Becoming a Writer

I write therefore I am

What is the magical deciding factor that determines you are in fact a writer? I love the story of Margaret Atwood at a dinner party. The dentist beside her asks about her work and he replies, “Yeah, when I retire, I’m going to become a writer.” To which Margaret Atwood replies, “Yeah when I retire, I’m going to be a dentist.” Not all people have the confidence to declare, “I am a writer”. This is the case, despite the fact that most people can write. They may not have a receptive audience to read the writing. They may not have well developed writing skills. The conditions and experiences that come prior to this declarative statement are highly individual and require a bold step.

I have always been a recorder of facts.  My Holly Hobby diaries from back in the day document the daily happenings of my life in elementary school. My many travel journals document places visited and go into intimate detail about everything I ate.   I have a clear record of all my favourite rides at Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and later Magic Mountain from age 5 to 20 from when I was obliged to go to Los Angeles to visit my father and step-mother in the summer with my older sister.  Trips to our cabin in the Sierra Nevadas at the doorstep of Yosemite document the best times that I spent time with my father, usually with no one else around. There were advantages to being game to hike high into the mountains early in the morning, to fish for hours on end, and an inquiring mind anxious to learn from his travels, experiences, and retellings of Edgar Allan Poe.

My younger brother was born ten years after me and my younger sister, eighteen months later.  This was a highlight of visits to California.  Through our blended family, I got to transition from being a youngest child to being a big sister.  I loved it.  I wrote down all of their developmental accomplishments and had definite ideas of what I would do if I was the mother.  Play moved from barbie dolls to real dolls.  I was an early riser and loved not having to stay in bed waiting for everyone else to get up before I made any noise.  I made up stories about our miniature collie, Lassie (original, I know) and my youngest sister’s teddy bear, incidentally named Teddy (I know…).  I took on the task of “teaching”.  I had started babysitting my younger cousins at 11 years, so I knew how to teach.  My diary documents me teaching my cousins to sit on the headboard of my uncle and aunt’s bed while I taught them to do flips on the bed without hitting their heads on the footboard.  I apparently took the sequencing of lessons very seriously, even at a young age.  I didn’t share all of the details of my babysitting skills, so I was trusted to watch my young siblings. 

My private journals growing up include the wide spectrum of  the angst and tribulations of the acrimony of my parents’ divorce and the retribution of my step-mother.  My sister was three years older than me and missed our father terribly.  She was in line with the plan for us to grow up in Los Angeles with a “normal” family (two parents and two children) and all of the advantages our father could provide as a successful neurosurgeon.  My father was not around for much for my pre-school years and I was strongly attached to my Mom by the time I started visits to California at 5 years old.  I provided no end to the obstacles to “the plan”.  I would agree to take turns living in California but then I wouldn’t because I couldn’t leave my Mom all alone.  I became a steadfast Canadian nationalist, although I was born in California, to strengthen my position.  It did not help that I looked like my Mom, was sure I was right like my father, and would sooner fight to the death than acquiesce – like all three parents.  It has made for many journals written in California at the house, at the beach house and at the cabin.  Lots of material should I even decide to tell tales of the dysfunctional family.

My father’s buy out offer of my mother’s meagre alimony payment after I graduated from secondary school, was large enough to be appealing but not substantial enough to provide much of a down payment for housing or the ability to qualify for a bank loan.  When Mom was hit with pre-menopausal breast cancer at 44 years old, the chemotherapy reduced her typing speed, confidence and ability to maintain work as a secretary.  The 18% interest charged by the private vendor meant my Mom needed to pay off the loan, cut her losses and find somewhere else to live.  The answer was to move in with me and my husband in a house in Coquitlam, a suburb of Vancouver.  Dog #1 followed.  Two kids.  Dog #2.  Cat #1 and then #2. Birds.  Gerbils. All of these life events provided me with more than enough feelings to fill many, many journals.  Interestingly these journals are filled with writing to process the challenges of my life and living in the suburbs.   All of the good times, and there have been many, are relegated to being experienced and shared orally rather than written about. 

I didn’t actually start to think of myself as a writer until I started to blog.  My mother was not successful battling her second bout of cancer.  On the day before her memorial service, I was fortuitously contacted by Steve Rogers, a Coquitlam principal, with an opportunity to teach Canadian teaching methodology and English language skills to English teachers in China for three weeks at the Fuyang Bureau of Education.   Two months later, I was in Fuyang, giving myself and my family a break from my all-encompassing grief.  I put aside my fears of writing for an audience and embarked on my first blog to share my daily adventures in China with my family, friends, and anyone else who was interested.  My friend, Jan Wells, told me that she had my blog on her computer desktop, and would read it each morning with the paper.  Around the same time, my step-mother wrote me to express how embarrassing for me that I had spelt “massage” wrong, especially with being a teacher.   And hence a writer was born.  The full realization that I was opening myself up to feedback from many directions, with many motivations.

My Serious Indulgences food blog followed my travel blog. Then emerged the source of my most prolific writing. My Inquire2Empower blog was born.  This writing is largely focused on education and job related inquiries.  It has been a great opportunity to delve into content and explore possibilities. I continue to develop my thinking through writing but for an audience.  This adds an additional reflective lens.  There is a bigger emphasis on making my ideas explicit and engaging.

The COVID-19 pandemic has afforded me the time to think more about my life as a writer.  Travel, socializing, eating out, movies, plays, concerts, and so many of the usual summer activities have been drastically curtailed.  The exhaustion of the back to school online, then f2f has subsided.  My natural early riser cicadian rhythm is back.  I have been on the common deck of our condo in Kits, overlooking the water and mountains with a great cup of coffee since 5:45 am.  It is a writer’s paradise.  And so I have been writing.  Of course, my go to place was to write a blog about writing.  And that leads me to, where next?

My childhood friend, John Patrick, is lover of language. Both of us got that from his mother, quoter of the perfect verse for all occasions. He illustrated my first children’s book when I was completing a Children’s Literature course at the University of British Columbia. The theme was flying kites. It included my iconic red hairband of my childhood, hand stitched binding, and was completed without a computer. I wrote it as a culminating piece of a unit on flight for my upcoming Grade 3 practicum. John’s skills as an artist have continued to improved with practice and study of art at VCC Langara. The new camera hasn’t hurt either. This spring I enlisted John and his skills again. This time, I wanted him to do a daily bird tweet to support my online, multi-disciplinary invitation to learn about Birds to support teachers, parents, and students during online learning. He played and it was fun. We met the other day, because I had another idea. We are writing a picture book about birds to stimulate interest in birds and encourage inquiry. We are selecting specific birds in Vancouver to provoke thinking about key concepts. Our planning process has started. The writing and artistic process begins. Because I am a writer.

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