Today's guest is member P.B Stevens. Here she is.
She thought she had to have an education abroad, wear a tweed jacket, and be interestingly tormented; she was only “boringly” tormented. This was one of many insights that caught my attention ten years ago while reading Elizabeth Berg’s “Escaping into the Open,” a creative writing “how-to” book. Curled up in my tan stuffed rocker in my small, sundrenched living room, I devoured the story of her emergence as a writer.
Indeed, there was no education abroad, tweed, or torment for Berg. Berg traced her beginning to her first poem at age nine, composed at her favorite childhood haunt, a gully decorated with wildflowers and encased in willow trees. Despite avid writing throughout her high school career, Berg enrolled in college and chose nursing for her profession. I read this, rocking slowly back and forth in my rocker, and a notion germinated.
Memories of my own childhood entered one by one: the small girl in brown pig tails sitting under a huge oak tree, composing the family’s Thanksgiving prayer with paper and crayon; the chubby-cheeked third grader who sat at her desk furiously writing an essay about the chipmunk at the park who had all his winter stores stolen (told from the chipmunk’s perspective of course); the awkward, skinny eighth grade girl lying belly-side down on her bed, composing a doleful poem to her estranged older brother.
I too, had been a writer since childhood, despite my choice of a completely unrelated career. It was that day in the rocking chair, reading Berg’s story, when my “career” as a writer drew breath. It was also that very same day that my acute struggle with allowing myself to be a writer was born as well.
At The Writers Center’s “Writing the Future” Conference this past March, I met numerous writers from diverse walks of life. Through various random conversations, I discovered that like me, many of these writers engage in other “paid work” for their profession. Also like me, many possess deep-seated desires to fit more writing into their daily lives. On the drive home that day, I mused upon whether this issue was one of modern creation. Was this a result of the too-fast paced Western lifestyle with incessantly ringing cell phones and chiming email accounts? Or was this an age-old issue for writers, throughout time? Had other writers, even some famous and exquisite ones, squeezed and sandwiched their writing into their otherwise ordinary lives?
Admittedly, this question became a bit of an obsession over the next several days. In any spare moment, with nose to Blackberry screen, I pecked out various search strings such as “famous writers’ day jobs” and “paid professions of famous writers and poets.” I expected to find a few such writers. I was amazed to find many.
The list, which is not exhaustive, includes these “greats:” T.S. Eliot the school teacher and bank clerk; Charlotte Bronte the governess; Nathaniel Hawthorne the customs worker; Nora Zeal-Thurston the anthropologist; Wallace Stevens the insurance executive; Toni Morrison the English teacher and professor; and even Chaucer, Milton and Spenser, all full-time working civil servants.
Gone was my image of the anguished artist sitting day and night at his rustic desk, cigarette butt smoldering in the ashtray as he scratched out his masterpiece. And gone too was my excuse. Perhaps Stevens or Zeal-Thurston once (or often) chided themselves for taking time away from their paid work for their essentially unpaid, or at least lowly paid, art. Perhaps. But they obviously worked through it - and to the world’s betterment, too.
Yes, these great writers honored the art enough to carve out that sacred time to put word to page. And there is the crux. We as writers must silence the imps who flit about our heads, whispering in our ears that time away from our paid work equals income stolen from the family’s coffers (or whatever niggle your imp whispers to you). And so, to pay homage to that sentiment born from my obsessive search strings, this piece was composed in the car dealership waiting room and edited at my daughter’s piano lesson. It is no masterpiece, agreed. But it is a testament to honoring the trade, the art, and the need to do what one must – because it embodies who one is.