What I've Written About

Thursday, March 24, 2011

‘X’ample A: How I’ve NOT Changed as a Writer

You know, I once read a story written by Sandra Cisneros called “Eleven.” It seriously changed my life. Here is an excerpt.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

I still get goose bumps when I read it. It explains so much of things I’d always wondered about. Like, when I don’t get enough sleep or I’m hungry I get SO grouchy and weepy. That’s like the part of me that is still a toddler. And when I ran into my high school boyfriend my heart raced and I got all giddy. And that was the part of me that was still seventeen. And when I went to a party and no one talked to me, the little portion of my soul that is still twelve wanted to crawl into a hole and hide.

See, what I’ve realized is that it is useless for us to cover up whatever we were in the past. Yes, we all grow and our thoughts, beliefs, and ideals still change—but there will always be that little portion of us from whatever stage in our life lurking underneath the layers of our skin. Most of us hide it and pretend it isn’t there. But it is.

My point with all of this is that I think I’ve been trying to hide and cover up the writer I used to be. See, right now, I write YA books. And I have to bust out all this teenage voice and access the part of me that is still sixteen. But because of that, I’m hiding this part of my brain that is thirty-five. (Yes folks, you now know how old I am.) And I’ve also tucked away the twenties-something introspective writer I always wanted to become.

So today, I’m going to share a small part of stories I wrote in my twenties. I was proud of them then. Maybe I’m not so much now.

But I was then.

And so I think if I share them, you learn a little more about how I used to be as a writer. Here goes…


A middle grade book (started at age 28):

When she got to the swirling dark creek the sun was just beginning to kiss the grass with its yellow light and caress the brown leaves with a reddish glow. She stopped for a moment and listened to the wind rock the dry grass and barren branches. She breathed the smell of the dirt and the crisp old leaves and let the sun touch her face for at least a minute. She wanted to remember all of it. The warbler mocking from the trees, and even the way her fingers and toes tingled a little bit from the stinging cold. For a moment she almost turned back, but then thought better of it. Today was the day.

She kept walking out past the watching eyes of her old log home; out past the feeling of comfort. She climbed and she climbed until she ran out of breath and then she sat down and ate the little stash of biscuit she had stolen from the kitchen. It was just the same old biscuit she always had for breakfast, but for some reason, this morning it tasted different. It was like the butter was fairly jumping onto her taste buds. When she was done, she didn’t even bother wiping any crumbs off her dress. She stood up and kept climbing.


An adult novel (started age 30):

One thing that I will never forget in those last few days of her life is how silly I was about getting old and bitter. I remember really carefully unwrapping a piece of salt water taffy grandma gave me, making sure that I didn’t really touch any of it with my fingers. It was only when I was throwing the wrapper in the garbage that I realized I was afraid of catching “Evelyn”. I didn’t think about or see the wisdom in getting old. I didn’t want to. What I really wanted was to understand how this grouchy outer shell of a person came to be. I think we all did.

And so I sat by her on her death bed. I changed her Depends, and listened to her inner ramblings, and spoon-fed her the very last meal she ever ate; peaches and chocolate pudding. All the time pretending I understood her and her strange ways, but not really understanding it. I had sat by her side many times before on holidays and Sunday afternoon visits and “listened” to the Evelyn stories. I nodded my head at all the right times, showed indignation when I should, and frowned when it was necessary. The one thing I truly regret is that I didn’t really hear it. She was giving me a gift of sorts in those stories. She was trying to explain herself, get other people to see where she was coming from, and offer an opening for someone to look deeper to her softer insides. Only I didn’t. And I really wish I had.


A Young Adult book (started age 35)

For two weeks now, I haven’t been able to sleep, and at the same time I’m so tired I wish they could give me some pill that would knock me out for the rest of my life. Suze offered to hook me up with something, but the last thing I want is to deal with this the way Suze would have. Feeling the pain is good, I tell myself. It’s thinking about ever being happy again that scares me.

My mom left for work an hour ago. The Super Save changed her from part time to full time a week after the funeral, but this is her first day back. I guess she thinks that since she has to be punished by going to work that I should drag myself to school today, too. What’s the point? I know people are going to be nice to me who never have been before, and then I’ll just have to punch them. Might as well put that off for as long as possible.

I lay here in my mom and dad’s bed, in the indentation that used to be him. I’m finally alone. Completely and utterly alone. And the tears just come bursting out. I guess I thought it would make me feel better, but instead my heart feels like it’s been run over. My head is pounding. My eyes sting. Curling into a ball, I roll over and hug the old shirt I grabbed out of the closet. I take a deep breath of the soap and cologne smell and pretend that he’s actually here rubbing my head and wiping my tears, the same way he did when I was in elementary school and the kids made fun of me. But pretending doesn’t help.

He’s gone.

And I’m starting to believe it.


The thing that kind of bothers me is that I still feel like that portion of a story I wrote when I was 28 is just as good (if not better) than what I’m writing now. Like I was disappointed that I haven’t grown in leaps and bounds from clear back then. Which brought me to the “Layers of Life” idea. I realized that the reason these don’t seem so different is that I put myself in them. My voice. A small portion of who I am as a person. I can’t help but package small pieces of me in the stories I write. So no matter the time period of the piece or age group it is written to, a small part of “Margie” is always going to be there.

So I guess my question to you is “Do you write yourself into your stories?” “What do you do to make each piece of writing unique from the other ones?” “And do you believe in the “Layers of Life Idea” like I do?”

This post was brought to you by Jenny Matlock's Alphebe-Thursday. If you would like to see more 'X' links, just click here


magsmcc said...

I'm always stopped from trying to write it out because I'm afraid that the describing of me and my real things will not be able to develop into an actual story that lives, and moves, and has its own being. You do the description of senses things extremely well. I love the 20s one the best, I think! Very with you on the grumpy and weepy!

Splendid Little Stars said...

I used to "write" some, but not really anymore. I do love to read and that includes YA books. I like your onion layering metaphor. Life as an onion--or tree rings--even better. Tree rings because each ring indicates what kind of year it has been--drought, temperature issues, etc.
Keep writing! I want to read that book!

Judie said...

I was sort of challenged to write a Sci Fi story, which is definite;y my genre. I have only written 15 pages so far, and now I have writer's block. Maybe this story wasn't meant to be!!

Anonymous said...

I love the layers theory. Some days, when those other layers are trying to get out, I am tired of having to be the 'grown-up'.
I also think that we always put part of us in our writing. It's what makes one person's rendition of a story different from another's version. Whether we do it consciously or subconsciously, the things we have learned and seen in life will color the way we present the stories in our heads.
Love the 'X' post - thanks for sharing!

Keri said...

The "layers of life" idea had never come across my mind before, but it totally makes sense. We are the sum of all the people we have been. I always think I'm being creative in my writing, but then when I read it later I see that it was all about how I felt when I was writing it and how I would behave in my fictional scenario. I think all writers to it to some extent.

Jenny said...

First, my apologies for my late AT visit this week.

I enjoyed all your writng. I try to do several exercises every week to push myself out of my 'comfort zone' of writing. Whether it is pushing the word count or using a style I am unfamiliar (or uncomfortable) with.

I cannot make myself write what I don't feel...and when I try it's really horrible.

Even though your writing evolves you are style the same style of voice inside, I think. I can read things I wrote in 5th grade and still recognize the cadence of the content.

Thank you for a thoughtful post.