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Quill Dancing

When I went to college at 18, I wanted to be a famous writer.  My Gram was paying the bills and she wanted me to apply myself to a career.  Blah.  I took journalism, thinking it was a crafty compromise.  Double blah.

Already in 1977 reporters were being groomed for the sensational.  I was asked to slant my pieces.  In a couple of instances I was asked to lie.  I was also sent to interview a Professor who was leaving the school for sexual misconduct.  I was supposed to question the professor, his wife and his girlfriend.  I was instructed to get all of the sordid details.  I refused.

What can I say?  I grew up with Walter Cronkite. News isn’t gossip.  Gossip isn’t news.  We already had the big picture.  The intimate details would serve no purpose but to titillate.  After explaining that to the newspaper adviser, I trundled over to admissions and withdrew — at said adviser’s urging.  He said I had too many scruples to be a reporter.

For the next several years I worked a variety of jobs — all in the service industry.  I was an apartment manager, a cook, a housekeeper, a hospital janitor … and the whole time I wrote.  Like Emily Dickinson I had reams of writing stuffed in drawers and cupboards.  Unlike Emily I never took to writing on the walls.

Writing was my hobby.  Being a writer was my secret dream.  I never tried to make that dream come true — fear of failure.   One day, sickened by my foolish dreams, I tossed all of my manuscripts into a dumpster.  Enough was enough.  Time to be a grownup and live with the reality of my life.  I forbid myself to write.

Then, at 31, I grew a brain and took myself off to college to make something of myself.  I thought again of writing, but by then I had a clearer understanding of my grandmother’s concerns.  Writers go hungry.  I’d had enough of struggling to get by. I needed a real career.  I majored in elementary education.

All through college I would peek at the writing classes in the catalog, but I wouldn’t take any.  They called to me like forbidden sweets.  I resisted — until my senior year.  I needed to carry a 15 credit load, but I had most of my required classes behind me.   The student teaching block was only 12 credits.  I needed three more, and decided a writing class would do nicely — a bit of fluff — not too taxing while I was teaching all day, attending afternoon/early evening classes and working nights.

During that same time my best friend, Joanne, entered Sacred Heart hosptial, where she spent the last year of her life slowly dying.  After three years of dialysis she was the proud winner of a kidney transplant — which went septic and destroyed her from the inside out.  The hospital was over a hundred miles from the college, but several of us went every weekend to sit by Joann’s bed.

Joanne, Robin, Linda and I all started college together.  We were all supposed to graduate together.  Joanne wasn’t going to cross that stage with us, but she insisted she would be there in spirit.  She questioned the time we spent with her and worried that we weren’t doing our studies. I bought a portable word processor so I could sit by her bed and she could see me do my work.

I used that word processor to write a story that my instructors, Claire Davis and Dennis Held, urged me to enter in the LCSC annual writer’s competition.  There was no entry fee.  I had nothing to lose but pride — so I entered, and forgot about it.

Graduation came.  We all crossed the stage, then took our diplomas on a road trip to see Joanne.  She shared our excitement and joy — then quietly lapsed into her final sleep a couple hours after we left her.

A few days later I received news that my story had won the competition.  It was a spark of joy and hope.  It was confirmation that my dream was not impossible.

After Joanne’s memorial service, Robin and I perched on the edge of the campus fountain.  I said, “I am going to stay in school.  I am going to get a second major. This is my dream.  Life is short.  I have to try.”  Robin nodded her head and said that she understood how I felt.  Then she stood, grabbed me by both my ears and shouted up my nose, “Get a grip! Teachers can write.  Writers go hungry.”

So, I took a teaching job — and a children’s ministry — and signed up for a dozen other committees.  I became too busy to write.  But occasionally I still dream, though most of my writing is done right here, and you are my audience.

If you’re interested, the piece I wrote for the competition can be found behind the “Power Play” tab up above.  It was published in the Talking River Review, Fall 1996 issue.

