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.