Confessions of a Wannabe Writer

I have been meandering through my life reminiscing about dreams I had realized in my recent posts, which had started out as a public acknowledgment of my most sacred of dreams, to be a writer. Being a writer is by far the scariest of all of my dreams, as it is the most dear to my heart. I had felt, for the longest time, that I had the most to lose if that particular dream did not materialize. So precious was it, that I hid it deep down in my soul. I refused to acknowledge it, let alone take steps towards it. I actively resisted, like a toddler who refuses to put her shoes on so that you can actually get out the door and get to work on time. She senses your desperation to leave and squirms and wriggles and pushes until you are on the verge of a tantrum yourself.

There was no desperation in this dream of writing, however. It was not pinning me down, forcing me to put my damn shoes on. It was simply out there, in the universe, waiting patiently for my acknowledgment. Every now and then there would be a gentle nudge, a word of encouragement, like a hand reaching out, waiting for me to take hold. But, like a stubborn child, I would not.

The first gentle nudge of encouragement came in my first year of university. I hadn’t wanted to go. I was, to put it bluntly, a mess. Unbeknownst to my parents, who meant well when they pressured me to attend, I was in a very dark and terrible place. My unsophisticated attempts to get out of the deep pit I found myself in, by choosing the most self-destructive means possible, merely served to push me down further. I was too oppressed by this darkness to protest my parents’ wishes, and so I signed up for classes. In the bizarreness that was my mind at that time, I reasoned that my parents could force me to go to university, but could not force me to actually attend classes or learn anything. In high school I had managed to keep up my grades while writing out Pink Floyd lyrics in my classes, but this strategy proved to be not at all effective in university. I was flailing. I went to one exam having been to only one class. I wrote the exam in 15 minutes and left. I heard later that people had determined that I was either a genius, or had no clue what was going on. It was the latter; my first failing grade.

In one of my English exams I wrote a poem. This would not have been a problem had the exam not required me to compare and contrast two plays, only one of which I had actually read. Defeated and not even able to bullshit, I decided to perfect a poem I had been working on. My goal for this particular poem, and every poem I had written since I was 14 years old, was to make it as depressing as possible. I wanted the reader to feel every ounce of pain and hopelessness I felt.

It must have worked. My English professor called me into his office and requested that I see a counsellor. He was concerned about me. I’m not sure why this surprised me. Of course he would have thought the poem was a call for help. The last line, if I recall, said something like “she landed in death’s sweet arms”. Consciously, it was not; the poem was simply me not knowing how else to fill up the empty pages of my exam booklet. But I agreed to go to a counsellor nonetheless. As I left he told me that the writing was very good. He said that I should consider taking creative writing. I thanked him. I was secretly quite pleased, but of course, nothing more came of it. I didn’t sign up for creative writing. I could have. I had two years of general studies to complete before I was required to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, but writing was not even considered.

The counsellor was decidedly unhelpful, likely because I was a very unhelpful patient. She asked me all kinds of questions like “How can I help you?” which was met by my bewildered silence. Aren’t you supposed to know that? Isn’t that why I am here? I went once and didn’t return. I dropped out of university the following year.

To ensure that I was never in a situation again where someone would actually encourage my dream to be a writer, I decided never to show anyone my writing again. My writing was reserved for my private journals. In my recovery I felt compelled to write. It was as necessary as breathing. But when my first husband read my journal, I stopped writing all together.

There had been a few times where I had tried to write something, a story, the start of a novel. After one page I would tear it up and that would be that. Reading the words on the page was humiliating. They were absolutely terrible. Who did I think I was? It was pathetic. It was so devastating that I would it would be years before the next attempt.  It was “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron that invited me to start writing for myself again. But even though the entire book is devoted to people taming their creative demons, it wasn’t enough to coach my dream of being a writer to the surface. It stayed well hidden in the crevices of my heart, waiting.

I have come to believe that things happen when they should. If I did not feel compelled to honour this dream, then there was a reason. I have decided to trust that there is a wisdom that is guiding me. My job, simply, is to do my best to listen, to see and to feel the universe communicating its purpose for me. It is not always easy. There have been many a time I have requested a big booming voice telling me what I should do, what path I should take. Alas, I have never had the booming voice. My messages have been much more subtle, which can be crazy making at times.

