I knew from the time I was in junior high if not before that I would be a writer. I can remember sitting at my little antique desk in my bedroom and knowing I had been “called” to do that.
It’s been a very strange journey as writer. Early on, a high school teacher read my piece to the class — the one where we were supposed to imitate Hemingway–actually a good exercise because it makes you become aware of style and structure even when you don’t really know yet what they are…
I got all A’s in Advanced Placement English and all my writing classes, of course. No counselors told me there was a writing school in Iowa or anywhere else, so I was taking both general English classes and Journalism classes and some philosophy and psychology and things, some political science when I got to Michigan State University. I kept at it at Oral Roberts University and University of California at Irvine, though I never quite graduated. In the meantime, I got married, I had a child with Down Syndrome and two more afterward, I stopped writing and going to school for ten years or so, though I never stopped reading.
I was reading Hemingway and F. Scott and Steinbeck, and Melville, and Edgar Allen Poe, and most of the classics, and some contemporary folks: Gabriel Marquez, Margaret Atwood, Jim Harrison, and I was reading every how-to book I could get my hands on. And then I started writing nostalgia that I published in national women’s magazines. I started writing short stories and sent them off to online writing teachers who told me to my chagrin that I was not writing fun commercial stuff at all, but literary fiction. So I resigned myself to that and started writing short stories I managed to place in literary magazines around the country as well as a story I got paid a thousand dollars for in Gray’s Sporting Journal. Or maybe it was two thousand, I can’t remember.
Then I started my first novel that was based on the background of my great-grandfather’s steamboat business at the turn of the century and after getting accepted at University of Michigan (and then rejected when the economic crash happened in 2008), I managed to get it published at Northern Illinois University.
I started attending writing conferences and was mentored by some fine writers like Jack Driscoll and then I decided to go back to school, finished my undergraduate degree at Northern Michigan University (my son Joshua with Down Syndrome attending every class along with me). I was declared student of the year, and then taught as I completed my MFA graduate program in creative writing there. Taught several more years there, a total of seven or eight.
I managed to get my thesis, a collection of short stories, published by Wayne State University, and was anthologized in some nice “best of” collections of Michigan writers.
Though I never got paid much, this was really much more than I ever imagined I’d accomplish. I had become part of Michigan’s literary community. At which time my father’s Parkinson’s was worsening and my youngest son was battling testicular cancer (and I still had the son with Down Syndrome). And just about that time, the literary and academic community found out I was a libertarian and not far left like the rest of them. At which time, I was quickly unfriended and excommunicated and removed from the seniority adjuncting queue, something you’ve probably heard me talk about before.
I, of course, always knew they were liberals and far left and I still appreciated their writing and their points of view from their life experiences. Many of them were fabulous writers and I loved studying their techniques. I particularly loved Tim O’Brien’s style and his stories about Vietnam. But Louise Erdrich became a favorite of mine as well as Margaret Atwood. There were too many to name, and I read constantly.
I tell you all this because I suddenly find myself having a very hard time reading literary fiction anymore now that I realize their idea of good writing is from one political and life experience ONLY. I suppose it’s an identity crisis to some degree. I no longer even WANT to be part of that community or write like them–though clearly I wouldn’t discard all technique and style I’ve acquired through the years. I keep thinking I’ll get back into reading and I am really enjoying Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner (particularly since he believed in tradition, culture and history and was critical of pure ideology), though I got interrupted with the latest health crises my husband had here–that is my life now–caretaker.
But I haven’t written much on my fantasy novel (I was trying something more commercial having become jaded on this elitist literary stuff a bit before the true censorship fascism began), though my nephew tells me I’m still writing literary — I think that every Time novel then is pretty much literary. Premonition, Time Traveler’s Wife, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Somewhere in Time, even Back to the Future — all have complicated structures. There are others I can’t think of right now.
But this horrible pandemic, my new role as caretaker for nearly every family member, and my being thrown out of the literary community, no longer a university professor (mostly by choice since my son was ill), has turned my writing and how I see my purpose for what talent I do possess all upside down. I’ve been trying to regain ballast for the two years I’ve been here caring for my father, but I’m still trying to figure out my new purpose in life. For my work.
We all have to reinvent ourselves several times in our lifetimes, so saying I wasn’t planning on this seems childish and naive, duh. But I guess I didn’t count on completely re-evaluating my writing goals and plans. I actually can’t be published in the literary community in Michigan again unless I changed my name and wrote things I didn’t believe in (it was amazing how much I wrote about Native Americans and wrote from a libertarian perspective, nobody seemed to have a problem with it or maybe even recognize it, since it was about freedom and the human rights of all people–with some Einstein and Jung influence thrown in).
So now what. Where in the world am I now??
I feel some responsibility politically to voice my objections to this tyranny and the unbelievable over-reach of this government. Yet my real love was always fiction.
There’s been times in my life I’ve felt “stuck” before. This is one of them. Always before, I was able to navigate out of the mire. I have this weird “calling” feeling again and yet I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Kind of like the voice: “If you build it, he will come.” “Go the distance.” Nonspecific voices calling me to do freaking SOMETHING to make a difference. The “calling” seems to have to do with my writing, yet I can’t seem to gain focus, make a fist, take aim at anything, to mix metaphors.
My brain and whole existence seem flaccid.