Sunday, March 17, 2013

Scintilla Day 3: Finding my voice

Scintilla Day 3: 

B: Talk about a time when you were driving and you sang in the car, all alone. Why do you remember this song and that stretch of road?

I'm finding it difficult to get any real traction on the prompts this year. Last year I had to reach but it still felt within my grasp; this year I'm just starting to emerge from weeks of leaden, joyless trudging, and I'm wondering if maybe I'm just not up to this right now. I'm torn between not wanting to submit what feels like mediocre splattering and wondering if just making the effort will help me move out of the Slough of Despond.

I don't think I drive anywhere alone without singing. Once a year I drive four or five hours to Barrie to visit my best friend, and I think I usually choose the music for the drive before I decide what clothes to bring. Angus and I used to measure how long it took to drive to somebody's house by how many times we could sing the Spiderman theme song before we got there. Eve sings in three languages. I don't have nearly the upper register that I used to - asthma medication, hormones, lack of practice, whatever - but in the car I still reach for all the high notes with a complete lack of self-consciousness, and sometimes I get there and sometimes I crack and squeak horribly and then kill myself laughing. There's no way I could pick one song and one stretch of road.

So I'm going metaphorical. 

I was told from the age of seven or so that I had writing ability way above my grade level. I was always praised extravagantly for my essays, short stories and any other assignment where I could string words together (long division and completing the square were another matter entirely). I sailed through a few years taking it for granted that I would have some kind of career featuring writing. 

Then I started really thinking about what that meant. I considered journalism, until I realized that my crippling fear of questioning, talking to or in any way interacting with people I didn't know would probably be a bit of a hindrance. I went to university, got undergraduate and graduate degrees in Comparative Literature and then realized that, although I was pretty good at it, I didn't really love academic writing. Engaging in exhaustive, analytical, recursive discussion of brilliant literature by other people was engaging and amusing up to a certain point, but I didn't think I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing it and teaching other people to do it. 

I left school. I got married. I went to work for an audio publisher, thinking I would start writing fiction in my spare time.

I wrote some fiction. The fiction sucked real bad.

I tried a variety of attack points. I wrote literary short stories based on pivotal moments in a character's life. I wrote science fiction short stories. I started collaborating with a friend on a mystery novel with a strong romantic sub-plot. It was all bad. I couldn't find my voice. I knew the way my favourite books spoke to me, and I knew without a doubt that nothing I wrote was going to speak to anyone in that way. It wasn't going to say anything, in fact, except "hello, I am some really grotesquely bad fiction written by a complete waste of a human being who hates her job and still watches Beverly Hills 90210 even though she's well above the appropriate demographic". 

I took some time off to be horribly depressed. I worked in a couple of bookstores, which was twenty percent good and eighty percent wretched, on account of a large proportion of humanity being absolute wanking assholes. I quit working and had a couple of kids. Someone said once again to me that I was a really great writer. 

I said "but I never write anything."

And I didn't. I gave up. I read somewhere that if you hadn't been published by the time you were thirty that it was really all over. I felt, in a lot of ways, that I had already wasted whatever early promise I had, that I had missed some crucial turning and lost all my chances.

I heard about blogging. I rolled my eyes and mocked and wondered why anyone would think the world desired access to their thoughts, and declared that I would never, ever blog.

I started blogging. And within a very short period of time, I felt like I was singing the most soaring of arias after years of laryngitis. Trying to give a thoughtful or entertaining shape to my thoughts was vastly different from just.... trying to make things up. When I was trying to write fiction, every single sentence seemed limping, crooked, pitiful. When I was blogging, words flew faster than I could type them. I had a place to put all those thoughts that hummed or chanted or raged in my head, and see what I could do with them. Reading my own words over MADE ME SMILE. 

