Chapter 2: Weaving of Words (part 1)
A central part of my creativity can be found in words. I have loved words from the time I first understood their meaning. I was an avid reader as a child, immersing myself in as many books as I could get hold of. I was drawn to poetry from a very young age, always amazed at the skill by which a writer could succinctly describe the world as I experienced it.
One of my all-time favorite poems is Trees, by Joyce Kilmer:
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Kilmer’s poem reaches me at my very core. His words capture the essence of my relationship with nature and the divine.
There was nothing complicated about my relationship with words until I tried to express myself as a teenager and write as a young adult.
At the high school from which I graduated (I went to four high schools), I was lucky that Ms. Betty Bauman was a teacher in the English department and that she offered a course in creative writing the last semester of my senior year. That course was one of the few that fully engaged me. I never missed a class meeting or an assignment. Ms. Bauman introduced me to a wide variety of writing, from dramatic dialogue (not my bailiwick), to fiction, to short story, and to more forms of poetry than I knew existed. Here I learned the structure of haiku (5-7-5 syllables per line), of sonnet, of free verse and many more. Being a person who likes structure, I found myself drawn to creating stories that fit the structure of the particular style. We wrote under a pseudonym and did not concern ourselves with what others thought of our work. We just wrote.
Off to college, I continued to write, often times as I sat in the window of the dorm room and looked out at the world. In my second year of college, I took another creative writing course, excited at the possibility of continuing the work I had developed with Ms. Bauman. However, this course did not fully engage me. Instead, this course was led by an instructor who seemed intent to drive out my creativity and replace it with that of another. I do not ascribe ill intent to this person; indeed, I recognize that his instruction likely stemmed from how he was taught or what he chose to value. He valued the esoteric, the obscure and often criticized me for writing that he found to be too plain and simple. He challenged me to move away from plain and simple and write in a different way. I tried, with my at the time very limited negotiation skills, to explain my own relationship to writing. For whatever reason, I did not succeed and he did not put much value on what I wrote. I stopped going to class, I stopped writing. However, we had to create 30+ poems in order to meet the requirements of the course. So, two nights before the final, I wrote all night – absolute drivel, nothing that came from my core, nothing that represented me. I knew he would not like what I wrote, but at least I would not put myself on review for his criticism. I fulfilled the requirements of the course.
I did not write poetry again for another thirteen years. All desire to do so had been stripped from me. It was only as a 32 year old woman, with a better sense of self, that I was able to return to the use of words as an expression of my core.
When I think of that instructor, I am reminded of these words from Dr. Seuss: “I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I Am.” Perhaps if I had been better skilled at relating the importance of my own style of writing, that instructor might have found value in my work. Perhaps not.
To this day, I am a huge fan of Dr. Seuss, a masterful writer. Through the use of a very simple rhyme scheme and fanciful words, Dr. Seuss has driven home some of the most important of life’s lessons. I own several of his books, counting among my favorites The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book. On several occasions, I have had the pleasure of reading Dr. Seuss to 4 and 5 year olds, myself dressed as the cat in the hat. Watching children delight in words and story is a helpful reminder to me to allow myself to be drawn in, again and again, by the power of words.
Stay tuned for more on the role of words in my creativity.