My Life of Writing

When I was younger, I had 3 dreams that had to do with career (not counting teaching).  One was to own a bookstore, and I had a vision of doing this with my mom; another was to own a thrift store, and I envisioned doing that with my daughter; and finally, I always wanted to be a published author.  It seems that bookstores are hardly in business anymore (unfortunately),  and who knows what may happen with the thrift store idea???  But that third idea, now I haven’t entirely given up on that.

When Sarita and I first got together, we both became interested in writing and publishing; she was into graphic novels, and I was into children’s books.  We joined a big children’s writing organization and went to workshops, even going all the way to New York City to a fancy convention, with lots of editors and agents present, which also provided a couple hours with a more intimate group for sharing my stories and getting critiques.  What we learned was that it is impossibly difficult to get a book published!  Not that I didn’t try — I have a folder full of rejections, many from people at that very conference.  I continued to write for a while, and then it fizzled out, and then I took a couple of writing courses at the local writing salon.  I enjoyed them and learned a lot and kept all the writings I did, but again, my own writing started waning soon after the courses.   Sarita, on the other hand, has been faithfully working on her graphic novels, and now has three in process, one of which is almost finished.  She’s also been in contact with two published graphic novelists, and is starting to get ready for the next step, a web page, a blog, contacting a publisher. It’s very exciting.  She works almost every day, for about half an hour.  Such discipline!

I have been writing something or other since I was a little kid.  When I was about 8 or 9, my neighbor friend and I started a “soap opera” about the adventures of a river.  Yes, the river was the main character!  We worked on it in her driveway, pacing around, writing in our newly learned cursive, thinking up dramatic plots.  I wish I still had that, as I now have no idea what those plots could have been, or why we chose to anthropomorphize a river.

Then I wrote journals.  My dad made us write in a journal when we were in Australia. (I was 15 that year.) I still have some of those journals, and find that I mainly talked about what I ate!  Not too intriguing.  The best writing I felt I did then, was when I went on a long walk to the ocean from Melbourne (it was either 15 or 25 miles, and I was in no shape for such a walk).  It was some fundraising thing a new acquaintance told me about, and we walked all night.  It was amazing — watching the milkmen in the early morning in their horse drawn carts(!!!yes, even in 1968), having people stand along the fences of their yards cheering us on, getting terrible blisters and knee soreness that lasted for months, and just walking in the dark in a new country that I had only been in a few weeks.  But I did it, and I wrote pages and pages about it.  Then for some reason I tore them out of my journal, and they became lost.

At the end of our stay in Australia, the last three months in Perth, I made two good girl friends who were a year older than me. (There was only one other girl in my class with me, because I was on the college track of tenth grade, and I didn’t really like her).  We wrote poetry, and I put the poetry to music. ( My guitar was my lifesaver during much of the year-long trip.)  We spent hours and hours with this, and I have never before or since had such an inspiring writing experience closely connected to others.  I still have the songs, the chords, and even remember the tunes!    One of those friends died in a motorcycle accident soon after I came back to the states, the other got married and I have not been able to find her.

When Mark and I were newly married (at 18), we spent a summer in Yosemite, studying ground squirrels with a graduate student of my father’s.  I was getting an independent study credit for it, and wrote a  creative non- fiction story about the ground squirrels, with lots of pictures, and I put it in a big scrapbook  It was very fun, my supervising teaching enjoyed it.  That was the beginning of being interested in writing children’s books, and I tried to get it published with the Ranger Rick magazine, to no avail.

I started writing more songs after that, expressing my crushes, my frustrations, whatever was going on in my life.  I wrote about the humiliating noises my stomach made when in a quiet and serious grad school class (“Tummyrumble), I wrote about my new partner’s love of coffee.  I began writing songs that could be used at the nature center where I was interning, and I eventually even made a songbook and tape ( accomplished with an old fashioned reel to reel and a microphone) for a nature center where I worked, with all the songs I’d gathered that were appropriate, as well as some that I had written.  I performed these at coffeehouses, nature center celebrations and sing alongs, classes with kids, and get togethers with friends.  I even performed at a huge gathering of the Association of Interpretive Naturalists in Estes Park, Colorado, although that was mostly with fiddle.

