Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Writing Wednesday - Writing Identity

Toni Morrison has died. I opened up social media on Tuesday to find that news all over my news feed. Opening up CNN, I read THIS article on her life. A quote from Morrison called to me,

I know how to write forever. I don't think I could have happily stayed here in the world if I did not have a way of thinking about it, which is what writing is for me. It's control. Nobody tells me what to do. It's mine, it's free, and it's a way of thinking. It's pure knowledge.

The way Morrison spoke of writing captivated me. She wasn’t who she was without writing. It was part of her identity. 

On my way to a local coffee shop where I was going to write on Tuesday, I listened to the podcast Hot and Bothered. The premise of the series is that Vanessa Zoltan, who writes romance under the pseudonym Lorelai Mason, has ten friends that she is going to teach to write a romance book. Author Julia Quinn comes on every other episode to give some writing advice. I love it. In this episode Vanessa’s friend, Ariana Nedelman, is attempting to write an enemies to lovers romance story. After a few years of writing that has tortured her, she quit grad school, only to decide to join this writing challenge. Vanessa questions her friend, why write if it makes her suffer? Ariana says she needs to write, it is who she is. Again, writing is part of her identity. 

These women are at the forefront of my mind as an impending school year draws near. I teach seventh graders reading and writing. These are vital skills for a host of reasons, but also, I know that for some of them they are part of their identity. I know this because it is true for me. 

I don’t know who I am without the elements that make me a reader, a writer. I have long coped with stress by disappearing into a book. Books line the shelves in my house, spilling over as I run out of room, yet still I buy more books. Writing has forever been a part of me too. As a kid, I remember getting in trouble for lying at school. Not because I made up completely untrue stories, but often I rewrote how something had happened in my mind. Not changing any outcomes, but crafting the scene just a little bit better. It seems that I was creating a world through my own reality. I am in love with words, with characters, with story. And yet, I didn’t write a drop of fiction from around middle school until I was almost forty. 

Why the almost thirty year gap of writing the stories I loved? One, there was little time devoted to it in school. Two, it wasn’t an identity that was held sacred. My papers bled when they were returned to me, yet I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. Diagramming sentences were a mystery. I’m still not fabulous with grammar and mechanics, but in school I felt ignorant because I couldn’t understand what my teachers were trying to share with me. A shy kid, I would never have asked for help, so I just decided writing was not for me. 

That was rough. 

This school year as I venture back in the building to begin my twenty-fourth year in education, I want to remember myself as a seventh grader. Their identities are being formed and I want to celebrate all of what makes them who they are. Inside of my classroom we have kids that have so much potential. I want them to strive for what makes them who they are, not teach them to give up on dreams they hold dear. I will point to authors like Morrison and talk about what their words meant to me. I will share with them my own dreams, dashed for so long, then taken up like a lantern in the night if I am just brave enough to follow. Then together, we will write. 

For me, I'm holding another of Morrison's quotes closely as I try to be brave enough to follow my dreams. Morrison said, "If there's a book you want to readbut it hasn't been written yetthen you must write it." Words that I will keep close as I continue on my journey.