s Bar on the Oconee River and met my husband who was in Athens for a three week class at the Navy’s Supply Corps School. There is an odd sort of symmetry about those connections that I find immensely appealing, like our finding each other was somehow preordained.

Since I graduated in the 1980’s the university has continued to grow. I’m sure north  campus remains very much the way it looked when I was there—at least Park Hall hasn’t changed—but the last time I went to Athens a new bypass(which is old by now) greeted me as I entered town from Highway 15. I couldn’t find the little gas station where I used to buy boiled peanuts on the way into town on football weekends. The road bypassed where I used to turn to take a shortcut to South Milledge Avenue via Five Points to get to the Tri Delta house where I lived, and new buildings and the bypass completely disoriented me. Growth and change is good, however. It could be a metaphor for life, growth and change being a disorienting experience, but I miss the Athens of my memories.

Although I was a reluctant Bulldog fan at first having been raised a Georgia Tech fan, I soon was cheering on my Georgia Bulldogs and Herschel Walker in Sanford Stadium, and walking the streets of Athens feeling like a native. I enjoyed a cheeseburger at the original location of The Grill, a place I still miss, viewed second run movies and ate pizza and drank beer at the Carafe and Draft House, now known as the Georgia Theater, a fabulous live music venue. I even bought some of my trousseau at Heery’s Clothes Closet in downtown Athens. My time in Athens feels like a dream, one I could never repeat, but one which forged my musical preferences and political opinions and taught me to appreciate life. I have come a long way from the country girl I was who used to walk through downtown Athens and pass beside the arch on her way to Park Hall. I owe much of my success, such as it is, to UGA and the men and women who taught me to think and question and enjoy what life has to offer.

My school, the University of Georgia turned 228 years old on January 27, 2013. Knowing how long it has been an institution of higher learning makes me feel proud and fortunate to have been a part of such a grand tradition. One day I hope to return to Athens to stroll through campus, take in another football game, walk up the steps of Park Hall in the depressions worn by thousands of feet, and stand on the bridge to look into Sanford stadium. One day I also hope to be classified as a scholar so I can enter the rare books room at the library, a place I longed to explore as an undergraduate.  I have always wondered what treasures are hidden within its walls.

My four years at the University of Georgia seems at once like the shortest and the longest time in my life. I lived a lot in those four years, making friends and memories in the dorms and at the Tri Delta house, learning about people, life, and what I was capable of in my classes. I learned the intricacies of the English language in Park Hall from distinguished professors like Dr. James Kilgo who has since been inducted in the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. When I was taking his class, The American Short Story, he challenged me and the rest of my class to write a story ourselves so we would know how hard it was to do well. I struggled to produce something which wouldn’t embarrass me, but was unsuccessful. I would give anything to be able to tell him that I have now completed my first novel, all because of his challenge which sparked an interest in writing that has since become a flame. His passion for the written word became mine as well.

I couldn’t be prouder of my education and the traditions and connections I have to Athens. That town molded my mind and gave me a wonderful education, role models to pattern my professional life after, friends who have lasted a lifetime, and my wonderful husband. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Bulldog and to claim Georgia as my alma mater.  Happy birthday, UGA!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeGWLOS-C_o