I never thought of myself as a writer. My parents were the writers. They were professional, successful, paid for their work creating anything from game shows to soap operas to prime time television. My claim to fame as a child was that my mom and dad wrote and produced Beverly Hills 90210 and I got to be in an episode every now and then, getting a SAG card and hugs from Luke Perry and Tori Spelling and Jason Priestley. It really helped make me look cool, which was nice because I was a chubby girl with big hair in Los Angeles, and cool doesn’t always come easy.
In high school I was an actress. I loved it. I was good at it. I was in every play, every musical, I was on stage every chance I got. I lived for rehearsals and inside jokes with the cast. Writing seemed removed from the action, the honorable source material, never the accessible medium for expression.
I wasn’t sitting in the corner reading novels at birthday parties, I didn’t write short stories or poetry in my spare time, essays and thesis statements didn’t come easily to me. In fact, the ongoing English assignment joke from my mother when she’d sit down to help me with a paper was, “Stop writing English as a second language.”
The words didn’t flow for me. Somehow, whatever I was trying to say would sound choked and disjointed on the page. Linear sequencing just didn’t happen for me; instead of a line of thought, the page felt more like tree branches with lots of twigs, an idea growing in fragments off to the sides. By the time I got to university I was so done. I’d pulled enough all nighters and played with enough fonts and spacing to make my pages go just a bit farther to hit the required page number.
The only thing I could write with any confidence was dialogue. An assignment for writing a scene went pretty well, and when I was a senior in high school and made my directorial debut (I’m not a gifted director; turns out I see actors as props, not artists) it was with a one act play I wrote that was pretty damn good for a girl who wasn’t a writer.
In my twenties, after having my second child, I read Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year while I nursed my baby boy at all hours of the day and night. I’d never read something so unapologetically honest and real. I felt the sting of wanting to send back your baby when you’re sleep deprived and miserable, felt the awe of looking at my baby’s face and the warm wonder of that possessive connection, “This baby is mine. I made him.”
I felt touched and inspired by her work and decided to write a journal of my own. Something I’d maybe show my own son when he grew up. I’d never been good at journaling in the past, it always felt forced and trite and kinda depressing, or at the very least melodramatic and indulgent, not to mention stressful. I love the look of journals, and I’ve started about a hundred of them, but they’ve been mostly drivel. That year, I started writing. About my baby, about life with two kids, about what was going on with our little family. I liked it. I was surprised to find that I actually felt like I was good at this. And then I stopped. Because of insecurity and fear.
I mentioned to the therapist I was sporadically speaking to at the time that I had started writing in a journal every day, to sort of document my time with my baby. And instead of saying, “That’s great, are you enjoying it?” or, “Good for you,” or “That sounds like such a good creative outlet,” she looked at me and kind of laughed and rolled her eyes a bit and said, “Be careful, you don’t wanna get compulsive about it.” Compulsive? Because I was trying to write a page or two in a journal every day? Because I wanted to write about my birth experience and what it felt like to be mad at my pediatrician?
To this day I’m not totally sure what part of myself she thought she was trying to protect me from, but she wound up shutting down the whole operation. I never picked up that journal again. And I never talked to her again either. I felt embarrassed of my silly idea to write. I wasn’t a writer, what did I think I was doing wasting my time with this? So I stopped.
It wasn’t until years later that I started feeling this itchiness in my fingers and my gut to write. I’d started writing some really good emails to friends, which seems trivial, but for maybe the first time I was writing English as my first language and I was funny and blunt and entertaining. I don’t really know where it came from, but one day I sat down at my old laptop and started writing a little blog piece for my nutrition website. It was honest. And raw. And people liked it. So I kept going. At some point I reconnected with an old friend from high school and she read a couple of my pieces and told me I had to submit to a blog site, get published somewhere.
It had never really occurred to me to try that, since I’m not a writer, but I sent a piece of mine to xoJane and they took it right away, no edits, and fifty dollars. I had to write a bio, which didn’t include that I was “a writer” and that piece got almost 500 shares on the internet. I was shocked.
I feel like maybe if my dad were still alive this writing itch would have been nurtured more. Not because my mom isn’t supportive, she thinks I’m great, but because my dad was a bit of a narcissist and I think he would have found some talent and drawn it out of me as an extension of himself. And then maybe I would have run with it. Or maybe not. But I think the legacy of writing would have been presented to me as something I had the right to, instead of something I’ve treated as my parents’ profession as opposed to an inheritance, my writers’ yerusha.
I’ve never written a book or a movie, I use the Microsoft Word thesaurus sometimes, and the “D” key on my laptop fell off. But I’m playing with what seems the pompous notion of calling myself “a writer” in the hopes that the title will give me a little push and the confidence to just go ahead and write.