This is one of my few nonfiction pieces on black shatter. I do not write memoir but for editors and friends who sometimes say it’s good for me. Thanks Matt Potter, editor of the Australian journal “Pure Slush” who encouraged me to write this and then graciously published my best effort.
The other day, I came across my old childhood Snoopy doll. He had long since been stripped of his striped sweater and red collar. His head was attached to the rest of his body with a neck worn out by rough toting and hugging. He was gray and tatty and would not have served as the object of affection for any other child. It was time to tell this old dog goodbye I told myself. I gave him a big hug and stuffed him into the kitchen trash. I still felt a little guilty about this later, the girl in me imagining him in a dump somewhere alone, the adult in me concerned that he would be adding to the landfill.
There have been times in my life I’ve believed it best to abandon certain proclivities I’ve mistakenly labeled as “childish.” This amounts to more than simply throwing away an old, once-beloved object. It involves choices I’ve made concerning how to spend my time, how to be educated, how to write. For example, there was a time I told myself it was time to “grow up” and not write or “grow up” in my writing and only write more “grown up things.” In believing I was “growing up” by abandoning some of my greatest interests and passions, I have wasted more time than I care to admit.
When I was in my last semester of a graduate program in seminary, I took a career assessment test that would enable me to discern the occupation best suited to my “felt needs.” What I found out was that my needs and desires had little direct relationship to the course of study I had almost completed. What I had pursued was a group of courses combining Biblical Studies and Adult Education. According to the assessment, what I desired to do most was to write. And furthermore, what I wanted to write were stories exploring highly imaginative worlds, situations, and characters. In other words, not only was my deepest desire to write but my felt need was to write stories of a particular kind. By that time in my education, however, I had so trained myself to think in terms of systematic theology, Biblical history, and educating adults, I wasn’t able to entertain how I was going to combine open, exploratory writing with the mindset one needed for the ministry.
What I had forgotten by the time I had entered seminary was my first creative writing experience several years earlier. During the first year my husband and I married, we lived in Pittsburgh. Because I had some time on my hands, I decided to audit a creative writing class at the University. I was fortunate to have as my teacher one of the most innovative fiction writers working today, Kellie Wells, author of the Flannery O’Connor award winner Compression Scars. However, I didn’t know Kellie or much about the current literary scene. I only knew that Kellie soon exceeded all of my expectations in her role as my teacher. In fact, I think I had more fun than anyone else in the class. I experimented with story telling styles, forms, voices, language. I experimented in ways I never would have thought possible.
The reasons why I went to seminary soon after all that fun could constitute another essay, but I do wonder if it had to do with a sense that somehow it was time to set aside “childish things.” There is a Bible verse that is often misapplied but which may have reflected my mindset at the time: 1 Conrinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became [an adult], I put away childish things.” I’m not saying I sat around with that particular Bible verse in mind, using it to make all of my decisions, but I was raised by staunch, hard-working Presbyterians and had adopted much of a no-nonsense approach to my life, an approach which I know now was at odds with my personality.
During the first year of my marriage when my husband and I lived in Pittsburgh, I had an experience of what seemed to be Seasonal Affective Disorder. My husband and I, both Florida people, were unaccustomed to the long grey winters which mark the winters of many states further north. I received therapy and was blessed to be treated by a woman at a United Methodist Church Counseling Center. During that time, I had quite a few vivid dreams. In one of the dreams, there was a party at a large house. The attendees wore those antebullum costumes you see the white folks wearing in Gone with the Wind. I was one of those white ladies with my big old skirt, an up-do, and a strand of pearls. I was whirling around and laughing and charming my party guests. Upstairs, there was a girl in a closet. She was thin and pale and hanging out with the cobwebs. She was drawing on this huge white canvas with a piece of charcoal. She was creating an intricate network of thin lines. She drifted down the stairs and out onto the porch. I saw her outside and was irritated. She would ruin the party, I thought. I yelled at her and told her to leave. She disappeared into the woods.
My therapist helped me understand I was both of these characters and that they represented two seemingly opposite sides of my personality. One “person” had been allowed to be the public, social self and the other “person” had been put away out of shame or fear. This secret person was my more expressive, creative self.
While I was going through this therapy and experiencing this depression, I had failed to complete a second creative writing class taught by another teacher at the University. At the time, my sense of it was that I was inexperienced and had no idea what the obstacles were that kept one from writing. While this was partly true, I now think my young writing self simply missed the more playful, forgiving aspects of Kellie Wells’ tutelage. I had also decided to try writing in the vein of “serious realism.” I know this was yet another attempt of mine to “put away childish things.”
Recently, I’ve come to believe it’s OK to write a variety of pieces without a thought to how the pieces may be categorized. In fact, I’ve come to believe that one of the most necessary things for me to do is to simply write. The good news, I think, I predict, is that if I keep playing and having a good time, all of my party guests will join the fancy dress ball and none will still be hanging out in closets. And I do hope I make it clear by my easy acceptance that all fine line drawings and works of the imagination are anticipated and welcome.
First appeared in Pure Slush