“I heard Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, speak on writing once. Someone asked her for the best possible writing advice she had to offer, and she held up a yellow legal pad, pretended her fingers held a pen, and scribbled away.” - Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The sun blasted down through the windshield of my aunt’s Taurus. The Alabama heat accentuated the leather car interior providing musty, hot smells even as the A/C pelted my eyes with Arctic chill. My aunt, the youngest of my mom’s four sisters, was taking me only god knows where. As a kid we normally spent a lot of time together running errands, seeing the sights around Birmingham, or generally having fun. As philosophically as a 10 year-old gets I remember saying to her [in loose verbatim], “In Sister Act, Whoopi said to a student, (Lauryn Hill) that ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing…then you’re a writer. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is singing, you’re supposed to be a singer.”
At ten years old my fascination with the Sister Act movies was at an all-time high. Every day I would get home from school and pour half a cup of Hershey’s chocolate syrup into a pint of 2% milk. I believe nowadays health blogs could consider this as “bulking”. As a child, this repetitive non-nutritious snack was seen as normal. As the chocolate and dairy mingled as new friends I would make the one snack item that I didn’t burn...most of the time. Popcorn packets melted away in the microwave into large bags of hot, oily movie food.
Our playroom was the kids zone. The carpet needed to be replaced due to all the spills. The couch was from when my dad was a bachelor. The TV was an analog, rotary box with wood paneling. I would already have Sister Act, Sister Act 2, or the Little Rascals in the VHS and would rewind it impatiently. (I understand my cinematic picks are not envious or flattering, but they were a part of almost every afternoon of 4th grade.)
As the back of my thighs stuck to the passenger seat and I looked up at my aunt, my childhood idol, and was crestfallen when her response was, “Well, I don’t believe that.” She went on more about how that was inaccurate, but I couldn’t hear. My little childhood world had taken a big blow. I offered up one of my favorite lines, from my favorite movie, to my favorite friend and the response was a resounding, “That isn’t correct.”
Now, this scenario didn’t send me reeling back in time and convince me never to pursue writing. It didn’t cause me to like my aunt less. What it did do, however, was put judgemental boxes around professions and people’s habits. As an adult I see my peers constantly struggle with defining themselves through careers while more excitedly explaining their side hustles or hobbies. It’s not easy to be a creative mind in a world built for efficiency and making money to support those hobbies and hustles.
A now famous quote by Colonel John Boyd, an Air Force pilot superstar, goes, “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?” Ask yourself, will you simply “be” something or will you “do” something. I see it as earning my stripes to “be through doing”. In the acts of work we become what we see ourselves as.
Before I took time for this summer to be dedicated to writing my book I never called myself a “writer”. Writing was something I did all the time either for myself or to negate travel expenses, but never something I consider earth-shattering or genre-moving. It was my partner who took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re a writer so start acting like one.”
When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing you think about? When you have down time on the weekends or at night or in the morning what do you do? What hobbies do you have that create that special spark of creativity or belonging to a greater presence than yourself in this world?
To me, that is what we are. We are the persistent pursuits, the constant challenges we present ourselves with, and the small wins that feel like major accomplishments. As I write this now I am using my morning before packing for Mexico to write about a thought that popped into my head while I was driving around town yesterday. It flows onto this page, but is also a struggle to focus in its entirety. Yet, I proceed because getting this up on my blog that few people may read is a win. It is an accomplishment. Because I work on my craft of writing I am a writer.
I am a writer. It’s about time I start acting like one.
Who are you?