I often say that one of the most wonderful gifts that blogging confers is the almost-instantaneous knowledge and comfort and reassurance that, no matter what your burden, you are most assuredly not alone. But the other thing, for me, is that it gave me my voice. Some people seem to look on their blogging as a kind of consolation prize or second-best endeavour that either salves their regret for not having fiction published or keeps them from writing more fiction. And I get that, because some people are meant to write fiction, and many of them probably deserve to be published, and it's hard to get published, and maybe blogging IS sort of second-best. For me? It feels a lot like I finally found the song that I was meant to sing, the song that gives me the greatest joy and peace, and blogging is my long, straight stretch of road. 



10 comments:

StephLove said...

I know what you mean. Do I ever. Except I took the academic road a lot longer than was healthy for me. And now I write marketing materials of all things. This is not particularly fulfilling, though I'm glad to have the work. My blog is my outlet.

Lynn said...

WORD TO THIS. I always wanted to be a writer, and for the longest time I thought that meant writing great fiction. But it's so, so hard for me - every word feels like an unfolding lawn chair. While it feels kind of narcisstic to be writing about myself all the time - who would want to read a memoir of a completely average suburban mom? - it just feels RIGHT. It's what I like, it's what I'm good at.

I just heard from my friend Tudor that Kings College in Halifax will be offering a masters degree, starting next year, in Creative Non-Fiction. That fascinates me. The time, money, and effort are outside the borders right now, but it was the first time ever a degree program actually called to me. I am not sure what kind of market there is for The Personal Essay, but as long as there's blogging I'm IN.

Julie said...

i was always told i was a terrible writer. :p

i'm glad you wen t from "not ever!" to "sure, why not."

have you ever thought of writing non-fiction. like your personal memoires? with your humour and straight forward honesty, it would make a wonderful read.

Karen said...

"I felt like I was singing the most soaring of arias after years of laryngitis"

I can only dream of cooking up sentences like this! So great.

Nicole said...

a) I love your blogging voice and I remember the exact DAY we found each other, blogging. It was when you commented on my post about bursting into tears while trying to park the car after trying to go somewhere but there was construction everywhere and I kept getting lost. We were meant to be together, clearly.
b) I always sing in the car, but I have a wretched voice.
c) "I worked in a couple of bookstores, which was twenty percent good and eighty percent wretched, on account of a large proportion of humanity being absolute wanking assholes." - I waitressed a lot in university and I remember one month working 21 days in a row, I pretty much hated all of humanity.

Helen Abbott said...

This one made me smile.

Stereo said...

I love the way you turned this around; it was perfect.

And I'm hoping (for the very selfish reason of enjoying your writing) that you keep blogging, scintilla or otherwise.

Hannah said...

This made me all smiley because YES. I always loved writing and tried to figure out if I had it in me to be a *real* writer.

I've been blogging for seven years now. Or eight? I can't remember. But for the first time in my life I feel like a writer, and it feels GOOD.

(I had an almost-argument with a friend one night who has published a book. She was spluttering about "everyone calling themselves writers now". I said if she wanted to claim "author", since she's published and I'm not, fair enough - but that there is no bright line on "writer", thank you so very much. If you write, you are a writer. The end. God, I still get all pissy when I think about it. I should send her this link. You've expressed it beautifully.)

Nan | Wrath Of Mom said...

I'm shit at writing stories. I feel guilty about making bad things happen to the imaginary people in my head. Like I'm torturing them by throwing up obstacles to their happiness when I could just as easily make their "lives" easy. Needless to say my stories are short and plot less. But have happy endings.

I love blogging. We all get to be Bill Bryson for a few minutes when the mood strikes us.

clara said...

" It feels a lot like I finally found the song that I was meant to sing, the song that gives me the greatest joy and peace, and blogging is my long, straight stretch of road."

Obviously, yes, you've found it. So beautiful.

Lots of this rings true for me; writing early and often, being praised for it, doing school that's un-related to writing, trying to write anyway, in spare time, running out of spare time. Trying to dig more time out of the walls and floor. .. yeah.

Hooray for happy endings.