Tuesday, February 7, 2012

We just wanted to write


We joke about having been nerds in school, but maybe we were just good kids given great opportunities by our parents and teachers. Being born in 1960 on the tail end of the Baby Boom generation allowed us to be both disproportionately indulged and constantly challenged to realize every potential.
Being an oldest son or a first girl/baby-of-the-family daughter brought its own indulgences and the mantle of our parents' dreams for us. I remember being told quite often that I was going to be Miss America as well as the first female president of the United States. Not a casual pat on the head, this was routine reinforcement on almost a weekly basis from parents, grandparents and teachers. I don't know if I ever believed it, because I wasn't much interested in either title. Oh, the beauty pageant crown might have meant I wasn't as nerdy as I felt, but it would have required a talent. And not being able to carry a tune, dance with any rhythm despite years of lessons, or play a musical instrument after four years with a hateful clarinet kept me from the sash and sceptor. Besides, who could go on stage and demonstrate writing a story?
Writing really was what I wanted to do. I told myself I would write a book some day. I made up assignments for myself over summer breaks (nerd). While other kids were raking in the cash from babysitting, I collected 30 cents an inch through high school writing for the local daily. I wrote really long features. Truly. Often I was given an entire page in the newspaper, since none of the other youth correspondents turned in any copy.
Besides news and feature writing, I got interested in poetry when a visiting writer came to my sophomore honors English class. Margaret K. Woodworth from the Artists in Residence program through Indiana University inspired my creative side and selected one of my poems to be published in a book she was doing. I've never forgotten that and still have the book, called Indiana Writes. My poetry was later published in the daily newspaper and helped me earn the Rylan Harris Memorial Scholarship to the Midwest Writers Workshop in 2009.
I was also encouraged to write fiction and turned out plenty of short stories as well as an epic poem combining styles of John Milton and Alexander Pope. The subject matter concerned sylphs (fairies) helping princesses maintain lovely fingernails. By then people had stopped predicting I would be the first female POTUS.
Although newspaper was my first love during college and immediately after, I kept up my poetry and my creative writing efforts. And while serving as an associate editor for The Warsaw Times-Union, I was also a stringer for The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel and an occasional correspondent for The South Bend Tribune.
While working in Warsaw I was forced to improve my photojournalism skills above the 'C' I earned in college. Reporters at small-town dailies were expected to be one-man bands. We covered the story, shot accompanying pictures, typed up our copy, and in some cases, broadcasted a radio version of the news ourselves. Somehow I had managed to get through both high school and college, as a journalism major, without ever touching a computer or taking a typing class. Computers -- the first Macintoshes -- arrived at Ball State University's journalism department just after I graduated in the fall of 1980. Keyboarding proficiency testing was also implemented after I left. As for cameras, by the time I got my first full-time newspaper gig in Warsaw, I had advanced from a cheap used 35mm SLR to the company's exotic and large Hasselblad camera, which I wore around my neck with pride. Yes, that is camera singular. The newspaper owned one camera.
When I moved into public relations in 1985 as a director for the local school system, there was plenty of writing to be done: news releases hand carried to the newspaper I had just left, annual reports, brochures; I created a corporation newsletter for our several hundred employees. From there it was a similar job and similar writing for the local hospital for three years, before a one-year stint at an advertising agency - the single year in my 32-year career where I worked for a for-profit company.
A turn from PR and marketing into non-profit healthcare group purchasing meant less writing so I replaced news releases with blogging, beginning in 2007. While creating three different blogs myself, I also edited or contributed to several different national blogs. I edited a poetry blog and managed an ongoing daily group poem effort with contributors from around the world. At the same time I also wrote book reviews and travel articles for the still-highly regarded Vintage Indie blog, founded by Gabreial Wyatt.
I also managed to squeeze in a little poetry and short story writing as well as non-fiction, having an article about Fiestaware published in Romantic Homes magazine. By then my partner-in-writing, Bernie Kohn, served as my unofficial editor before I submitted the article. And although my other creative outlet became making art (jewelry, painting, drawing, mixed media collage, assemblage and more), I had -- mostly in secret -- never once given up the idea of writing a book. In 2007-08 I dabbled with some proposals for how-to art books while artist friends were getting published. While I did manage to get some of my artwork published, I never followed through on the book proposals. But I held onto the dream of a fiction novel, writing ever longer short stories as a warm-up of sorts.
When I encountered my Journalism 110 classmate again, 28 years after that first day of college, it wasn't very long until we started talking about not only our careers but our work left to be done: hopes and dreams. Seems we had a little intersection at "always wanted to write a book" and off we went.

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