Friday, October 2, 2009

Doing What You Love

Tonight the local writing group that I am a member of in Cloverdale held a public reading of our work at the Arts Alliance Gallery in town. We are a diverse group: poets, memoirists, novelists, children's fiction writers, penners of short stories. We have been meeting together monthly for the past three years, to peer critique our work, offer encouragement, and simply provide impetus for the task of sitting down at the desk, pen in hand.

About three times a year, we invite the public into our space, and share what we have been working on. It is always magical. There is something profoundly moving and deeply satisfying about reading your own words out loud, having people laugh at all the right moments, or eliciting a group sigh after an evocative image in a poem. It does two things for me - it makes me feel an even stronger connection to the other women in my group, and it solidifes for me my identity as a writer. It makes me think: "I am that."

Writing is something I always wanted to do, but I was timid. I didn't trust myself. I began my first novel when I was ten. My first rejection letters, from Highlights Magazine, are glued into a childhood scrapbook. Even then, I thought of myself as a writer. But at 16, I took a creative writing class in high school, where I wrote a collection of insipid, sophomoric, sentimental poems. I knew they were terrible. I vowed never to write another poem again.

I veered off in the direction of journalism, working for my high school and college newspapers. I thought it would be my career. Again, a detour. My lack of self confidence and a series of disastrous relationships pushed me into survival mode, and I ended up working for a number of years as a legal secretary, paralegal, and administrative assistant. It was not at all where I wanted to be, but I didn't have the courage, or the belief in myself, to go somewhere else. So I just got by, paying the bills, and let my writing life exist only as a fantasy, never acted upon.

About 15 years ago, I took a writing class in San Francisco with poet and essayist Thea Sullivan on "Finding Your Voice." To my surprise, everything I wrote came out in the form of a poem. "But I'm not a poet!" I said to Thea. To which she replied, "Apparently, you are." I gave in. I began writing poems.

For a long time, I kept them to myself. Gradually, I began showing up at open mic nights to read one short piece. My voice trembled; my hands shook. I kept writing, but sporadically, aimlessly. I still had so much fear, fear that I wasn't good enough, fear that I would hurt someone if I told the truth, fear that no one would believe me or listen to what I had to say. But I kept taking the occasional workshop. I went back to the field of journalism, not quite the creative place I wanted to be in, but much, much closer. I began telling people I was a poet.

Finally, three years ago, I decided I needed to act, now, this minute, jump in. I began looking for a writing group. Of course, you know how the universe works when you're ready. It just happened a Cloverdale writing group was forming right at that moment. I was in on it from the start. It has been a place of incredible support and inspiration, because all of us have grown as writers, and as public readers. Tonight's successful event is a testament to that. I write poems, I write short stories, I write essays. And I read my words aloud, and a roomful of people listens.

And now, at home in my office, the glow of the reading still rests on me. I am, finally, doing what I love. Sitting at my desk, night after night, my fingers tapping rapidly over the keyboard. I am a writer. I am a writer!


  1. "I am a writer. I am a writer."

    I'll say!

    (Really enjoying getting a regular dose of your work, Michelle.)

  2. Michelle,

    Your story is so inspiring. A writer I am not, but listening to your struggles to express yourself and to finally achieve a feeling of accomplishment I definitely understand.

    Self-confidence in what I do has always been difficult for me and it always has its ups and downs. There are times when things feel so right, followed by times when everything falls apart.

    I have a wonderful Buddhist saying pinned to my clipboard by my computer. It reads:

    Praise and blame,
    gain and loss, pleasure
    and sorrow come
    and go like the wind.
    To be happy, rest
    like a great tree in the
    midst of them all.

    Not an easy thing to do!

    Thanks for writing this blog. Your short stories always give me pause.

    Marilyn Bates

  3. Clare: Thanks for checking in. It's good to know you're out there in cyberspace, reading.

    Marilyn: Welcome! I love your Buddhist saying. "Rest like a great tree" - you're right, not an easy thing to do. Paradoxical, isn't it? That stillness is hard? I guess that's what zazen is teaching me...slowly, ever so slowly.