My First Love

Writing is an ongoing, enigmatic process.

Every individual has a different method they employ when they write; everyone writes with different tools—with a pen, pencil or keyboard—and on different forms—in a diary, notebook or computer. My mood affects my ability to write. I have to feel it. I haven’t been in the mood to write this for several days.

Writing is difficult. And writer’s block is a bitch.

My relationship with writing can’t be described with just one story. I’ve been forced to write my whole life for school, yet somehow, within these restrictive academic environments, I managed to discover my inner voice. This voice was powerful enough to withstand years of critique as my teachers encouraged me to embrace my individuality—all the while expecting me to succumb to their standards—but every teacher had a different standard, and it grew too complicated for me to try and fit into their mold. So I chose me, over them. I liked how I wrote; I like how I write. I am an individual, and my writing is reflective of my unique experiences.

Writing gives me confidence.

I was 10 years old when I first realized that I had a passion for writing; it came naturally for me. I distinctly remember my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Deann Sweeney, reading us The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi, in her expressive voice. The historical fiction novel recounts the story of a sheltered 13-year-old girl who embarks on a voyage from England to Rhode Island. During the first-person account, Charlotte relates how she is forced to relinquish her strict upbringing in order to survive—and she eventually realizes the dishonesty of the Captain of the ship, whom she previously respected, discovers his role in a tragic murder, which he framed as an accident, and witnesses his brutal abuse of the crew.

Writing in a diary was Charlotte’s way of maintaining her sanity as she documented her experiences.

Mrs. Sweeney assigned our class a poem about Charlotte’s transformation from a sheltered teenager to an assertive woman. As fifth graders, I’m sure Mrs. Sweeney’s expectations for our developmental analyses weren’t high, so she was shocked when she read my poem. She even read it to the class the moment I handed it to her. I don’t remember the poem in its entirety, I only remember the last two lines—they were, verbatim:

“I am no longer a weak-minded girl,

but a woman with strength I thought I’d never have.” 

Writing reveals our inner selves.

My cheeks burned as my teacher casually read my poem to the class. Their stunned faces turned towards me in envy, admiration and shock. I, myself, was in shock. I wrote the poem the night before. I sat down, cross-legged, on our living room floor, and wrote a first person account of how I perceived Charlotte’s development—with a pencil, and a piece of computer paper (that all seems so ancient now). It ended up being double the length my teacher had asked for, but it still hadn’t taken me very long—30 minutes tops. I didn’t even realize that it was well written. When my teacher read it aloud, I couldn’t fathom the idea that those were my words. I wrote that. Without any help. It was the first time in the world I felt truly special.

Writing was second nature for me.

Over the years, I forgot. I simply forgot how much I liked to write. Through persuasive essays, we were taught to think in the restrictive structure of binaries. The world was black and white and we had to back up our narrow-minded thesis statements with one-sided claims and a bunch of bullshit analysis in order to get that sought-after “A.”

Writing became a systematic task I did for a grade.

I knew what I needed to do to get the grade I wanted. Yet, I still enjoyed writing for fun. I joined our student-run newspaper in middle school and wrote opinion pieces, sports articles and movie reviews. It was a form of stress relief and it made my dad happy—and, trust me, it’s better when he’s happy.

Writing was fun.

Yet, as I transitioned to high school, my development grew stagnant. Nothing I wrote was good enough. My voice was too blatant. My papers were too comprehensive. I used too many concessions. I was too balanced. I didn’t use enough vocabulary. I used too much vocabulary. My paragraphs were too long. My paragraphs were too short. Every teacher had a different standard, and yet, they never gave me clear feedback on why my paper didn’t meet their expectations. I consistently got “B+’s” on my writing assignments until junior year—when I met Mrs. Judy Swift.

Writing made me feel inadequate.

I failed Mrs. Swift’s first writing assignment. Mrs. Swift told us that everything we’d ever learned about writing was null, and needed to be disregarded. Writing is not black and white—there are lots of grey areas, and acknowledging the gray areas would only make you seem more knowledgeable as an author; as you address the opposition’s main concerns, you strengthen your claims. But it was incredibly hard to get myself out of the systematic mind-set. It was mind-boggling. For the first time, I was encouraged to write how I wanted—I could actually acknowledge that the opposition had valid claims, and then allow myself to address those concerns with thoughtful, respectful and controlled retaliation.

Writing reflects our lives, and our lives are never simple.

I was coming back to life. Mrs. Swift challenged me, uplifted me, but mostly, she taught me to embrace my bias. As humans, we can’t ever be completely objective—especially when our lives are so subjective. We each have varying experiences that affect our identity and what we believe. Our experiences, our parents and the community of people we’re around shape our personalities, characters and belief systems. We were all constructed, if you will, by our life experiences. Yes, we made individual decisions that have repercussions, but we ultimately don’t control what family we are born into, or what happens to us as children. I learned more about myself in her class than I ever had in my life, up until that point. And I am so incredibly thankful for her (I miss you, Swifty).

