When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time writing in my journal, a thick spiraled notebook I had bought at Woolworths. I wrote about whatever came to mind- fears that I was forever stuck in small town Fortuna, the hope that something better and more exciting would come along. I wrote sacred things, secrets I could not share with anyone but God and myself. I wrote verses of abstract, experimental poetry, then flowery heart-wrenching lyrics, filling notebook after notebook until I had a stack hiding in my closet.
Within those pages, I also wrote about my dream of becoming a writer. My dreams of becoming a writer grew big, so big that one day I fond the nerve to tell my mother. I showed her some of the poetry I had written. She discouraged me and said, “You need a real job, a career. And, don’t marry the first man who comes along either. You need to be able to make it on your own.”
When I was in high school, I wrote some essays and short stories for English class. I turned in the essays, but I kept the short story to myself. I thought I would be laughed at, ridiculed. After all, they were not as good as the stories I read in books. They were not even as good as my classmate’s stories!
Many times throughout high school, I would bring up being a writer to my mother. The scenario was always the same- I’d share my passion of writing, she’d tell me writing was fine but I needed to set my sights on a job that would bring me money. Finally, one day, after I’d graduated high school but had not yet decided on college, she told me I was just jealous of my aunt who also enjoyed writing. I was devastated at my mother’s words!! She wanted me to set my sights on college, on a career, so that I did not have to depend on a man to bring in my money for me. She would do whatever she could to make sure I saw value in myself as a self-sufficient woman. But, I wanted to be a writer and make my living putting words on paper!
About a week later, mother asked me to sit down. “I’m sorry I said those things to you. You’re out of high school now. Why don’t you go to college and you can also write.” With that, she handed me two books: Short Stories that Sell by Louise Boggess and Make Every Word Count by Gary Provost.
That day was life changing for me because I realized that my mother’s intentions were good. At 17, she chose to marry after taking her GED and decided her career was as a stay-at-home mom and raising three children (three wonderful children, I might add). She never had the resources to make a living outside of the home. She wanted for me what she did not have for herself.
Today I saw the film Freedom Writers and was inspired and reminded about how freeing it is to transport one’s truth onto paper. I cannot imagine what some of those kids lived through, the terror they endured every day. Sometimes it seems that verbal expression is not enough. My teenage journals contained truths that I cold not verbalize. I believe that writing is the one true avenue toward feeling freedom within, whether it’s journaling, writing a novel, or writing an essay.
Many years ago, I gave up my dream of becoming that famous writer, or of making a living off of words. Today, I still write but I write because I love it. I’ve had some poetry and a short story published, and I am currently working on a novel. However, my motivation has changed. I write because I love the feeling of freedom when I put words onto paper.
My mother had been gone since 1985. But, if she could see me now, she would be proud. I listened to her when she told me to go to school and learn how to take care of myself. I didn’t marry the first man who came along. I listened to her when she told me to write for fun. Mothers know what they are talking about.
Every time I look through those two books, I am reminded of my mother’s wisdom.
© 2007 Susan Littlefield