Back in college I had a professor who was in love with literature. She could read Shakespeare like an actress and every word she spoke moved me. I wanted to please her. More than that, I wanted to be just like her; excited by literature to the point of giddiness, able to recite quotes from my favorites like, Virginia Woolf or James Joyce or Shakespeare, on a whim. I admired her enthusiasm, her passion, and her mind. Only, we were very different and I couldn’t remember what I read five minutes after I read it. That was over thirty years ago and I still have the love of literature and I still struggle with remembering who said what when it comes to quotable phrases, but I’ve long ago given up trying to be someone I am not.
Nevertheless, words are exciting to me; books are still my prized possessions. I first knew I wanted to be a writer because beautiful phrases were always coming together in my head causing me to stop and say, I have to write that down! Only, when I did, the words didn’t sound as clever as they did when they were just thoughts. That’s why, after I graduated with my English degree, I went to art school. I decided to paint instead of write. Except, over the years I still had that voice in my head, the one that was trying to put the words together, the one that exclaimed, “yes!” when I read a book or an essay where the author knew just how to connect with her readers. When an author was honest and insightful and raw, I was moved, sometimes so moved that I cried, happy or sad, I cried. I wanted to be able to do that, to move people like that. Some part of me always wanted to express herself with that much power, but like art, I knew that writing wasn’t just a gift that would take little effort to spill out on a page, I knew there were techniques to learn, styles to study and explore and rules to follow, or to break. So, I took what I learned from my degrees in English and Illustration and I built on those lessons as I worked my way through graduate school, earning an MFA in creative non-fiction.
Today when I write, I consider the rules of painting, of shadow and light, of texture, value and line quality. I know that there is much more to the telling of a story than the chronological listing of events. I try to paint a scene for my readers, like I would with watercolors. I don’t use my paintbrushes of course, but I think of them as I write. I think about the Isabey Kolinsky, a paint brush that holds a lot of water, a lot of color, and yet keeps a fine point in the same way that the right phrase or metaphor can mean the difference in moving a reader, or not reaching them at all.
I’m not Shakespeare or James Joyce or Virginia Woolf, and I am not that professor that I admired so long ago, but I think of them as well. I refer to them often, and to other writer’s works that I have come to admire. I look to them for inspiration but I’m no longer interested in being anything but my own authentic self. Through the years, I’ve become a better listener to my own heart, I’ve come to a place where I recognize the directions my own creativity can take and how to best express all that I have to share, and with the skills that I have acquired along the way, my only hope is, that I do it well.