Letting myself live

When I was a little girl - we're talking two, three - I used to trace letters out of books, trying to form words. I have a vivid memory of one kindergarten class in which I spent a good hour trying to figure out why the letters A, E, I, O and U were being displayed on a wall as being different. I remember sitting there in my little chair, studying the lines, trying to figure out what made them different. It drove me nuts! And then my kindergarten teacher told me they were vowels. And she showed me the first word I remember reading, understanding, the first word I looked at and new exactly what it was: zebra. (Sorry it's not something more profound.)

I loved figuring out word problems, if only to write the answers in complete sentences. (Math was not my forte.) I loved writing sentences. I loved the concept of taking a word from a vocab list and making my own decision, my own sentence - using the word, of course. I even loved diagraming sentences. I was the only student in my sixth grade class who properly diagramed The Pledge. (And boy was I picked on for it.)

My first "short" story was about a girl who wanted a dog and ended up with a cat, and something involving making a mud pie for her brother. I was seven.

I wrote my first novel, "On the Shores of Lake Niagara," when I was barely graduating elementary school. There was little plot, but lots of dialogue. And the first short story I wrote and was actually graded on was a story in sixth grade. I dedicated the book to my teacher, Ms. Watson, and "God, for giving me my talent to write." From that moment forward writing was all I ever wanted to do - and writing was my first love.

Ms. Watson told me I would be a great writer. It meant to the world to me that a teacher I admired (who was a published author) thought I would be great. Stories have always been inside me, waiting to get out, waiting for me to put pen to paper or keystrokes to my computer. She wasn't the last person to tell me that, either.

One of my favorite classes in college was creative writing, with a wonderful professor at Hood College. (Actually she, my journalism professor, and meeting my husband there are the best, if not only, things I liked about that school. But I digress.) She told me I had a terrific ear for how people speak. She loved the opening lines of my stories, which included, "I am the one to find her," and "She would be six this year." She told me that out of all the students she had ever taught up to that point, I was the one who would make it, be a real writer. She was slightly disappointed that I was a journalism major, but I kept telling her, that's just to pay the bills. I'll be one of the handful of writers who makes a true living writing. And I wanted that, I want that still.

But I wasn't realistic. I graduated from college and eventually took a job at a newspaper. I loved that job when I worked with Carol Blackburn, a terrific mentor, wonderful friend and the best editor anyone could ask for. Then someone else took over and the dream job became a nightmare. Plus, there were too many bills and not enough pay.

So I took a job working for the federal govt. I beat myself up for it, telling myself I sold my soul. Five years ago I took that job with the hope of spending more time to write creatively. I was doing this for the little girl who traced words out of books, who loved holding a pencil in her hands, who loved describing things, anything. For the high school student who won adult-aged poetry awards. For me.

But I haven't done anything. I've written, sure. I've got a young adult book series I'm working on. But I haven't taken the leap of true faith, of believing in myself, of trying to get something published.

I'm chicken. I'm terrified. What if all those people were wrong and I'm not good enough to make it? What if no one wants to read anything I publish and I fail? If I don't do anything, if I just keep writing and don't take that leap, my dreams will stay dreams...but they won't become nightmares of failures.

Well I'm done with all that. I'm 30. Everyday I find a way to write, I think of story ideas, I keep a little notebook in which I write down interesting people I meet, or something interesting I hear. (For example, I actually heard someone in a department store say to her friend, "She would have been ten this year." And a story was born.)

This is the year I go for it. This is year I take a gigantic leap. I hope I don't fail. I will myself not to fall, not to fail. But it's worth the risk, right? I had to have sold my soul for something.

There are so many stories inside me waiting to get out. Time to let them live.

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