a high school english teacher of mine wrote me an email about a week ago. going through some boxes, he had found a paper—a personal narrative—i had written in his class. he wanted to keep it, but did i want a copy? sure. i said. send it along.
this morning i made a large cup of coffee and sat at my desk. and i read this paper, which i got in the mail yesterday.
it is a funny thing, isn’t it? reading something from a much younger version of yourself. i am days away from turning 33. i was maybe 16 when i wrote this paper. possibly 17. i am writing about the summer i was 14. when my relationship with my father wasn’t what it is now. when i was days away from starting my freshman year at boarding school. when i spent summer vacations with my dad trying to read as many books as possible. it is a glimpse into that particular vacation, into that particular moment and time with my dad. i can feel the tension between us—that had been a tough year for us for a number of reasons and i can feel it, even though the paper doesn’t spell it out. instead, the paper reveals a moment my dad opened up to me. something that felt less common then, but now, nearly 20 years later, is commonplace. whether i realized it or not, i am writing a paper that is about understanding my dad, appreciating my dad. i recognize how, while my relationship with my dad has changed since then, i haven’t changed that much. in it, i describe sighing, hoping to get my father’s attention. i do that know. sighing instead of speaking. i hate this habit of mine—it is not good for relationships—but i hear myself sigh. i had forgotten i did that as a teen. i had forgotten just how early i stopped feeling like i could just say how i felt. i discuss trying to fit a book in my purse to take to a party (i was reading A Widow for One Year by John Irving) and being disappointed that i couldn’t make it work.
reading the piece made me remember how much i loved the personal narrative. i loved being tasked with writing something about myself, something taken from my life. no wonder i’ve been blogging on and off since i was in college. no wonder i often long to write long personal essays. no wonder i wonder if the biggest impact i can have as a writer is in a more nonfictional realm than a fictional one.
i admire the writing. i am not sure i am any better at writing now. i am proud of the way i jump from moment to moment, giving us a glimpse into this world. of course i see sentences that feel like they are trying too hard or not hard enough. in a response to my teacher then, i note how i wish i could spend more time. that actually the piece needed to be 20pg not 6pg. i still agree with that. to a certain extent. maybe i could do it in 10pg now. but, regardless, i am proud of the writer i was then. i had found my form and i was leaning into it.
yesterday i was at a talkback for my play behind the sheet, and someone asked me (and i am majorly paraphrasing) if some of the concerns and thoughts and worries that the black women voice in the play are connected to my own thoughts, concerns, and worries. did their questioning of self-worth mirror my own?
yes. i said. and i listed a bunch of things i worry about as a black woman. a bunch of things that society has taught me to worry about. in a nutshell, i am not the strong, confident black woman i so long to be. that’s a topic for a different day though…
i started answering the question thinking about writing. i pointed out how i have questioned my writing skills for as long as i can remember. writing has felt like the most natural thing in the world to me and yet i still question my skills. i still question if i deserve to have a voice. honestly, if it had been up to me, i probably wouldn’t be a playwright. it took a fucking village of people telling me to do it, to keep going, to keep writing. it takes a fucking village. in the last two months, there have be numerous times i’ve said maybe i should just stop this whole playwriting thing, which is interesting considering the last two months have been the most crazy and traditionally successful months of my career. this feeling usually happens after i receive a bad review from a stranger or friend alike (never mind the ones sharing positive reviews…wish my brain would fixate on those instead…). i find writing to be so scary and personal and anxiety-ridden. wouldn’t i be happier doing something that was way more black and white? where there is a right answer and a wrong answer? where it isn’t so subjective?
of course not.
i am a writer. i love writing. and reading this short little personal narrative from teenage charly this morning reminded me that i have been a writer for years now. even before i thought it would be my career. even before i had written my first play. there’s a reason why it is still my biggest dream to have a book in barnes and noble…there’s a reason why i am constantly writing personal narratives in my head. there’s a reason why despite how burned out i feel these days, i still find words coming to me. just not in play format…in poems, in short stories, in personal narratives. it is how i express myself. it is how i understand myself. it is how i express myself. because writing is what i do.
i have deadlines galore right now, but today i hope to spend some time thinking about how i can make sure to have writing time that is not deadline-based. that is just because. kind of like this post, i guess. just an opportunity to share some words, to let the words out of my head and into the world, to remind myself that writing is what i do.