At the beginning of this quarter, the instructor for this course created a short assignment asking each student to introduce themselves and their experience with writing. We were asked about the various English courses we had taken, how we would define revision, why we chose to take this class, and to recount the best piece of advice we'd been given regarding writing/composing. Lastly, we were asked, "Are you a writer? Why or why not?" This question made me pause. Do I enjoy writing? Absolutely. Do I consider writing to be a skill I am relatively confident in? Yes, I think so. Is writing something I strive to continue improving at? For sure. But am I a writer? I don't know.
I have always wanted to be a writer. My mom always tells me stories about how in elementary school, she and one of my friend's mothers would always find themselves waiting outside of our classroom after school to ask our teacher if we could have an extension on various writing projects. My friend's mom would explain that it had taken her an hour to get her son to write a single sentence, and the report, story, etc. was far from complete. My mom would explain that I was still frantically trying to finish a twenty plus page report on beluga whales or the history of pasta or an equally long story about talking bubbles and would also need a couple extra days if only to save her from having to stay up all night with a nine-year-old hysterical with worry over what should have been a three page paper. Our teachers always made some joke about combining us to make the perfect student, but ten years later, having not completed high school, his artistic talent took him to a college of music to study the violin, and I became...
As you can probably tell from the title of this section, "Becoming a Writer," I have landed upon yes as an answer. I have always heard that "good" writers are those who find time to sit down every day and write. No matter what, where, or when. I don't fit this definition; there are days when I find myself sprinting between classes and lab meetings and teaching, and the thought of sitting down to write doesn't even cross my mind. There are days when over the breaks between quarters when I have few responsibilities and still don't take the time to sit down and write something. I think I hesitate to say I am a writer because, by the above description, I am a "bad" writer, and I would rather not be a writer at all than a bad one. However, taking English 381, I have realized that in many ways, I am still similar to the elementary schooler who was never found without pen and paper on hand. I have spent hours more than are theoretically required trying to fine tune the writing I do for this class. I throw myself headlong into every writing assignment I complete and engage with each not as a compulsory paper, but as an opportunity to write where I might not otherwise have time. And even on days when I don't put words to a page, they are always swirling around in my mind. I tend to narrate life in my head, attempting to reify (my favorite word; it shows up at least once in every essay I write) the intricate, fast-paced world around me into concrete sentences that I'll jot down in my phone. So yes, I am a writer. Not a perfect (or even good) one by many definitions, but a writer.
If you are interested to see the final project I did for this class, check out the spoken-word poem I wrote below on sexual harassment/assault. This was a meaningful piece for me to write, and I hope some part of it resonates with you.
Let me tell you about the dry skin, wrapping my knuckles, cutting rough tracks across the backs of my hands like jagged lines that fracture pavement. Sometimes it bleeds. Sometimes, I still feel his fingers inside of me. Another wave of crimson that will not consent to clot.
At seven years old, we would sing superstitions, giggling “Step on a crack, and you’ll break your mother’s back.” Then tiptoeing ‘round sidewalk cracks became cracks and shadowed alleyways became backstreets, clustered trees, vans, parking lots, a man walking 10 steps behind me… 9… 8… 7… 6… crossing the street. I see women walking through each evening, pointer fingers on the triggers of cans filled with pepper spray. I am walking, always wondering how far my voice would carry if I screamed, wondering if anyone is listening like they listened to his story of mixed signals and she wanted me, thinking he had turned a red light green when really he just had a taste for speed, and me, I was just a body disappearing in his rearview mirror. But here we debate the legality, the legitimacy of the words pried from between my teeth, only to be shoved in a folder stamped, red ink bold across the front, “not guilty.” I wonder if anyone is listening like they listened to his fiction of She wanted meor she would have followed what her mama said, looked left and right then left again before crossing the street. She knew that she was stepping into traffic. I wonder if anyone is listening because sometimes seeing the tapestry that he has woven of our history erases
My reality: The nights I tried to heave his un-sweet nothings, head dangling over the rim of the toilet seat, from my body, aching to see more than bile, a swirling citrine yellow, in the basin. You see, the taste of sick is sugar on my tongue when it is he that I am purging.
My reality: The Autumn sun isn’t golden, nor warm on my skin. The crunch of fallen leaves reminds me of the splinters in my skeleton, fissures in the bones that used to carry me chin up, shoulders back, with dignity nestled in the pockets of my clavicles, pockets where the stench of his breath caked with cigarette smoke where the taste of his tongue where the weight of hands atop my chest, heart trembling beneath, now rest.
My reality: I like sex. But there are times when, permitted a breath, I would have said no. And there are times when I would have said yes, but he didn’t care to ask before he fucked me up.
I remember the collision. Metal crashing against skin. Ears ring. Blood drips, then streams. Limp on the street. Fractures in the pavement that I want to slip beneath. Someone screams. Him, speeding from the scene. Reality… The throbbing of reality; a memory that I still see before my eyes. You have to see. You have to see that I stepped into traffic, but he ran the red light.