Sunday, April 30, 2006

my second writer's conference

I followed Mrs. Brown across the parking lot, my smallish eight-year-old hands, sweaty with nervousness, gripping the text pounded out days before by my mother on our old, staccato Smith-Corona. I looked down at it, marveling at my name in print on the cover as if uncertain how it got there, then, with a glance over at James, pulled it back into the obscurity of my jacket as if to absorb it into the fabric and avoid it ever being read. It was not a real story, and I, of course, was not a real writer—a fact I was certain would be discovered at any moment and broadcast across the campus as I was asked to leave under the shaming stares of all the authentic authors whom I had offended by my mere presence at this austere event. It would all prove that I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I knew this—how was it that my teacher did not?

Yet there we were, and she was leading us, unaware of the impending doom, across the campus of the University of Toledo to a large building with a tiny banner welcoming us to the Fourth Annual Young Author’s Conference. Everything was tall that day—the bell tower on campus, the trees lining the walkways, the students in the commons, the teachers, proud, with their apprenticing authors in tow. I felt small, small, small—my story puny in my grasp and shrinking further with each step closer to its threat of exposure.

James stood tall as well beside me—an interesting fact given that he was no bigger than I. Yet his creative presence was large in my eight-year-old sight, towering over and shadowing me and my tiny little tome. As we were good friends, I did not envy him this—it was purely a matter of fact. James, with his seemingly effortless ability to fashion worlds and characters and images, deserved to be there. He was the creative one. I was the imposter. At any moment, I would be found out and Mrs. Brown would rue the day she considered me a Young Author. I was ruing the day already, and it had barely begun.

I sit here now in the sun, at my second writer’s conference nearly thirty years later—skipping out of the last half of a session where four brilliant twenty-something-year-olds talked about having already been published several times over with the not quite sincere humility of youthfulness thinking it is not youthful any longer—and I think back to my early forays into the world of putting words and ideas on paper with that same, familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. The same, familiar voice whispers over my shoulder, unable to be ignored—You do not belong here. The same, familiar fear paralyzes my pen—What if that voice is right?

As the birds twitter around me and my notepad, unaware of the treachery going on in their midst, someone opens a window in a practice room above and a soprano voice, wandering in and out of tune, distracts me momentarily from my incessant insecurity. Repeated phrases and notes—at one moment beautiful and stunning, at another horrific and flat—float falteringly down, occasionally splattering on the pavement beside me. I am annoyed momentarily, but then I relax into revelation. She is doing, after all, what aspiring sopranos do. She is practicing—taking deep, full breaths and daring to do it wrong in the interest of getting it right. She is finding her voice—that which will make her distinct from the 50,000 other sopranos trying to likewise make their mark on the world. She is singing.

I see now, in retrospect, that I’ve never understood, even at the relative innocence of eight, how to just be myself and let the words come freely. Approaching thirty years later, I am finally learning to not force the words, to not “try” to write, to not struggle and strive to be something I am not but think I should be because that’s what I think it means to write. I am learning to take a deep full breath and put my fingers to the keyboard, writing out my scales and melismas in a faltering and sometimes out-of-tune hand, in order to find my one-in-50,000 voice. I am doing what writers do. I am writing.

Because I am real a writer, and I belong here.

Mrs. Brown was right, after all.

10 comments:

lorie said...

I posted this because I thought some of my fellow writers might be able to relate to my neurotic self-doubt, which seems to be common among those who seek to string together words and images in a creative and meaningful way. Just was processing and thought some of you might enjoy it...

Cynthia said...

I was just wondering if after reading this, someone could please put me out of my misery? I'll crawl back into my abyss of defeat now.

Sincerely,

Cindy

lorie said...

Cindy!!! No, no, no!!! It's supposed to be ENCOURAGING!!! You can do it- you just have to DO it!

Dean said...

Yeah, I know what you mean.

One thing I've recently realized is that all that writing advice about how to strenghten one's prose, all the Strunk and White stuff is invaluable, but the purpose is not simply to follow the rules, but that the discipline of the rules is about getting all the junk out of the way so a writer's unique voice can come through.

That's what we're all striving for, I guess.

Cynthia said...

Yeah, I know it's encouraging...but you wrote it so well (wink).

Cynthia said...

:)

lorie said...

Yeah, you just took an online course, didn't you, Dean? How was it? Worth it or no?

I constantly cycle between being "in good voice" and having laryngitis, at least internally. To hear some writers talk, it sounds as if that never goes away...

michaela said...

applause chica...you have such a rich natual, honest, intriguing, and refreshing writing voice! How do you do that??? good stuff once again...i love your work...will you go ahead and get published already so i can read a good book! michaela

lorie said...

thanks, m! it will be a while before the book comes out- gotta get the little one in school so i have some TIME! (not that i'm rushing things!)

SueGrace said...

Lori, You have touched a nerve with your exquisite little piece. I am sure that ALL of us have feared we would "be found out"; the sense of "if only [they] knew how little I really know" plagues everyone, at times. This just affirms how much we need one another to encourage and cheer us on.
Thank you for sharing, and (as I often said to you in class) "keep up the good writing!"

Sue Spaulding