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. When I told my parents I was going to be a writer, they said “don’t be ridiculous, you need a real job, study accounting.” Because I respected their opinion, I took their advice and wrote on the side. Stacking them neatly in file folders too worried about failing and losing the dream. Two years ago, when my last kid graduated from High School and I’d run out of excuses, I applied myself to writing. I may never see publication, but it won’t be because of lack of trying. You’ve already had more positive confirmation of your skill and talent than I’ll probably ever see. For Quilly to fail to chase the dream would be a disservice to the world.

  2. Doug — I thought 31 was late. And thank you. I’ve had several men tell me that reading Power Play is a strange and foreign experience. For some reason the POV bothers them.

  3. Your post has come at the perfect time for me. I want to enter an artist competition, have two designs all set to go but I am afraid to mail it in. I will do it in your honor!!! I will mail it Monday….

  4. Just a note to tell you the first comment on this entry is not from me but from Betty. She gets confused on non blogger blogs and since my information is already there she goes with. She wanted to be a writer I did not. I know my limitations. I did leave a comment at the end of the story. I am waiting for your novel. How about ” The Fifth Grader wo Died Laughing”

  5. Dear QuillDancer,

    Just found your site & read this story & agree with a number of the commenters that it is great that you are writing so much now. I liked the story very much. Your writing voice is very strong. I’ll be back. Marta

  6. Integrity, creativity and humour – sounds like perfect writer credentials to me! Thanks for sharing, and thanks for visiting my blog and leaving comments!

    BTW in the two sentences above anything that looks like a spelling mistake on my part is because i am a Brit (and have resisted the urge to say ‘and we write proper’ 😉 ) so humour is meant to be humour…at least in my little world

  7. Quill

    I found a fun Meme on the net and completed it, It was right “Up My Alley”

    Now you haven’t been officially tagged “Heaven Forbid” I’d tag anyone but if you so desire to partake in the Meme posted on my blog, Help yourself.

    Wonderful Weekend is wished for you.

  8. Marta — thanks for stopping by. I just popped by your site. It’s a shame I live so far away.

    Alastair — having read several posts on your blog I had already identified your spelling infirmity — at least you have an excuse. I just don’t pay attention!

    Polona — I AM a writer? I used to think so …

    Bill — I’ll be by to look, but unless it is really special I am off memes for a couple of weeks — or until my brain goes dead again.

  9. Quill,

    I have my own autographed copy of Talking River Review and get it off the shelf on a regular basis and read your work. Or should I say one of the masterpieces that you have written. I hold tight to that book because I know one day you will be a well known author and I will be able to say that I know you personally and I have a book and fond memories of lunches with frosties to last me a lifetime.

    Thanks for writing. Keep it up and never shelf your work again!

  10. Angela — you have more confidence in me than I do! And you have a guarantee of my autograph on anything I write. I’ll even come sign your computer screen if you want me to!

  11. Confidence. Oh course I have confidence in you. Who the heck do you think gave me the confidence to shoot for my own personal dreams. You were a big influence in my making changes that I would not normally do. Such as the courage to leave a job that I hated and hope that something else would come up. That happened then 2 years after I landed my “dream” job at the time, the owners decided to close shop and move. I once again was left to try and figure out what I was going to do and I remember you telling me I can do anything. I am so organized and helpful that anyone would hire you. Well I took that last challenge in 1999 and applied for a job that I thought there is no way I will ever get it, and this year I will celebrate my 8th year with the Lewiston School District and I have you to thank. Your confidence in me kept me going when I needed it most even though you were miles away in Vegas. You made me have confidence in myself and for that I will always be thankful!

  12. LOL! I had a bunch of writing that I tossed in the dumpster too Quilly! But not until I had received enough rejection slips from publishers to wallpaper my den! At that point I decided that I was a VERY BAD story writer – but that I am a fun essayist. And I have NO intention of publishing essays! Like you – I write the now strictly for fun! But YOU! Oh YOU, miss Thang! YOU are an accomplished PUBLISHED authoress! Congratulations on THAT!!! If it’s the ONLY thing you ever publish – you ARE published! YAY you!

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