Dec 11, 2015

Following Ants (or how does one become a writer?)


I am depressed by those stories about writers who have been writing since they were three. They picked up a crayon and began scrawling words on the walls that drove their mothers to take photographs of the graffiti. First, if I had done that the consequences would have been slightly more severe. The plan, (since first grade), was that my best friend was going to write books and I was going to illustrate them – without coloring outside the lines or on the walls. She read voraciously. I wasn’t a reader until well into middle school. (Seriously. Some of us are just really late bloomers when it comes to reading readiness. If you're a parent with a resistent reader, be patient.) I never considered being a writer. I loved reading romance novels. My friends and I exchanged them by the grocery bag-full, but writing or becoming a writer? Not me.
But as a young adult, I found myself living in Scotland… for a year. (It was that “Student Year Abroad”. I was the “broad”, not the student.) On a visiting visa, one is allowed to work, but of course, the job would have to be offered to a qualified Scottish Citizen over a youngster from over seas. But as it turned out, if it was a job that no Scottish person wanted, I typically didn’t want it either. So I spent a month wandering around the town of St. Andrews, the only young person at loose ends milling around the town’s only art museum, (at the time. There may be more than one art museum now.) I drank tea and rambled over the castle and cathedral ruins until I pretty much had those memorized. I’m a terrible photographer, so I began making sketches of the landmarks around the beautiful village – the Cathedral, the Quad, the Royal and Ancient Golf Course. Did I mention that Scotland is freakin’ cold in the winter months? I recall seeing a few snowflakes, but mostly, it was just bone chilling wet wind coming off the Northern Sea.
So I was driven inside with my little sketch book and the sketches turned into notes, turned into full un-fragmented sentences, to paragraphs. Eventually, I found a computer lab for students. (This was in the 80s, when there was no internet to speak of.) And this computer was hooked up to a dot-matrix printer, intended for student use only. Pshh. I was there with a student spouse. Same diff. If anyone stopped me, I was going to say I was typing term papers for him. I printed a couple of manuscripts on that thing – one chapter at a time, over the course of the academic year.
When I came home to the states I, (thankfully), stuck those manuscripts in a drawer to ferment. And when next I pulled one out, it had grown things – nasty things with slime and horns. It must have grown like that, because surely I would not have produced anything so hideous.
I had to work around my studies, but it seemed a good use of my time. I poked and cut and scraped and eventually whittled off most of the slime and horns and, voila, a novel was born. (You won’t find that one in any bookstores. It’s been sent back to the drawer to ferment a bit longer… forever probably.)

And that’s how this writer was born. It’s a contagion, you see. You write one word, and somehow that word is intriguing on a white background, like tracing a trail of ants to their hill. You never know where those little black ants, crawling across the page, are going to lead you. It’s kind of like traipsing all over the Scottish countryside, looking for purpose. You find your purpose at “the end”.

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