Sister Mary Kay, this one’s for you.
How did I become a writer? What or who gives me the authority to say that I am a writer?
To be sure, I have written many things. But so have many others.
I’ve often been drafted to write first drafts, because “that’s the hardest thing, starting with the blank page,” clients say, looking at me meaningfully. My task? Do the dirtiest and most bedeviling of writing work: stare at the blank page and transform its nothing into something. To do this is to confront one’s demons straight on and wrestle them to the ground.
“Who are you, to call yourself a writer? You insignificant thing, you imposter, you talentless hack?” My first demon to confront, always, is this one. Who am I, indeed? To have the temerity to scratch out my words and dare to call it “Writing,” with a capital W?
The only possible answer I can give: I am the only me there is. This combination of elements, this soul may have lived through many lifetimes, but will only live this one once. No one living now, before or after – not even my closest relatives and friends, nor any other member of my cohort – will see and experience the world as I do.
Almost everything I needed to know about writing came courtesy of one person: Sister Mary Kay Lampert, my AP English teacher in my senior year of high school. She gave me the the confidence and the audacity to call myself a writer. She also did the biggest favor anyone has ever done for me as a writer: she critiqued me honestly, no holds barred. She didn’t let me muddy up my prose with unnecessary nonsense. She never let me get complacent. The better I got at writing, the harder she pushed me to be even better.
I thought of her tonight, as I was making excuses for why I hadn’t been writing lately. Procrastinating, doubting myself, not summoning the courage and discipline to put pen to paper. (Okay, more like fingertips to tablet… which sounds a lot less poetic than pen and paper, doesn’t it? This is what we’ve lost with technology.)
Remembering my teacher and her lessons, I got a sinking feeling like cement in my stomach. Ugh… if Sister Mary Kay was alive today, she’d be kicking my ass right now. “Molly Rose McDowell, why aren’t you working? This is a timed exam!”
She was the nudge I needed. Because life is a timed exam, too, with the difference being that we don’t know how much time we have. You don’t know when the bell will ring and they’ll say, “Time’s up! Pencils down!”
All the more reason to start now, right this instant, wherever you are. Doesn’t matter where or how. Just start where you are.
In the words of another teacher of mine, Dr. Oliver Sacks:
Again. Starting here. Right now. Wherever we find the thread again. Wherever it may lead.