Writing is manufactured, by people, and it can be improved.

After we took our Advanced Placement Exam, Mrs. Swift shifted from teaching us how to write effective argumentative essays and analytical pieces, to how to write a narrative about ourselves—especially since we were soon going to start college applications. These applications ask students to write a “Personal Statement” about themselves. For most students, this is a foreign concept; students’ entire writing experiences, up until that point, were dictated by narrow-minded assignments and structured outlines they were instructed to follow. These instructions conditioned students to hide their identity when they wrote, and often, making the switch from an academic assignment, where “I” statements are frowned upon, to a personal narrative, where adding personal beliefs is welcomed, was too complex for them to fathom.

Writing is enriched by experiences.

To counter this, Mrs. Swift introduced the Six Word Memoir project. The task was simple at face value: write a story in six words. She used the famous example, allegedly by Ernest Hemingway, “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” This short story is complete, despite its length, and it’s sad—so sad. There are so many questions I want to ask: How did the baby die? Is the mother okay? Is she even alive? It’s powerful, emotional, and proves that length doesn’t define a good story—content and style do.

Writing reveals my intimate emotions, and helps me cope with tough situations.

Even though I tend to be an elaborate writer, I absolutely fell head over heels in love, with Six Word Memoirs. I compensated for the word restrictions by writing hundreds of these short stories (some of which can be found here). These short stories helped me get through one of the most difficult times of my life. My first boyfriend and I broke up the week before the AP Exam, and meanwhile, my father had just filed for divorce. Needless to say, I was filled with lots of emotions. I didn’t know how to handle the situation—my boyfriend had been my best friend for two years before we began dating—and he was my first kiss. Mostly, he was my confidante and my pillar of support (which is what ruined our relationship). A couple of months before we broke up, Jared told me he loved me. I loved him too. I really did. But it was the kind of love that develops between two hormonal teenagers—puppy love. At the time, I was distraught, and thought I’d lost the one person who ever really cared for me. I thought I’d lost my first love. But, then I realized, he wasn’t my first love.

Writing will always be my first love.

Writing is how I come to know myself. Words just pour out of me when I’m sitting down in front of a blank paper. I feel emotions I didn’t know I had, laying there, underneath the surface. Like right now, I got teary.

Writing became my weapon, and it will always be there for me.

I had a similar experience with writing in college as I did in high school, before I met Mrs. Swift (I call those dark days, the pre-Swift days.) I am a Political Science major, and was thus forced to write a lot of objective research papers, with an apathetic attitude, for a grade I ultimately didn’t care about. I lost interest in words, in language, and in the beautiful rhythmic flow that used to comfort me in times of stress. It became a dull chore I had to do in order to remain in school.

Writing, for Political Science, is dull.

I was a walking and breathing zombie. A person without a soul, going through the motions, silently hating their life. I did the bare minimum to get that “A.” But I didn’t care. There was no passion in anything I did anymore. I began to hate college, and truly resented Political Science. It wasn’t until I randomly signed up for a General Education class, to satisfy a writing requirement I didn’t need, that I started coming back to life. The class was a lower division Written Inquiry called “Composing Self.” I finally got to write again-really write- about myself, and my feelings, and subjects I actually cared about. My professor, Morgan Read-Davidson, provided me with insight to help me improve as a writer, and I was so appreciative. It was the first time I felt like a professor truly cared about my development (I now call the dark days in college before Morgan, the pre-Morgan days). I reclaimed my passionate nature once more. “Composing Self” made me human again.

Writing can be empowering.

But it can also be humbling. After taking “Composing Self,” I declared another minor- Writing and Rhetoric (I am also a Film Studies minor). I’ve taken a lot of courses since then that challenged me both academically and emotionally. I’ve realized that no matter how much I love writing, and regardless of how much I think I know, there is still so much more to learn. Writing is an ongoing process that doesn’t have a set ending. There is no finish line or end goal. I can write an entire novel and still not be finished, because then I could start on another novel, and another one. You’re never truly an expert, because writing is so subjective. You always have to keep an open mind. Even if I do get my PHD in Writing or Rhetoric some day, I must always remember that my future (hypothetical) students will have fresh perspectives from their lives. They will be of a different generation, full of new talents and insight.

Writing can always be improved.

I hope I keep writing for the rest of my life. It leads me to self-realizations, and helps me begin to understand my enigmatic persona—but trust me, it’s an ongoing process.

R.I.P. Mrs. Sweeney

I write this in loving memory of a wonderful teacher. She was the first teacher to make me feel like I was worth something. I love you Mrs. Sweeney, and thanks to you, I’ll never stop writing. 

&

Thank you to Mrs. Swift and Professor Morgan. Without people like you, I would be lost.

 

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