More creative and geeky backstory.
Having prepared for a secretarial job instead of taking college prep, I went ahead and got a clerk-typist job for a couple of years upon graduation, but my heart and mind were already living the dream of being a student – and a famous writer and professor someday. I was in for a few surprises.
Perhaps the biggest was that in the world of 1980s academia, genre fiction was strongly frowned upon in favor of literary fiction. This state of affairs has been slow to change. Jeff Vandermeer, noted Steampunk author, addresses the state of affairs as late as 2009 in this piece.
Because I was taking a heavy course load, and due to being surrounded by the “lit fic only” mentality, I began to drift away from writing science fiction. I still read it, watched it, and enjoyed it on my own – Star Trek reruns and new series on TV, the original Star Wars trilogy installments, and other shows I found. Somehow I missed getting into Doctor Who at that time, but have recently made up for that omission.
My writing at college earned me good grades, though it was the usual output of a naive undergraduate, drawing from youthful angst about my first-world problems, or overly-ambitious attempts to step outside myself and be profound (one cringeworthy attempt to write from the point of view of a Holocaust survivor comes to mind). I switched from short stories to poetry along my trek. Then I wrote plenty of what are known in creative writing programs as “workshop poems,” while trying to avoid writing workshop poems. That’s a dimension of irony I’ll spare a description of, though you might get an idea of it from Billy Collins’ tongue-in-cheek poem “Workshop”.
Throughout college, the “write what you know” dilemma dogged me, since I didn’t know about much that wasn’t boring; I still fretted about my lack of “street cred.” I got my Bachelor’s degree and was pursuing a Master’s, until a “perfect storm” of life crises converged and culminated in my dropping out. During this emotionally and spiritually painful time, Satan attacked me at my weakest points, as Satan will do, because he has no qualms about playing dirty pool with souls.
Healing from the aftereffects of this spiritual cataclysm took many resources, the most important being trust in God and the passage of time. Returning to school didn’t feel right – the career in academia I had earlier dreamt about wasn’t a good fit. While the emotional dust was settling, I turned for solace to another passion, art, and a relaxing pastime, crafts.
I wrote poetry for my own enjoyment, did artwork, and got a diploma in floristry. Though I never made it past the apprentice stage in that field, I enjoyed the creativity and the physicality of it. It was a nice change from academia and less tedious than working in an office. I continued with my crafts and sold some things I made. I also worked in bookstores and retail, and after a few years went back to the university as an art major, but the cost of college was prohibitive. However, I realized I had enough of the basics to build on, and that with the help of books, museum and gallery visits, and practice, I could be a self-taught artist.
A few more years passed, and I sketched and painted after the death of my father and during my mother’s last years in a care facility. Time to set up for painting at home was sometimes scarce, but I carried a sketchbook and pencils to hospital waiting rooms and parks where I ate lunch, figuring that at least I could develop rough compositions and for later development into finished pieces. From the first time I heard the term decades before, I had related to the idea of being a “Renaissance woman.” I wished for my own Medici family to bankroll my explorations . . . the dream of many creative people who would like to quit their day jobs.
Poetry still appealed, and with age came a bit more skill at it. I made judicious use of my shredder for the real duds, instead of holding onto them hoping they were salvageable. Some fiction ideas had also begun floating in my mind. They were still nebulous, and I did little with them until one October when the phenomenon called National Novel Writing Month struck my world like an asteroid. What happened as a result sent me on the journey that has led up to this blog. More about that in the next post.