By the age of nine (but perhaps even younger than that), I experienced a revelation. It was something I just knew in my bones, at the core of my being. I wanted to write when I grew up. Then, thirty years later, after numerous failed attempts at publishing and stifled creativity, I stopped writing altogether.
First, I packed up the writing drafts into plastic bins and stowed them in the bedroom closet. But then, a few years later, I buried them in a closet under the basement steps, and forgot my childhood dreams altogether.
The same year I realized I wanted to write — to be a writer — as my life’s passion (my vocation as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it), I decided to share this choice with my mother. I can remember the conversation as if it happened just a few moments ago.
We were driving in Mrs. Shawaker’s giant, 1984, blue Chevy Suburban — perhaps returning from a Girl Scout meeting (Mrs. Shawaker and my mom were both troop leaders). The conversation must have touched on what we girls wanted to be when we grew up. I boldly stated, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.”
To which my well-intentioned mother retorted, “A writer — why would you want to be a writer? You know, you can’t make any money as a writer.”
She had planted a seed of doubt. I was still committed to my calling (despite her warning), but I had no tools to weed out the invasive species she’d sowed. It was one that waited, dormant, for another nine years before it began to take root. Until I graduated from high school and began planning my goals. Then it really began to spread.
You see, in that single moment, when I had professed my desire to live a creative life, my mother had reduced my dreams to the lowest common denominator. My intrinsic worth could only be measured by my relevance to others. Self-worth could only be calculated by a profitable career. At the very least, a decent living.
I couldn’t just write for myself.
[At the time, I didn’t understand I was seeking my mother’s approval. And later on in life, I didn’t realize I still waited for that official permission slip.]
My love of writing, and its significance to my life, was known to me alone. How could she even begin to fathom what it meant to me?
And in the same way, her childhood memories (watching her father work two jobs to make the ends meet) and now her marriage (which was slowly disintegrating as my father continued his affair with a co-worker at the tool and die plant owned by my mom’s father) were known only to her. And they constantly plagued her waking hours.
Who would take care of me (her) if I couldn’t provide for myself?
When I abandoned my writing, it was as if I had buried my soul in a shallow grave. Only a shell remained and acted out my life.
This decision nearly destroyed me. The words and images and emotions never escaped me.
I was splintering under the weight. And it nearly killed me.
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
– The Gospel of Thomas, verse 70, From Jesus to Christ.