I have been writing since I was seven years old.
That coincides with the year that my parents divorced and my father moved out of the house, but I would have been a writer no matter what. It’s how I first related to the events in my life and around me because I wasn’t very talkative when I was younger.
I process a lot more out loud now, but there still is no feeling that compares to the pen gliding across the page and blotting out everything else. Whole worlds, whole universes, become condensed on the page, even if I’m only writing about my small confines. It’s mine.
My writing, like life being what it is, has gone through phases.
Seven-year-old me would sit at the now ancient computer, clacking away on the keyboard with clumsy hands. We had this CD-ROM game called “The Amazing Writing Machine” where I would save all of my stories.
I remember one was basically replicating the story of Tarzan, though I got angry when my mom suggested so. No, the idea is completely original!
But thinking about it, the story (and the many that followed) were about abandonment. Because that’s how I felt. I couldn’t have known it at the time, but it was my processing tool, my impetus for making sense of what made no sense to me.
I remember very clearly sitting on my bed with one such story. I had crafted a makeshift book out of folded printer paper with staples down the middle, illustrations and all.
The cover showed a little girl standing and reaching out for her father, who was separated from her, a cornfield stretching out between them. I started writing on the blank white pages, tears welling up in my eyes. I could not finish it and likely moved onto something else, went outside or away from that “story” which - I had come to realize - was only a slightly more creative version of my reality.
I was only eight and not following through on a writing project I’d started. (This is how I’m sure I was destine to be a writer).
From there, I excelled in all Language Arts and History classes because of the reading and writing (all while failing horribly at math and science which I couldn’t have cared less about).
The “Processing” phase of my writing only lasted a short time before I dove off the deep end. I mean, I really lost it, beyond the “normal,” hormonal shit.
“And like any artist without a craft, she became dangerous,” Toni Morrison writes in Sula.
At some point, the writing fell off as I became overwhelmed with sadness and anxiety. Daily screaming matches with my mother, lighting things on fire, crafting huge, complex lies that I wanted others to desperately believe.
I would often enter the main office of school slouched over, teary-eyed, after the first bell had rung. I was being bullied on a daily basis, my father had remarried within the year, and my classes were less than interesting. I became dangerous because I had already learned to swallow my words verbally, and now I was not writing. I became a pressure cooker. But that dangerous phase (or, that iteration - there were other dangerous phases) came to a close.
The combination of high emotion and boredom led me to literally create other universes. The magic trick - the “Great Escape” phase. The I’m gonna get in trouble for writing in class again. The “she’s really smart but has trouble focusing” phase,” which lasted a good long while.
I was twelve when I started writing a new novel.
It’s about dragons and has so many homoerotic and queer undertones that it makes grown-up me die laughing. But as I look it all over, all 150 pages or so, I see the words of a natural writer. I see a complex story where the characters are deep, alive, relatable. You wouldn’t be able to tell from reading it, but hidden in the pages is a kid dying to escape - a kid so desperate for it that it was hard to pull them from this other, magical realm they had created.
I escaped. It’s not that life got any better - it’s that I didn’t care to process whatever was going on. I cared about Agouryth - that’s the dragons name. And I cared about writing. That was pretty much it.
I would write the story at any possibility. I had to be nagged at to pay attention in class and to do my homework. On the weekends, I would write all afternoon, and after dinner, brew a cup of coffee. I would carry the mug back into my room, put James Taylor’s “October Road” on the boom box, and write deep through the night into the early morning. And woke up to repeat the process. Algebra could wait.
Even though the content of my stories offered an outlet and I got lost in the worlds of my characters - the amount of clarity and aliveness that existed fro me almost contradicts the “escape.” Only when I first picked up the guitar (around the same time) did I feel such sharp presence; such joy embodied.
So, I may have been looking to escape life, but writing became life.
I have many joyful memories of weekly dinners with my mother, where we would discuss the status of our stories, the qualities of the characters we’d created, our hopes for our writing, how to fight off writer’s block, you name it. I would read her hot off the presses, fresh chapters of my developing book, receiving her praise or constructive criticism, which I was always highly sensitive to. No, the idea is completely original!
I’ve had no better inspiration and support to my writing than my mama. In reading her and then my own handwriting, I’ve remarked how similar they are, our gentle cursive. She’s given me many of her gifts, and then some.
Thirteen-year-old me knew that I was a writer and set off to be published. I practiced writing query letters and pored over publication manuals. But a huge life transition was taking place at that time – my mom and I were picking up and moving to California.
I wrote for a very short time before entering another dangerous phase.
I became depressed pretty quickly, finding it challenging to make friends amongst people who’d known people their entire lives. And the writing and music both went away for a while. And the danger began again.
This began my “Grand White Lies” phase, where I began bringing characters to life. There was “Jesse” and at least one more creation I brought into the real world, telling everyone about this amazing boyfriend I had. Even catfishing. (Don’t judge me, this is the danger of not having - or using - a craft, people). This phase went much further than it should have. I dug myself into deep holes I couldn’t get out of without hurting myself and other people.
I learned, over time, that the stories would come about one way or the other, especially when I had no place to process my emotions, either. The white lies phase luckily did not last long, but its impact went far enough for me to learn the lessons: keep my creations on the page.
Through and through, I have been a writer forever, whether I’m putting words on a page or not. Now, as an adult looking back at the pain I was in (as well as the beauty that I created), I’m looking for a safe place between the worlds of processing and escape – where I can write stories that help me and my people heal.
Because I understand the danger of not creating.
So here I am, on a Monday night, reading about magical realism, drinking tea, and listening to Kaki King’s “Dreaming of Revenge” (I need a good soundtrack to write well), thinking of healthy ways to harness this talent of mine. I’ll find them.
I looked up at the clock to realize I’d been writing for almost two hours. It rarely feels like time is stretching on when you’re doing something you were born to do.
I may go brew some coffee. I don’t have homework to answer to.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.