Why do I love words?
I often cite the time as a young mother I borrowed my mother’s old typewriter and thus began my love affair with writing. I’ve also written about the time I wrote my first play back in Grade Four and how that impacted me to write and direct in the future. Or I’ve mentioned my high school English teacher who encouraged me to write and gave me that small seed of hope that I really could be a writer some day. But I think the love of words and beautiful language goes much farther and deeper than any of these incidents.
My grandmother loved reading and could quote long passages from the likes of Longfellow and Shakespeare. She was the ‘go to’ person when any member of the family needed a poem to recite for public speaking. (We did that in those days…) I can still see her, eyes closed, as she recited the first lines of Evangeline, Longfellow’s epic poem.
“This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pine and the hemlock, bearded in moss, in garments of green, indistinct in the twilight.”
The words were haunting and beautiful. She would then go on to tell the rest of the story in her own words, for it was a tale too long for little children.
The impact was profound. I read the poem to my own children one year when we homeschooled and were studying Canadian history. Then, a few summers later, we visited Nova Scotia and the fabled site of Evangeline’s tragic tale. I now have a granddaughter named Evangeline – not by coincidence, I suspect. (Here is a painting I did entitled ‘Evangeline’ which I gave to my daughter.)
Reading books to children and telling them stories has a huge impact. Never belittle the bedtime story or the importance of sharing words with your children and grandchildren. It has lasting effects.
I didn’t always consider myself a writer. My first creative love was drawing. I have very vivid memories of sitting with my nose to the paper, content to create my picture stories. It didn’t take much to make me happy. I was rarely bored because there was always drawing to be done. A pad of paper was my favourite gift, and I’m sure I got at least one every birthday and Christmas. Good thing, too, because I filled them all.
Back then I didn’t realize that I wasn’t just drawing pictures. My drawings were mostly of interesting characters that I had made up. They came with elaborate backstories and participated in all kinds of adventures. Of course, it was difficult to draw each and every scene, but that was okay. I had the stories in my head, and drawing portions of them was a wonderful creative outlet.
Writing came easily for me once I got to school, but it never replaced my love of art. I wrote my first play when I was in Grade Four and convinced my friends to rehearse at recess time. Our teacher saw us practicing and arranged for us to perform the play in front of the entire school. Several years later, my English 12 teacher suggested I attend a summer school for budding writers because he felt my writing held promise. I wasn’t really interested. I wanted to focus on my visual art instead.
I majored in Fine Art at University and after I graduated, I tried to make money with my art. I made prints of some of my more successful pieces and went to every craft fair and art show I could. I also did a fair bit of commission work in those days – portraits, architectural drawings, and even commercial signage. Even then, there was no way to actually make a living with my art.
By that time I was married and expecting our first child. We lived in a very small house and there was no place to set up my art supplies where I could leave them from one day to the next. Once the baby came along, I was lucky if I could spare a few hours each afternoon for something creative while she napped. Inevitably, she would wake at a most inconvenient time in the painting’s progress. Trying to pursue my artistic dreams became more of a frustration than an outlet. I was tired of setting up and cleaning up with very little art – or satisfaction – to show for it.
At about that same time I borrowed my mother’s old typewriter. If I couldn’t paint, perhaps writing one of the many stories in my head would be a good alternative. I sat at the kitchen table and began pounding away. Almost from the start, the words began to flow. (Surprisingly the clacking never woke the baby!) This new creative outlet was simple to set up, there was virtually no clean up, and I began to feel a deep sense of satisfaction after each writing session. Thus began a love affair with writing that has lasted for almost thirty years. (My daughter will be thirty this summer.)
I’d like to say that it was at that moment that I ‘knew’ I was a writer. It wasn’t quite that simple, though. I was almost ashamed of my writing obsession and no one beyond my immediate family knew anything about it for many years. I just didn’t know anyone else who loved to write the way I did, and there was no internet back then to connect with like minded people.
My ‘Eureka’ moment as a writer came through the backdoor of a different artistic pursuit. In my mind, however, writing is still art. So I suppose one could say that my aspirations have never really changed. I’m just using a different canvas.
This post originally appeared on the Inscribe Writers Online blog in March of 2015.