But, at long last, the dream to write has come out of hiding and has risen to the surface to take her first breath. There are several people who were instrumental in coaxing her out of hiding: my mother, Dave (my partner in life) and Jeremy (my old soul).  With their encouragement, I have decided to write this blog; my tentative first steps. I know that there are likely thousands upon thousands of people who have written blogs that think nothing of it. Their decision was likely not momentous, nor profound. But for me, it was. Writing this blog is honouring my most precious of dreams for myself.

Once surfaced, what has allowed this dream to truly take hold was the most sacred gift of my life, the gift of my daughter. She was the only thing I had ever truly prayed for. When I was told that she would never come, that my body would not allow it, I fell into despair. Why? Why? I asked the universe this over and over. And then, at the most unlikeliest of times, a shaman whispered to me in a vision that she was there, a little bean in my womb. Her birth reminded me, with such force it left me breathless, that life is both sacred and temporary. In the first weeks after her birth, the thought that something might happen to her left me with a dread that sent a slow wave of dark sludge through my body. This terrible dread was a constant companion. A car would drive towards us as I walked on the sidewalk and I would imagine that it veered off the road and hit us. I heard a noise at might and imagined that someone was breaking in and wondered how I would protect her. I was convinced that if she died, I would not survive it.

The waves of dread have faded, but the awareness of our mortality has not. I had her when I was almost 41. There is a very real possibility that when she is my age, I may no longer walk this earth. My blog started out as a way to keep our family who live far away from us connected to us. I would write about the cute things our daughter does and says. But it has turned into something else. It is a chronicle of my life, my hero’s (heroine’s) journey. It is the most sacred gift that I can give to my daughter. No matter what, she will have these stories to help guide her in her life.

So I would like to thank all of you who read these words and are sharing this journey with me. I am deeply grateful for your support, your encouragement, your letters, and your comments. It has had a profound impact on me.

Mid life crisis Part I

It was when I turned 30 that it hit me: I actually had dreams. If I didn’t get off my ass and do something about them they would die with me, unrealized. It’s not like my dreams had any semblance of reality; rock star and famous actress were the two most prominent, but to my surprise, I discovered that they were very important to me. The time for protecting them was over. It was time to do something.  With my impending old age came a sense of urgency. I had to do something about them NOW. But what exactly?

I knew that the likelihood of becoming a rock star or famous actress was slight. Okay impossible. But the impossibility of the fantasy didn’t mean that I couldn’t honour the spirit of those dreams: I dreamt of performing. When I had been in high school I hadn’t taken drama, hadn’t joined the choir. Instead I took a full load of academic subjects and learned to play the flute. By the time I had enough spares to actually take drama my interest in school was replaced with an all-consuming awareness of boys, parties and music. I quit taking piano and flute lessons. I spent hours in my room listening to music with my mother occasionally entering my domain to tell me to turn it down.

I dyed my hair black, wore black makeup and black clothes. School bored me to tears. My grades started to slip. I spent most of my classes writing out Pink Floyd lyrics and writing poetry filled with angst. My teachers became concerned that I had mental health problems. They were probably right.

Now that I was turning 30, those dreams from my youth came rushing back, demanding to be heard. “How does one go about doing these things as an adult?” I wondered. I looked through the adult education pamphlets for the local college but there was nary a class entitled “How to be a Rock Star”. It was at that time that I first picked up Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.” The book has twelve chapters; each with a weekly theme and exercises designed to help unleash one’s creativity and deal with the demons that can get in the way.

A repeated message in the book is the proverb “Leap, and the net will appear.” The readings, daily writing and weekly exercises taught me to trust that if I took a step towards my dreams the “how” would work itself out like magic. Jung called it synchronicity – the magic that happens when you reach out to the universe with your dreams and the universe responds with a series of coincidences that help you on your path. I decided to take the risk and reach out to the universe with my dreams of acting and singing. This is how the universe responded.

My friend Julie was doing her master’s degree in social work. She asked for my help with one of her school projects. She needed to film a session with a client where she would showcase her skills doing a particular type of therapy. I was to be the client.  I read from the script and tried to make it look as authentic as possible. The next week she told me that her classmates had raved about my performance; that I made it seem like a real session. She then pulled out a newspaper with an advertisement circled. A community theatre company in the North Shore had put out a call for auditions for the play “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” I could feel my heart skip with excitement. I had read the book and seen the movie. It would be too amazing for words to get a part. I looked more closely at the ad. It said that the audition would be “improv”. I had no idea what that meant. Julie, worldlier than I, explained that improv would mean that I would not read from a script. I would have to improvise. She insisted that I go to the audition. Synchronicity.

