I’m tempted to
lie embellish here.
I am tempted to spin a tale showing a precocious little me journaling all through my childhood and spinning stories that dazzled my teachers and parents. I want to reinvent myself as someone whose destiny looked inevitable. She’s going to be a writer.
You should walk away from this essay about my so-called writer roots saying, “Duh. What else in the world would someone with that history become?”
The actual truth seems a little lowly. A little un-writerly. I want to weave a new history, like Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatz did.
But it’s not the roaring 20’s and my roots are only as deep as they are. I can’t change their depth, any more than I can change anything else about my history.
About a year ago, my therapist of 11 years said, “you were born to be a writer,” and I had two reactions. First, I was deeply flattered that someone who knows me as well as he does would say something so definitive about my path. Second, why didn’t he tell me this BEFORE I went to law school?
He excused his poor timing with “life has to be lived forwards and not backwards. You haven’t been ready until now.”
Early clues that I might find my way to writing included a Hello Kitty journal from 1980 that chronicled my pain at not being chosen for a solo in ballet class and my terror when our fourth grade class watched The Diary of Anne Frank. I took to the pencil to make sense of horrors too big for my understanding and rejection too painful for my tiny spirit.
There was writing peeking out of the soil, but not particularly nourished by me or anyone around me.
I was always a great reader, which is the shadow side of the writer. In seventh grade I read (under the covers and in secret) I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can about a woman addicted to Valium, and I never picked a book from the “teen lit” section again.
Maybe there was a trace of precocity in my history.
My junior of high school something clicked as we marched through the early American classics. I started to participate in class and have intelligent things to say about Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God. My first real love affair wasn’t with a boy–they were too scary and so far away from my all-girls Catholic school–it was literature. For the final exam of our winter term, I pinned a scarlet A on my white blouse to show my solidarity with Hester Prynne. (It’s probably best I went to an all-girls high school, considering my idea of a good time was to take an English exam in costume.)
I decided to major in English so I could do lots of reading and writing. When that went well enough, I signed up for graduate school, choosing a Humanities program to diversify (also, it was the only program that accepted me). I did well enough, but writing was still a shadowy thing that other smart language-y people did. I never considered writing as a hobby, never mind as a career, because it was too vague and the rumor was that the pay sucked.
I wanted a clear career track with benchmarks, goals, colleagues, steady money and bosses.
Naturally, I went to law school.
And lucky for that growing shadow side of me, lawyers write all the time. I was a litigator so I was expected to write for a living–letters to adversaries, settlement offers, briefs.
Then, one day someone left a copy of the Wall Street Journal on my favorite exercise bike at the gym. I read the front page as my legs pedaled to the beat of my iPod. There was a feature on a woman who was a blogger (whatever the hell that was) and called herself Dooce.
Back at my office that morning, I checked out Dooce.com and fell instantly in love with blogging. You mean you can say anything you want and it lives on the Internet? I started my first blog back in 2008, and have been blogging ever since.
When I left full-time law practice to raise my children and teach legal writing, I threw a flood light on my shadowy writer side. I started writing every single day. The days that I don’t get a chance? I feel twitchy and irascible, like a junkie denied her hit. Even if I can grab 10 minutes to put a paragraph into my novel or dash off a blog post, I feel better.
Today, I blog five days a week and am finishing a first draft of my first novel. Perhaps most writerly of all, I am reading 3 books about writing. (But I will never ever use the word “craft” to refer to writing because it sounds so freaking pretentious.)
It turns out that I like to do things with words. The process brings me great joy.
Almost any history can make sense if you tell yourself the right narrative about it. This is the narrative about my writer roots. May they only grow ever deeper.
Christie Tate is a lawyer and mother of two in Chicago. She squeezes in writing after the kids are in bed and the Costco groceries are put away. Visit her blog, www.outlawmama.com, for tips on how not to do almost everything.