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Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

I have had many English teachers in my life, but far fewer actual writing teachers. All three of them happen to be male, quirky, kind, dryly humorous, and skilled at striking that tricky balance of tough love and gentle encouragement.

One of them, when I was a shy undergraduate in his creative writing classes (I took three of them), said to me, “Real writers can’t not write. It’s ungrammatical, but true.” I am, and have long been, someone who can’t not write, who not only wants but needs to express myself in words. And I’ve reached for Al’s words time and time again, when I’ve needed reassurance that I’m a real writer.

Sometimes – lately, almost all the time – I forget Al’s wise advice, and start to beat myself up for only writing journal pages and blog posts and book reviews, and the occasional poem or newsletter or press release. I tell myself it isn’t “real” writing, not like magazine articles or essays (both of which I do write occasionally) or books, that tangible, seemingly unattainable touchstone of real writing. I let the fear paralyze me, or I give in to the weariness after a day spent at the computer, and I don’t even try to write anything “real.” I glance at the notes for my book and sort of glaze over. I think about writing personal essays, but then I wonder what the point is, if no one will read them.

The truth is, though, that all the “unreal” stuff I write is actually real writing, and is helping me shape my craft, whether I realize it or not. All that editing I do at my day job has a place, too; it makes my writing tighter and cleaner, helps me think more clearly about what I’m saying and to whom I am saying it. (My jobs in marketing have been an education all on their own.)

Those journal pages are “my free psychiatrist’s couch,” as Madeleine L’Engle says, and they are also a record of my life, of the things I need to wrestle through or don’t want to forget. These blog posts are mini-essays, explorations of what I love or what I struggle with, or sometimes a chance to share photos and celebrate. All these scattered pieces are just as real as any book or magazine, and if I keep at it, keep writing other scattered little pieces, I just may end up with a book one of these days.

It’s hard to remember, when I get panicky that maybe I’m a fraud, a fake – what if I’m not a real writer after all? What kind of real writer can’t muster up the courage to work on her book? What kind of writer dreams about writing and then doesn’t do it? What kind of writer chooses to do something else, rather than write?

And then I turn back to the page, or the screen, and tackle the next wee project one sentence at a time, one word at a time. I keep writing, hoping that all this drafting and scribbling and practice will give me the courage and skill to tackle the big projects, when they come along. And trusting that even if I don’t feel like writing, or even if I (gasp) take a break for a few days or weeks, I will pick up the pen again, and go back to the thing I love to do, and can’t not do.

It’s all real writing, the emails and blog posts and journal-entries-cum-grocery-lists. It’s all a chance for my soul to exhale. I need it and I love it and, most importantly, I keep on doing it – and that is what makes me a real writer.

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I saw a post on Rachel’s blog recently about lessons learned – skills or tricks she’s gleaned from loved ones. I thought I’d share some of my own:

1. My aunt Cathy taught me to sew, when I was about six years old, using scrap fabric from my Neno’s extensive fabric stash.
2. Barb and Cynthia, my managers at the coffee house, taught me to brew espresso, steam milk and fold them together into lattes, cappuccinos and more.
3. Joy, my college roomie and friend, taught me to knit. (I am forever grateful.)
4. Jon taught me to swing dance, and Cole taught me countless swing moves.
5. My dad taught me to play golf. (I’m not very good, but that isn’t his fault.)
6. Jacque taught me to make a meal out of whatever happens to be in the cupboards or pantry. And to break off the heel of a baguette and munch on it as you’re walking home from the grocery store.
7. Gail and Calvin, and the girls at House 9 Abilene, taught me to open my home consistently, no matter how clean it is (or isn’t).
8. Allison Smith, a family friend, and Martha Davis, my official teacher, taught me to play the flute.
9. My college friend Erin taught me to love Thai food (a taste reinforced by Bethany, who loves all things Asian).
10. My mom and sister taught me about fashion – though my style is quite different from both of theirs.
11. My grandfather taught me how to drive a tractor, bale hay and make CCC’s (chocolate-chip cookies, of course).
12. Adam taught me how to say “thank you” in Russian.
13. Richard Burke (and a succession of music ministers and church-choir teachers) taught me how to sing.
14. Mrs. Langford taught me how to play the piano.
15. Glenn, my supervisor at my first grown-up job, taught me to go home at 5:00. The work, he said, will wait for you.
16. Ron, editor extraordinaire, taught me to edit.
17. Craig, my hippie Austin friend, taught me to love goat cheese.
18. My mom taught me to cook, apply makeup, curl my hair, write thank-you notes, make guacamole, and so much more.

What lessons/teachers are you grateful for?

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