Thursday, March 6, 2014

Beyond my ability

As a child I was never able to color within the lines, cut a decent shape with scissors or make the glue only cover the intended area. Making model cars was a favorite activity of my neighborhood friends. Mine never looked anything like the box cover.  My school art projects were disasters. Whatever it was I made as a gift for my parents resulted in awkward moments. Either they had to ask what is was or fake appreciation for what they held, but didn’t understand.
As for my family, my Mom dabbled with painting and other artistic endeavors. She an eye and the touch. I struggled with an unsatisfied eye; I could see it, but never create it.  Both of my sons have exceptional artistic talents. My oldest son paints, sketches, sculpts and more. He does custom tattoo work, taking ideas and images and creating something beyond expectations. My younger son dabbles in graffiti art having created a wall on his garage that continues to amaze as he covers one great piece with another.
Even from a young age, there has been something in me that wanted to create — to take what is within and make something, something that would express that which stirs deep within.  I had a poem published in a primary school anthology (and it was not one in which every student had a piece included). In eighth grade we wrote autobiographies and I mentioned wanting to write as a possible future career. The desire lay dormant until I stumbled into writing as a young adult. 
In the late 70s, I was a camp director and was asked to write a training piece for the national journal. The piece got published and something clicked. I was asked to write another piece, and then another.  I loved the validation that came from seeing my ideas become print and get “out there.” Soon I was looking for other places to get published. I started with training-focused pieces and soon shifted to leadership, satire and op-ed pieces.
Satire became my primary vehicle for a few years. Growing up in my family provided great fodder for snarky insights into organizations and relationships. I found ways to take basic ideas and re-craft them for numerous settings.
I made a few bucks here and there and set a goal of getting at least one piece published each year. I wrote for national journals and some local publications. I made a list of publications that I wanted to work with. I learned to live with rejection letters. And I learned how quickly the buzz of publication faded.
I was writing on assignment for a local magazine when I got a call from the editor. Could I come by and pick up my kill fee? “My what?” I asked. Kill fee. They had decided to go another way with the story and no longer needed my work. I picked up the envelope a couple of days later.
I waited until I was in my car to open it, and then started to laugh. The check not to print my work was bigger than any I had received to date for a published piece. I wanted to go back in the office and ask if there was anything else they’d like me to write for them not to print.
A landmark was the day an editor introduced me as a humorist. Mark Twain and Garrison Keilor are humorists. I was not about to consider myself their peer, but was energized to be a part of their writers’ community.
I later expanded into short fiction, poetry and essays. I won a few local contests and the bug kept me going. Anytime I have been called a writer, even occasionally a poet, it fuels my drive.
I have been writing for over 35 years now. I know my style. I took little more than required writing classes in my schooling. I know I want to have my voice, a more casual, personal tone. I do not want to come off as using vocabulary to somehow prove educational or academic superiority. I know at times my stuff is weak and mangled. At times I avoid an editing process that feels endless to me and send too quickly.
I have a sense of deep gratification when my words connect with others stories, feelings and hopes. There is something magical about working alone digging within to produce something that will eventually be out there for others — others who hear my stories in their own way, adding or shifting meaning beyond my ability to imagine.
May God have mercy on us all.



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