I was 10 when I decided I wanted to publish a book someday. That became The Dream. While I was learning how to read in first grade, I was simultaneously falling in love with words. How they worked, how they sounded, how some just fit better than others in certain sentences. I loved learning new vocabulary and I was obsessed with being a good speller (fourth grade bee runner-up right here—I missed “inadequate” with “inadequit.” The irony was not lost on me).
Words were my kind of magic. Sentences were math I could wrap my head around; puzzles to be played with and perfected. I wanted to fill my brain with all the beautiful words, twirl them around, and pull them back out to create my own stories.
Not many pre-teens can say they completed half a manuscript by high school, but that was me. Unfortunately, I worked so long and hard on it that too many years passed and it just … died. As I grew older, my writing style changed and so I kept diving back into old chapters, re-writing and editing and re-editing until the story was almost unrecognizable and I just ran out of things to do with it. It’s one of my biggest life regrets. Long gone are the days of Creative Writer 2 and so it sits, a massive stack of papers held together with binder clips, in the dark recesses of my closet. A computer file with almost 100 painstakingly crafted pages doesn’t even exist. That fact occasionally worries me … if I ever lose those papers, that huge chunk of my childhood is just gone.
Some kids have drawings and doodles and macaroni art to bring back that innocent nostalgia—I have haikus and short stories and vivid diary entries. I started writing creatively when I was 8 and never looked back. My poetry made it into our local paper when I was in eighth grade and the thrill of seeing my name in print sparked a blaze of ambition. As a high school sophomore, I signed up to take “Introduction to Journalism,” a new elective, and that was it. Most teenagers don’t map out their entire careers at 15, but I did.
As I dove headfirst into journalism—working on my high school paper, my college paper, a magazine internship, a newspaper internship, another magazine internship, and all the other odds and ends of my post-grad career—the part of me that loved literature sort of shrank into the shadows. There’s this interesting dichotomy between literary writing and journalistic writing and since I’ve dabbled in both, I’ve been straddling that line for most of my life. One side typically has to take precedence over the other and I’ve always been confident that I chose the right side for myself. There was a reason I didn’t major in English Lit—though I did minor in it and happily took fiction workshops, poetry workshops, and nonfiction case studies. I wrote screenplays, essays, and an in-depth analysis of Shakespeare. But being a word nerd has limits and since I never had any desire to teach English (and because I became utterly addicted to life in a newsroom), journalism won.
Still, there are times I look back at some of the prose I’ve written and my heart aches for a second. I miss getting those creative juices flowing, playing with alliteration and assonance, plucking words out of a thesaurus thin air to create sharp, clear pictures and carefully constructing a narrative with a compulsive level of care and critique. I never would’ve imagined finally feeling like I might have the time to dip back into it; when you write for a living, for a paycheck, sometimes it can feel like you’re just a blank, empty shell at the end of the day—artistic energy just gets completely sapped. Now though, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I could maybe reach toward this particular dream again. Or at least start thinking about it.
Allow me to venture off topic for a sec … come Saturday, I’ve lived in Maryland for two months—and I haven’t met anyone outside of work. 😦 My apartment “community” (I don’t know why I find that term to be so loaded with cheese) could be doing way more to facilitate socializing. It’s as easy as saying hey, all new residents as of summer 2016, come on down for snacks and chitchat. I’d be so there. But no, they’re hosting outdoor movies—awesome, but not something to do solo—and canceling Taco Tuesday. Who the hell cancels tacos?
I don’t know who lives around me or anything about them besides the fact that the people upstairs are quite clearly a family of water buffalo crammed into a one bedroom unit and the Asian girl next door who accidentally tried to break in one day likes to blast classical music through my bedroom wall at 8 a.m. on Sundays. (My sister tells me I complain a lot. But here’s the thing—most of the time, my complaints aren’t serious. Let’s be honest, when I think about my life as it was three months ago, I want to go hug crazy classical Asian girl. I mean, it could be worse. It could be rap or screamo or something. Moreover, I FINALLY HAVE AN APARTMENT, YOU GUYZ. I waited six long years to have these kind of complaints.)
I’m just frustrated at the total lack of opportunity to meet people. Short of taking a tour around my floor knocking on doors to see who lives behind them, I have no idea how I’m ever going to make friends. I once rode the elevator on a Friday night with a girl who was in her PJs and carrying pizza, so she’s probably my soulmate. I had to resist the urge to scream, “SAME, GIRL. SAME. OMG, NETFLIX? YUP.”
I did so much homework when looking for a place to live. I judged each one based on social involvement (some places had events every week and they had entire photo albums on Facebook devoted to their parties), website/marketing (because if you don’t care enough to make me really want to live there, why should I), pet-friendly policies, convenient commute, and—obviously—price range. Then all my meticulous research went flying out the window when I got The Phone Call and it was like, “YOU GOT THE JOB, congrats, see ya in two weeks,” and I could only tour four of the 10 places on my list in one day. We got to #3 and stopped because the process wound up being unpleasantly overwhelming instead of fun and opinions were coming in at me from all sides and 3.5 hours in, I just wanted to sign something and go home. So am I 100% positive I landed in the best possible place? Nope, but I’m here now. Whatever. Where was I going with this?
Anyway, when you only interact with new people in 30-second intervals, it’s just too damn hard to make any sort of connection. Don’t get me wrong, I am taking any and all opportunities to get to know my coworkers—I’m going to be spending 40 hours a week for the next indeterminable number of years with these people and I overheard someone say that millennials make up 96% of the department. Everyone I work with is young and awesome and funny and they all love animals and I am loving it. So I’m striking up conversations whenever possible and grabbing lunches and pitching happy hours and I can’t wait until I don’t feel so new anymore, because there is no doubt that these are my people. [Small World Alert: There’s someone here from the Lehigh Valley AND someone here from my Jersey hometown!] However … it would still be nice to have a whole separate group of friends to come home to/go out with when the work day/week is done. (And as a certain friend likes to point out rather often, yes, men probably would solve most of these problems, but I’d hate to have to subject myself to the horrors of online dating for the sole purpose of having something to do on a Saturday night.)
So, as someone who constantly hesitates to put herself “out there,” I’m experimenting with a plethora of crap I’ve always sort of had an itch to do, but just never quite got around to: Self-defense. Kickboxing. Soul Cycle. (I’m also trying to lose weight.) I joined MeetUp. I’m volunteering at DC VegFest this weekend as a photographer. And last night, I headed to the local community college for a crash course in, you guessed it … “How to Publish Your Book.”
It wasn’t the most revolutionary class, more of a bland step-by-step from first query letter through to promotional plan. It was a small group, but a great mix as far as age, experience level, and ideas. Hearing everyone talk so passionately about their projects and hopes for their future as writers sort of validated my decision to be there and reminded me of why I had such high hopes for my future as an author once upon a time.
There is no such thing as being “too young” or “too old” to chase your dreams. If you love words, play with them. Every day. Hone your craft. Study. Talk to other writers. Invent. Fantasize. Seriously, some of my best ideas have come from plain and simple daydreaming. Need prompts? Try something like this. Just don’t give up on it; you’re only failing yourself.