Writing Myself Into Life — Suzanne Montz Adams

I distinctly remember in fifth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Walkow, asking our class to draw a representation of what we wanted to be when we grew up by creatively using the word for our chosen profession. I used different colored markers to spell “writer,” using the “w” to form two elongated pencils with sharp points.

As a child, I was a voracious reader, a sporadic diary writer, a budding short story writer, and a very lame poet. Words fascinated me. I often wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that I was a very quiet child, a girl who rarely found the right words with which to speak, choosing instead to formulate her thoughts and opinions on the page. Writing was so important to me that I once gave colorful ink pens to my friends as gifts. Reading their disappointed, confused expressions on opening the gift was my first clue that other people did not view writing paraphernalia as treasured possessions the way I did.

But by ninth grade, I was more concerned about my hair, makeup, and clothes than anything else. I no longer visited the library every week, reading less and less as the years went by and my writing virtually stopped.

By the time I entered college, I was certain that I needed to study computer science or business in order to reach my fullest potential. Girls were being supported in these fields as never before and I felt an expectation by parents, teachers, and friends to become a businesswoman. I became a CPA.

But as fate would have it, I was asked to write an essay for our company newsletter in my first year as an employee of a large accounting firm. One of my co-workers teased me when the newsletter was distributed: “You missed your calling,” he said. And despite the fact that he didn’t mean it literally, that one comment broke through all the years of denial. I had learned rather quickly that accounting was not my cup of tea. But after all the education and training and license requirements, I couldn’t walk away and acknowledge the waste.

A few days a week during my lunch hour, I closed my office door and wrote the beginnings of short stories and novels, completed essays, attempted poems. For the first time in over a decade, I felt I was being honest with myself, that I was aligned with my desires. I had opened the door and found that long-buried love affair with words waiting there, a little worse for wear, but enticingly attractive and staunchly persistent. My body instinctively responded. Slowly, ever so slowly, like a shy girl on her first date, I stepped across the threshold, embraced the words, and began the long journey back to myself and my first love.

I attended evening writing classes and read every book on writing I could find. Several years later, when two of my three sons were in school, my first essay was published and I felt ready to embark on a new career with writing more central to my goals. But to complicate matters, my husband, Brian, was offered a new job that required extensive travel. Within six months of Brian’s acceptance, it was painfully clear that my goals would be simmering on the back burner for a while.

In those silent years, I had lost precious hours of becoming better acquainted with all the nuances of my beloved words—how they held up under pressure, how they performed in various settings, how they were perceived by others, how I could improve them. Even though I had more demands on my time than ever before, I was determined not to relinquish my dream so easily. Perseverance became my constant companion as I struggled to learn how to write well on my own along with a creative writing class thrown in here and there.

My first published essay was a reflection on the difficulties of reconciling my full-time motherhood with my personal aspirations—a theme that would thread its way through my life for the next ten years, frequently tying me in knots and blinding me to the ways I could untangle myself and break free. During those ten years, I was convinced by cultural expectations, the community I lived in, and my own insecurities that I couldn’t possibly have everything I wanted. I thought that by spending time and energy in pursuing my own goals, I would be sacrificing my sons on the altar of selfish ambitions.

More years passed as I played with my words until the assistant editor of a national parenting magazine read a submission of mine and called me to enthusiastically compliment my writing. Over the course of the next eighteen months, she published several of my essays. My love and I had truly gone public. We were out in the limelight together and I was ecstatic.

Then we hit the wall. Privately, I was still in love, but the public affair floundered. Interest waned. Publication was a ghost I chased for many years after and in my defense, I wasn’t submitting very much material and I didn’t understand the game very well. I had little imagination or energy to give to my writing when my life as a virtual single mom to three little boys left me depleted beyond words. I blamed myself for not being talented enough, prolific enough. I was incredibly busy, but why couldn’t I find time to write when other women seemed to do it so effortlessly? How could I argue for the time and right to work on my writing when I was not being paid to do so? What was I adding to the family’s welfare? In my husband’s mind, and to some degree, in mine, when writing, I was engaging in a selfish activity with no apparent benefit.

I knew that ignoring my ambition was not inherently right or fair or even justifiable, yet until I could prove my worth as a writer, I also couldn’t seem to wholeheartedly engage in it. Although I thought writing might be my vocation, the doubts were continuously fed by the lack of publication and the problems I encountered in the act of writing itself. My affair had seemingly become toxic to my sense of self-worth.

It was not until I turned forty that my anger became too great to contain and I began to insist on my right to write and in my writing, to fundamentally “see” and portray even greater truths. Anger can be a motivating force for positive change.

I have also learned the power of self-motivation. And in the writer’s world, little can be accomplished without it. Yet, every now and then, I paddle down the River of Doubt, lamenting that my completed novel manuscript might never have a Library of Congress catalog number. Then I always snap out of it and jam that paddle into the muck where it belongs, but still the river laps at the edge of my consciousness.

I will always feel as though my life and my creative work are meant to expand beyond my own imaginings. So I hold onto my love affair, occasionally lonely and weary, but most often, fully and richly alive. I am writing to inhabit my life, to leave more of an imprint than a notation in someone’s Daily Planner, to think and feel in abundance, to be silent not because I am pressured to be or because of the constraints in my life, but because I choose to be in order to write. I am still the eleven-year old girl making a pictogram of her dream, silently writing myself into life.

Suzanne Montz Adams has published essays in Diving in the Moon, Trivia: Voices of Feminism, BrainChild, and Family Life. She recently graduated from Goddard’s IMA program with a concentration in TLA and is currently marketing a novel for representation, writing a spiritual memoir, and facilitating creative writing and art workshops for adolescent girls.

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