My next foray into writing was when my children were born.  I felt the frustration of there not being a lot out about gay families, and even adoption, and I wanted to help right (write) that. My partner at the time did a few illustrations to go with my stories and poems, I was into rhyming, and it was a lot of fun.  After showing them to a friend’s friend, who was a newly published author, she had a lot of critical comments, and I kind of let that fall off.  I tried doing research for a non fiction book after my daughter got into pill bugs, she was into the smallest parts of nature.  I had a really hard time finding what I needed, and left that halfway done.

One of the favorite classes I ever taught was a summer writing class for kids who were 5th, 6th, and new 7th graders from the school where I worked.  It was a few weeks of writing, art, traveling around the area, and eating.  I used Natalie Goldberg’s principles of writing, we always had a different kind of art project to connect to our writing, we went different places to inspire us, and I knew food had to be involved to keep the interest of the kids!  I mostly had girls, occasionally a boy, but we had a blast.  We went from cemeteries and ice cream parlors in Oakland, to train stations and the public market in Emeryville, to my friends’ live aboard boat and Pier 39 in San Francisco.  We wrote and made paper, dolls, collages, and sidewalk art.  I always wrote with the children, and it was some of the best writing time I ever had.  I really like to write with others, it turns out.  One time we were up on Telegraph in Berkeley, eating and writing at an outdoor cafe, and the naked guy with his bike walked by!  I think we all had a great time however, and one of those students has even gone on to become a bestselling NY Times Reviewed author!  I am so proud!  I still have many of the writings I did then, as well as the collections of poetry and writings that my students have done over the years.

Then I started writing what I really feel is my love — stories about my kids, about my own childhood, about our lives, based on real things.  My oldest daughter coming up with my younger daughter’s middle name inspired a story.  My younger daughter being told (by a friend) that even though she was different from the rest of her family (being African American with two white moms and a half Chinese sister), she was still sisters with all the other African American women in the world inspired another story.  My remembering how my family spent our summers, chasing crickets across the United State; my version of the walk through the snow to get to our country school when the buses didn’t run; how we saved our puppies from salmonella poisoning with our vet friend’s advice to give them Campbell’s chicken and rice soup, these all became stories.  Unfortunately, these are the ones that have been rejected by several publishing companies.   My partner is so wonderful in that she’s always been supportive, and even spent a whole summer working on wonderful prints to go with these stories.  Although the stories haven’t made it in the publishing world, I have them for my children, and we have the prints to frame and hang in our new home in NM.

I have also done a lot of songwriting inspired by my partner, and we have performed some of them for friends, and some at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse. One of my most proud moments was when we performed the song I wrote about my cancer to the folks at last summer’s Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion and Celebration.  It was a really different kind of acknowledgement of surviving, and we got good feedback.

One of the things that Sarita and I did when we met, is that we wrote poetry to each other.  We have completely different styles, but I’ve often thought that our conversations in poems are truly wonderful. Truthfully, my life has been full of writing, sharing, and performing, and even though none of my efforts may have made a difference in the community or world, per say, they have made a difference to me, and they will be an account of some of my history.  Perhaps self publishing is the way to go,  at least with some of my favorite stuff.  I still like the idea of my grandchildren having a book that their grandmother wrote, giving them some clue to their family history.

My present writing seems to consist of this blog, and I am gaining as much enjoyment from this as from anything I’ve ever done.  I thank all those who read it, I appreciate the space to write it, and I love that it allows my train of thought to go wherever it wants to.    I look forward to the next part of the writing path, to the next song or poem or story that brings me a step closer to my destiny in Trail’s End.

Postscript:  After taking a course in “Coursera” on songwriting, I am re-inspired to write songs, and am now learning how to record them with garageband, and put them on soundcloud.  I have joined a couple of songwriting groups, but best of all, through the discussion forum of the course, I have gotten connected with an Australian songwriter.  I feel my life of songwriting is coming full circle, it started in Perth, Australia, it is continuing to flourish now as I’m hoping to be challenged by my new friend who lives in the same town in Australia.  Interestingly enough, we got connected because she was friends with someone with my name (at the age of 15, which is when I was there).  It wasn’t me then, but it is me now, and that’s exciting!


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