I’ve always loved to read and write but never considered becoming a “Writer” with a capital “w.” The closest I came was applying to several universities back East with the intention of majoring in Journalism. Deep down I knew that wasn’t me. I didn’t have that in-your-face quality that journalists need. At the last minute, I changed my post high school plans and went to a two-year art school in Philadelphia instead. My dad warned me that I’d have very limited career options if I chose that route. But I was seventeen and, of course, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
After receiving my Associate’s Degree in Fashion Illustration, I got a job as a graphic designer with a wonderful husband and wife team who taught me everything I needed to know, especially regarding computers. As luck would have it (or not), I graduated just before computers took over the industry. Yes, I learned to do mechanicals by hand, cut my own rubylith and spec type the old fashioned way– using math. Eventually, I left to freelance before landing in-house for a dental company. My husband was soon hired by the same company and very soon after that they transferred him out to Arizona, where we proceeded to have two children and I was able to do freelance work from home which had been in the back of my mind all along when I went down this particular career path. It all seemed to be going just as I had planned.
Except. During this time I continued to read voraciously as I always had. At some point I stumbled across a book called “The New Diary” by Tristine Rainier. I had attempted to keep diaries over the years with many pages filled with the hastily scrawled words “forgot to write.” The obligation to write on every dated page was stifling. “The New Diary” opened up a new way of journal writing that was more spontaneous, deeper and even (gasp) fun. I began filling up blank pages with my words.
One day I was attending a seminar in Center City. During the lunch break I browsed this amazing little bookstore off Sansom street. I can still see the table filled with this book called “Writing Down the Bones.” Just the title gave me goosebumps. I picked it up, stroking the image of ink spilling across the cover, already aware on some level that my life was about to change.
I began filling notebooks with what Natalie Goldberg called writing practice. Practice made it easier to approach. I wasn’t “writing.” I was practicing. I continued to practice and read. A lot. My work colleagues were used to seeing me with my nose in a book at lunch. It was usually a different book every couple of days. A friend finally commented that at this pace I’d soon run out of books to read and would have to start writing my own. Hmmmm… the seed was planted.
Once we were settled in Arizona, writing found me over and over again. I saw a tiny ad in the back of a magazine advertising a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico. I only considered it since it was now the next state over. But it still felt like a lot of money on something that felt, at the most, like a hobby. My husband happened to get an unexpected bonus the same day as I read about the retreat and (this is one of the many reasons I love him) he insisted I use the extra money to go on that retreat. No matter what excuses I threw out to him (too much money; what about the kids) he had a reassuring response until I finally allowed myself to accept this tremendous gift.
I also discovered a fantastic program through the Phoenix YMCA called “Writer’s Voice.” They offered a “MothersWrite” class. It was a free, ten-week writing class that provided childcare. It was a lifesaver. A sanity saver. It allowed me to keep connected to that tenuous creative part of myself at a time when I felt stretched thin with the demands of motherhood. They also offered various creative writing classes as well as Master level workshops that required you to submit work in order to be admitted . It took a long time for me to take the step of submitting my work but when I did I was accepted and attended an intense ten-week workshop with Elizabeth Evans and later, a second one with Simon Ortiz. I always felt slightly out of place since I was usually the only one without any kind of four-year degree backing me up.
Over the years, I’ve considered going back to school to get that degree. Or maybe attend a low residency MFA program that would waive the Bachelor’s Degree. They’re out there. I’ve looked. But with two girls to help put through college, I really can’t justify the expense. It’s not like I want to teach at the college level. I want to write. Realistically, all I need is a pen, paper and if I’m lucky, a computer, all of which I have. I’m more envious of the experience of the MFA rather than the physical piece of paper. I salivate at the thought of immersing myself in writing for three years– eating, breathing, talking, dreaming books and writing. But really, my life can’t hold that right now. What it can hold is this: my writing group; occasional workshops; lots and lots of books; and lots and lots of writing.
The title for this blog comes from “Old Friend from Far Away” by Natalie Goldberg. I felt a jolt ripple through me when I read the words “No Credentials Necessary.” The same kind of surge I felt when I held “Writing Down the Bones” all those years ago. My younger writing self would’ve devoured the book in one sitting, drenching myself in her words, ignoring my own, scanning the pages for that one pearl of advice that would unlock all the mysteries of writing for me. No longer. I’ve had the book for over a year and am only half way through it. I read a chapter, underline some parts, sit with it, then I pick up my pen. I am writing my way through it instead of rushing through it. I no longer believe that there is a secret key for me to discover. And even if there was, I don’t think I’d want it. That’s what writing is for. I write my way into the mysteries.
I still wrestle with my so-called lack of writing credentials, but less and less as the years go on. I turned forty-four in July and finally know what I want to be when I grow up. A Writer with a capital “W.” No credentials necessary.