June 16, 2008

A Dream, and the Following Thereof…

Posted in Backstory, Inspiration, life, Writing tagged , , at 12:05 am by otherdeb


Several of my friends are going through major life changes. This post is largely inspired by them, and dedicated to them. It’s also dedicated to the kids at the high school I work at: May all your bright dreams come true, and may you leave school with the preparation to follow them!

In America (I can’t speak for anywhere else), kids are often told that with hard work, they can be anything they dream of being. Then as they grow older, those dreams get stripped away by the limitations of their abilities and circumstances. If they are lucky, and very stubborn, they can continue to follow those dreams, but at a price: setting themselves apart from those who could be their biggest support systems — their families.

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. Not just any writer, but a successful one. Thanks to my Mom, I fell in love with words early. She believed in phonetics, so I learned to read well before I went to school. Writing took a bit longer, but I’m told that as soon as I could string words into sentences I tried to tell stories.

As I grew up, however, I learned that lower-middle-class girls from Queens, New York didn’t become writers. They became teachers, or secretaries, or nurses, but that was about the extent of the options open to them (this was the mid-1950s), If we could have afforded college, or if my grades had been good enough to get a grant or scholarship, it might have been different, but not very likely. To add to the issues, I was an oddity in another way: a Jewish battered kid. Not only was I physically battered, but my dad spent a great deal of time trying to convince me that I was substandard intellectually.

So, damned by gender and what I was taught, I dutifully shelved those dreams, and became a secretary. From 1975 until the beginning of 2003 I worked for a variety of companies, in a variety of industries, and was considered a very good secretary. I liked the work, but in most of the jobs it wasn’t particularly challenging, and it never “filled” me.

In 1987, however, that began to change a bit. A friend paid for me to take an IQ test, and I showed up high enough to qualify for both Mensa and Intertel. I joined them both briefly, but they were not my cup of chai. The best thing that came out of that was that in 1988 I had a letter published in The Mensa Bulletin, commenting on an article about language and mindset. I received a lovely postcard from the article’s author, and my appetite for writing was whetted.

I began writing again — vignettes, short stories, poetry — but I kept it to myself. After all, given the things I had learned along the way, I couldn’t possibly be any good, could I?

Flash forward a bit to 1992: I was online, and a part of a science fiction chat, the SFRT (Science Fiction Round Table), which was then hosted on GEnie. There I met Mike Resnick, Jim MacDonald (aka Yog Sysop), Esther Friesner, and a host of other wonderful SF/Fantasy writers. After one very surreal conversation about writing, Mike invited me to contribute a short story to an anthology he was editing with Martin H. Greenberg. This ended up with me selling five short stories in the sf/fantasy field. Okay, I could write, but this was not where my heart was. I even tried turning one of the stories into a novel, but wrote myself into a corner I still haven’t figured a way out of. So, again, I put the writing aside, and concentrated on being a secretary. (I also explored some of my other dream, jewellery making, but that’s another story and another column). I also ran some writing and journal-keeping workshops on the World Wide Web, but had no idea how to take them to the next level, even though they were well-received.

In 2003, my world collapsed. I lost my corporate job, which was where most of my identity and pride was tied up. I spent a year on unemployment, then became a school aide. Meanwhile, I read various online journals and blogs, thought “I could do that,” but I never did. I knew I could write — Hell, I’d been writing all my life. I had no idea if I had something to say that anyone would want to hear, though, so I just kept reading.

As I did so, my dream refined itself. I knew that I was never gonna write the Great American Novel; wasn’t even interested in doing so. I discovered a love for essayists. My offline reading expanded to include reading columnists for various newspapers. I asked my friends for books from essayists such as H.L. Mencken, Cecil Adams, Dave Barry, and Molly Ivins.

Becoming an essayist has meant learning how to write differently. In a novel you have space to expand things. In essays, poetry, or short stories you need to make every word count because your space is severely constricted. It has also meant keeping abreast of what is going on in the corner of the world I was interested in writing about.

So, I kept reading. It kept me going, even while my world and finances were collapsing. Then an online acquaintance, Annie Walker, started a blog, The In-Debt Net, about her recovery from financial issues and her efforts to switch to a more frugal and sustainable life. Reading Annie’s work was not only inspiring, but her articles were, in some cases, highly relevant to where I was in my life.

Never one to resist synergy for long, I finally took the hint and started this blog. And it not only feels right but, because it *is* right, I have been able to figure out the next steps. Yeah, there is work involved — anything worth having is worth putting in some effort to achieve — but the prize is sweet: the clarification and achievement of a dream I have had since I was maybe five years old.

What dreams did you have as a kid that you never thought you’d be able to accomplish? Do any of them still resonate for you? Are you willing to put in some effort (and possibly fall flat on your face a few times along the way)? Are you willing to have the dream show up in a different way than you originally thought it would? Then go for it!

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4 Comments »

  1. Ariella said,

    Hi Deb, you know me through Chris, and you gave me the most pretty brown stone necklace that i still wear.

    I feel with you. My mom compared me to other children when i was younger…”why cant you be more like her?”. I too grew up believing that i was dumb. The yeshivah teachers were not much better… I am told that i am smart and i still do not believe it. I also dont believe it when a peice of my artwork gets sold, or someone tells me i am a brilliant artist. The damage has been done.

  2. otherdeb said,

    @Ariella: I remember you quite well. We had that wonderful train ride home from Cris’s place.

    The thing is, that the damage can be corrected. What my father did doesn’t run my life. In fact, I have turned it into a strength…I firmly believe that, although unintentional, he gave me the greatest gift of all: he made me strong enough to survive.

    Mind, it wasn’t an easy process. It took a heck of a lot of self-examination, some of which was on the painful side of things.

    I’ve become a great believer in every step I have taken being responsible for me being where I am. Through some combination of stubbornness, faith, and — to quote the late Ruth Gordon — never facing facts. I am now poised to turn my life into what I want.

    By the way, and speaking of Ruth Gordon…if you ever want to see a movie about affirming life, check out the wonderful <a href=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067185/Harold and Maude. That and the equally wonderful Hairspray, (preferably the original John Waters film, although the more recent version with John Travolta is also good) had a huge influence in cementing my belief in following your heart.

  3. SusanO said,

    Ah, GEnie! Say, you aren’t by any chance a member of the WELL, are you?

    I love essayists too; my old standbys are Jon Carroll (he a book or two, and he’s available thru the SF Chronicle’s web site http://www.sfgate.com) and Anne Lamott, but I’ve just discovered Sue Hubbell, who writes a lot about making a life for herself living in an Ozarks cabin raising bees and selling honey.

  4. otherdeb said,

    @SusanO: Ah, yes, there are still some of us old-timers who remember GEnie fondly!

    Sadly I never got involved in the WELL…long story , not worth going into or very relevant at this point. I love Jon Carroll’s work, and read his columns regularly. Anne Lamott isn’t my cup of tea, but I will definitely search out Sue Hubbell! And thank you so much for the recommendation! Love trying new essayists and columnists to add to my list!


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