This spring, I enrolled in an eight week memoir writing class at the local library. It was risk-free as well as being cost free, with no grading and no cash exchanged. As an additional bonus, I gave myself permission to quit at any time. It was a place where I could test drive my writing vehicle, this blog I affectionately call Mami, to see if I was on the right track and if my writing had a wider appeal than my loyal friends and family. Aware that they are a biased audience and know my story first hand, the cheerleader role that they have assumed delights me, but I needed a true critique. And if the criticism hit too close to the heart, I planned a speedy exit back to the bosom of my dedicated and slanted followers.
While it did not always flow readily, I always knew that I could write, at least at the perfunctory level of business memos or the college brand of term and research papers. Professors, coworkers, and friends over the years have commented on my writing. From their feedback, my personal style apparently shines through, as evidenced by the frequent, “I bet Marie wrote this”. I accepted this recognition as compliment yet I never imagined that writing could ever be my calling. It was a passion but never a vocation. My skill, however, traces its roots to my high school experience and a teacher, a man named Bill Murray (not the actor), whom I greatly feared. However, it was through this fear that I developed my craft. It was Catholic school, after all, and we were bred on fear which, in theory, would give birth to our future success.
Mr. Murray, a cruel taskmaster and a purveyor of snappy commentary, would return essays to his students in a state that nearly was unidentifiable. My class assignments, handwritten on crisp white composition paper turned a sea of red ink, convinced me that I had a problem – I clearly could not write. To address this issue, during my Junior year, I enrolled in Mr. Murray’s Composition 101 class, knowing that I needed focused assistance to correct my wayward grammar and usage.
On the first day of the semester, I walked into Mr. Murray’s classroom, sheepish and contrite, ready to be shown the proper way to basic writing. He looked up from his desk and, in his patented, caustic style, sniped at me, “What are you doing here?” Already terrified of the man, I lowered my eyes, responding with a trembling, “I can’t write.” He looked at me with confusion and retorted, “Yes, you can! This class isn’t for you. Go to the library and you’ll do an independent study.” Shaken by his borderline complement and banishment, I scurried off to my new Period 3 home. Throughout the semester, Mr. Murray assigned writing prompts to me and, as I sat in my solitary confinement of the school library, I dutifully pumped out essays. The time spent alone to write for writing’s sake offered me the opportunity to hone my style for the first time. Through this formative experience, I grew as a writer, with the proof being papers progressively less mutilated by the harsh scourge of red corrections.
Unfortunately, my confidence never quite caught up with my writing ability. As much as the written word came easily to me, I never imagined a life driven by the need to write. I stood on the sidelines and observed as my friend, Gail, who was a journalist and editor by trade, enjoyed the perks of her work. Annual assignments took her to Fashion Week in New York, her weekly columns required dining at the newest, cutting-edge restaurants, and frequent nationally syndicated articles fueled my envy. Another graduate of the School of Murray Hard Knocks, Gail knew her life direction early on. As she pursued her career, I floundered, working at an array of jobs, and finally landed in the field of school counseling. My passion for writing, while confined to college recommendations and staff emails, smoldered under the weight of the daily grind of my work life. Not interested in serious discourse, I burned to write a blog about silly, inconsequential things about which I have an opinion. In the end, Gail encouraged me to give into my curiosity. Directing me to what I needed to launch my idea, which included all manner of social media and a domain (Mami Knows Everything just happened to be available), I secured the pieces. In her antique home in Maine, the birthplace of the poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Mami Knows Everything was born, as well.
With time, Mami transformed into a place where I could share my joys and sadness, my high and lows, and my story. Amazed that people found interest in the thoughts that lived in my head and drove my script, I discovered freedom in my essays, as well as a sort of therapy. I watched as the metrics on my blog site rose and ebbed, in direct relation to the scope of interest in the topic. The writing became easier, more fluid, and more fluent. Mami provided a hobby and an outlet that evolved into my own personal forum for which there was an audience. Yet, I was not a “writer”.
On the day that I was told that I had a ‘voice’, I became a writer . The actual moment happened in my memoir class, the one for which I prepared an exit strategy. Apparently, the development of ‘voice’ is a big deal since developing voice does not come easily to some writers. ‘Voice’ is developed with time, practice, and the willingness to offer a glimpse into the soul. I’m pretty sure my ‘voice’ sounds like me, saddled with a thick Boston accent and blessed with a healthy dose of sarcasm. In any case, I write from the ‘heart, baring my emotions fearlessly and honestly. My ‘voice” in real life mirrors Mami‘s'”voice’ in the writing.
A fellow student in class, who was struggling with technique, directed a question to me as “a writer”. I forced myself not to look over my shoulder, wondering to whom she directed the question. I answered with command, surprising myself. In that moment, I sensed a palpable evolution as a “writer” with my confidence, long lost, fully restored.
A few weeks ago, a publisher reached out to me about Mami. The communication took me by surprise and, in turn, I considered my response with care. Being of a suspicious nature and a rabid ‘Googler’, I first researched the credentials and on-line presence of this person. The verdict: very real. I engaged the expertise of my son, another writer, who also backed up my findings. Clearly, one hundred and twenty nine thousand followers on Twitter don’t lie! Intrigued and honored, I responded with interest and trepidation, not knowing my readiness for where this opportunity might lead. That part of my story has yet to be written.
For now, my ‘voice’ and I will sit tight and infuse our message into Mami . In the meantime, I can feel my transformation taking hold. I write daily. I dream about ideas and sentences. I wake up in the middle of the night with topics swirling in my head. I outline my next essay in the shower. I suspect that those traits define a “writer”; if so, perhaps, the metamorphosis is complete.