Ep 144: My Writing Life Beginnings, Pt. 1

WritingEp 144: My Writing Life Beginnings, Pt. 1

Ep 144: My Writing Life Beginnings, Pt. 1

Note: This was originally published both at my website and at Tweetspeak Poetry back in 2013.

My mom, a journalist, was talking with a friend. She beamed at my brother. “Charlie, he’s the writer of the family. And Annie? She’s…” Here, I felt my mom hesitate. Then, “Annie’s the athlete.”

My brother excelled in everything involving words—from composing song lyrics and essays to dominating Scrabble games and inserting witty comments into conversations at just the right moment.

I played softball and ran track. And I rode my yellow Schwinn ten-speed down country roads stretching between corn and soybean fields, past herds of Black Angus cattle and silos filled with grain. The labels fit, though deep down, secretly, I wanted to be a writer, too.
Three years after Charlie graduated high school, I sat in Miss Thompson’s Senior English class. Miss Thompson told us we would keep a journal chronicling our senior year, creating at least five entries per week. We were to do more than write, however. We were to add our personal touch. Whether we complemented our written words with pasted-in photographs, news clippings and ticket stubs or accented them with watercolor backgrounds and meticulous calligraphy, the key to A-level work was creative expression.

She held up three examples of some of the best she’d ever seen—journals from past students whose work she adored. One was Charlie’s. I recognized it immediately, having gazed at it many times while he worked on it during his senior year. She passed them around for students to flip through.

When Charlie’s came to me, I opened it, noting his handwriting—a combination of big printed letters and rounded cursive. The content mingled light humor and occasional sarcasm with spot-on descriptions of people and situations. For one page, he cut letters from newspapers to compose an amusing ransom note. I studied the pages, wishing I could copy his techniques. Then I passed it to the person behind me.

At the end of my senior year, Miss Thompson didn’t ask to keep my journal.
Copy Person
I ran track in spring that year, as I had since junior high, training for sprints and the long jump, reinforcing my status as the family athlete. After graduation, I worked during the summer as a copy person, running errands for editors at the newspaper where my dad worked.

I hated working in the city. I hated working into the night. I hated the sense of urgency and stress necessary to put out a daily paper. One time I had to drive the company car to fetch a photograph from a family whose son had been shot.

I knocked on the door. They barely opened it. I introduced myself and said I was from the newspaper. They reached through the narrow opening and handed me his picture. I told them we would return it and flipped it around to be sure their address was printed on the back. It was. I don’t think they said one word. I said I was very sorry and thanked them for the photo. They nodded and shut the door. I hated invading their grief.
That fall, I started school at a Big Ten University. Not nearly good enough to compete on their elite sports teams, I lost my label. No more was I an athlete, though I did pedal my yellow Schwinn ten-speed across campus, weaving around students who were walking to class.

A couple of weeks into my freshman year, I showed up at a tall building where bored grad students served as advisors, looking over undergrad schedules to ensure that our class selections met each major’s requirements. We lined up single-file down a long hallway, waiting our turn.

My randomly assigned college advisor asked about my major. Since I had no idea what to study, my mom and dad suggested journalism. I didn’t have any other ideas, so I’d been claiming to be a journalism major on all my school documents and blurted it out to the advisor. He wrote it down, scribbled on some paperwork, approved my class load, and sent me on my way.
Survey of Shakespeare

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