It may sound egotistical, but I call myself a writer, and with some confidence. Though I have to admit that I don’t like explaining that – at least not here in LA. Here, when you say you’re a writer, people assume you work “in the industry,” or that you’re aspiring to, anyhow. I’m not. And it’s awkward to discuss. I earn my living by writing curriculum, grant applications, accreditation reports, etc. etc. etc. And, as I’m prone to say: I was a poet in another life.
What’s a writer, anyway? In the back of my head is Stephen King’s adage that anyone who is paid, ever, for writing, is a writer. Deeper than that is a belief that writing is a gift, a talent, a storytelling magic that has compelled a certain portion of the human race to metaphor from time immemorial. And finally, there is this idea that writing is a skill, a craft, something with history to be apprenticed and cultured. And as for writers, the best of us, well, they’ve hit they holy trinity.
I have been writing since elementary school. I remember keeping a diary that would move between stream of consciousness, daydream and language play. I can’t recall exactly what I wrote, but I can tell you how it felt: it felt right. Like running in a cool morning. Like leaves greener for the rain. Like driving the I-15 east through the Mojave in the middle of the night. I got some praise from my family, and so I kept writing. I wrote well in school. My peers noticed, my teachers too. I got a reputation. I transitioned from essay to poetry. Really, really, really bad poetry. I did that for a while. It helped me process my emotions.
In my early twenties I got involved in the spoken word and open mic scene in the community where I was living. This was my first taste of being around other writers. It gave me something to cut my teeth against. I met a some of folks who were better than me. I heard a couple of real poets read. I saw direction. I went to grad school. I read a lot of poetry. I studied with skilled writers. I learned to workshop and to take feedback and rejection. I kept writing. I pushed up against genre, played a bit in postmodern fiction. Won a couple of small press prizes. I got a lot more practice writing practical workplace prose. And I kept writing poetry. Somewhere along the way, I learned to separate the triggering experience from the art. That, I think, was a huge turning point from me. I began to understand that truth is not just a chronological, factual re-telling of a specific event in lovely words; that sometimes, a deeper truth is found when we blur events together, when we extrapolate them into possibility, when we hope and tremble with them.