Julia Cameron talked about this exact situation in her book. She warned the reader that these experiences of synchronicity could be incredibly disarming. We don’t expect the universe to respond to our tiny little dreams knocking on the door. We expect to be rejected, to be ignored. When we aren’t, when the universe opens the door and hands us exactly what we have asked, most of us will run screaming. Knowing that fear was an expected response, I remembered my own mantra: there is no courage without fear. I wasn’t just scared. I was terrified to go to this audition. Who did I think I was? I had never acted in a play in my life, never taken a drama class. I had no idea what I was doing. But I was determined that fear would not take these dreams away from me.

With Julie’s encouragement, I decided to go to the audition. It was at a college in the North Shore. I had never been there. I had always been strangely petrified of getting lost at a big school. When I went to University the first time I would drop a class if it was in a building I wasn’t familiar with, rather than risk getting lost. After twenty minutes of driving up the wrong street, I realized that I was completely lost. I started to talk to myself; a sure sign I was in full-blown panic. “This is a sign that you shouldn’t be doing this! You are going to be late. This is terrible. Oh my God you are a complete idiot. Watch where you’re going!” The part of my brain that preferred not to die in a car accident tried to calm me down. I told myself that if I just made it to the parking lot, then I could turn around and go back home. I would be proud of myself just for getting to the parking lot. I finally found the parking lot and parked the car. I wasn’t even late. I sat in the car, trying to decide whether to turn around and go home or get out of the car. I could hear my heart racing. My hands shook. Every thought that raced through my brain told me to go the fuck home already.

Instead, I took the keys out of the ignition and opened the door. I immediately saw some young men walking towards the college. I was so panicked that I was sure they could tell, just by looking at me, that I had no idea what I was doing and should not, under any circumstances, be there. I was a fraud of the biggest order. They could probably smell my fear. I tried to shrink so that they wouldn’t notice me. Of course they came right up and started talking to me. “Do you have any idea how to get to the audition?” My mother’s training, so engrained it was instinctual, took over (thank God). I politely said, “I have absolutely no idea actually. I’m lost too.” I smiled. They started walking with me. “We’ll all find it together!” They were friendly and charming. I started to relax.

We found our way inside and were given cards that told us what we would have to do in our improv. My card said that I was in labour with my first child but had not yet told my husband that the real father was not him, but a black man. My goal for the improv was to leave wherever we were and fly home. Good God. Normally, panic would have been delighted at yet another chance to make an appearance, but it was no match for the charm and friendliness of the men I was now talking and laughing with. By the time it was my turn for the audition I had never felt so at ease. I walked into the room and tried to remember everything I had ever seen about women in labour from television. When I was preparing, I had tried to picture how the scenario would unfold, with the little information I had. What I had pictured happening in my mind, however, was not at all how it unravelled with all of the characters together.  There was a point where my “husband” and the “nurse” were almost coming to blows, one trying to get me admitted and the other turning us away, saying the hospital was closed. I interrupted their argument with a contraction. Then I turned to my “husband” and begged him to take me home. I told him that I was so grateful for everything he was doing, but that all I wanted was to go home. I looked him in the eyes imploringly. I was tender. I think I even touched his cheek. Inside I was thinking, “He has no idea that he is about to be betrayed. Poor guy!” He stared at me for a minute and agreed. I will always remember his eyes in that moment. And then it was over. I never saw either of them again.

I don’t even remember the rest of the day. I was high from the adrenaline of that experience. I felt like I was floating. I found out later that one of the keys to improv is to say yes to whatever happens. Always say yes. The hospital is closed when you need to be admitted? Yes it is! Well can’t we take that helicopter right behind you? Of course we can! I thought that that was pretty good advice for real life too. Say yes to what life throws at you. At least at the end you’ll have a lot of good stories.   

The next day I got the call. They offered me a part. I was dumbfounded and thanked them profusely. It took me a few minutes to realize that the part I was going to play was Candy, the prostitute. My very first part, and I would play a lady of the night. What could be more perfect than that?

Stay tuned for the next installment!