Life

As Lin-Manuel's Washington Would Say "Pick Up a Pen..." by Deidra Dallas

I am returning from a two week jaunt on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The average temperature this time of year is about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (on warm days) and there was roughly five inches of snow on the ground when I arrived. Most people, both those that I know and those that I met while on PEI, thought I was crazy.

Why are you going up there this time of year? Do you realize how cold it is??

You’re going for TWO weeks by YOURSELF???????

Yes, I generally told people, I’m going to go experience real winter since we don’t have that in Texas. I’m going to see snow.

Partly.

Also, and the part of me that hates being a tourist loathes this, but a bigger reason was going back to the land of Anne of Green Gables. I have been there before in the summer. It’s a different experience in the winter, and I wanted that.

Partly.

And I wanted to spend my birthday traveling and doing just exactly what I wanted to do on my birthday without doing anything that anybody else wanted me to do.

Partly.

But, really, if I’m being honest, I needed to get away from everything I was responsible for so that I could write. Only my very closest friends and family knew this was my ultimate goal. In fact, I didn’t have to tell them, they just knew.

“So…” Mom started after I told her I was making the trip (and we had hashed out the temperature issues). “You’re going to write, right?”

I don’t like talking about my writing. It makes me feel like a fraud.

I hesitantly replied in the affirmative.

I don’t like talking about my writing. It makes me feel like a fraud. I started off in life with all of these goals regarding writing. My whole life was, in fact, centered around writing. I wrote constantly throughout elementary junior high, and high school. I was a creative writing major at Texas Tech. And then I had what, at the time, I considered to be a major setback in that I didn’t get into the grad school of my choosing and so therefore, I rationalized, couldn’t pursue those goals anymore.

Which is pretty damned ridiculous, but when you’re 20 you do a lot of pretty damned ridiculous things.

So, I quit. I didn’t mean to; it wasn’t a conscience choice, but I allowed other things in my life to take priority and gradually, I stopped writing altogether. I somehow didn’t kill it, though. It survived in a small part of my brain and nagged at me constantly. I didn’t always hear it, but the whine was always present. I learned to ignore it over time because, well, it’s easier that way. I came up with excuses. All the standards: I’m busy, I’m tired, I’m sad.

And here’s something else I don’t like talking about: I have been incredibly sad.

It started roughly around the time I didn’t get into my grad school of choice and continued through terrible relationships I felt trapped in and career choices I felt forced into making but couldn’t see a way out of. 

Then, a year and a half ago, my grandma died.

We’d known for years this day was coming, so it didn’t come as a shock when it happened. Or it shouldn’t have. But it still shocked my system. This woman – who had a litany of faults that sometimes made her unbearable to be around, just so it’s clear I don’t hero worship her – shaped so much of who I have become, and I didn’t even realize it. Until I was writing her eulogy.

This woman taught me independence and spunk and not giving a shit about other people’s opinions of what they think you should be. I learned to love reading and theatre and travel watching her. (She also taught me not to be hateful and bitter and racist, but not because she wasn’t those things, so I don’t want to dwell there.)

And the moment that she left us and I had to write a eulogy for my last living grandparent, it broke me. Or rather, it broke the barrier I had built to drown out the whine that kept nagging at me to write, write, write, write, write.

It didn’t happen overnight because depression (ah, you scary, scary word) doesn’t work that way. But eventually, I clawed my way back to my original life’s goals. Wrote my way out, as it were. (BTW, if you haven’t yet, go listen to Hamilton. You’re welcome.)

I am no longer defined by the arbitrary failure of not being accepted into grad school 11 years ago.

I am no longer defined by the shitty relationships I subjected myself to.

I am no longer defined by a career that I hated.

I defy all of those things and instead proudly announce that over the last two weeks on beautiful PEI, I wrote over 20,000 words (equal to what I’ve done in the last four months at home) and am almost halfway through a novel. My newest goal is to finish a draft by the end of May.

Write hard and clear about what hurts.
— Ernest Hemingway

I am still not comfortable talking about it (so please don’t ask me unless I bring it up – like, I don’t want to talk about what it’s about yet), but I am taking baby steps.

I am also following the advice of Hemingway: Write hard and clear about what hurts.

That’s my phone background so I’m reminded every day. My lock screen says “Everything that you’re going through is preparing you for what you asked for.” Again, as a reminder of my purpose, my goals.

Maybe that’s a warning for those who may not be prepared for what I will be talking about, what I’ve gone through. Maybe that’s just life. But I don’t really care anymore. I’m done explaining myself to anyone besides myself.

I’m writing.

I’m writing.

I’m writing.

Damn. That feels so good to say.

Pick up a pen, start writing.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

To write or to trophy wife...that is the question. by Deidra Dallas

Recently, I quit my job. I was a teacher.

For the last 10 years, I have impressed upon high school students the importance of using proper grammar and projecting their voices on stage. I have lectured about King Henry VIII and all of his wives and hammered home the finer points of drafting an argumentative paper. I have traveled the state of Texas taking students to debate meets and theatre festivals and choir competitions and marching band contests.

And I loved it. My colleagues were (and are) my best friends. My students were (and are) like my personal children.

I envy those who are able to pull off the teaching gig. I wish that I was one of them.

But I also hated it. Deep down, I was resentful of all the time I spent writing lesson plans and grading papers and traveling every weekend with children who were not actually my own. I had no time for a personal life, much less time to date so I could find someone to have my own children with. While I adored my students, I did not adore the stress and anxiety that came with them.

When I was young and naive, I wanted to be a writer. “I’ll write books!” I told my friends and family. And I really thought I would. I’ve loved words since I learned to read at three years old, since I wrote my first short story in the first grade. I wrote for and edited every literary magazine at every major academic institution I attended. I minored in Business to go along with my Creative Writing major so I could pursue publishing.

But life is life, and instead I became a teacher. And then one day, prepping for the five different classes I was teaching and making plans for an out of town speech tournament while simultaneously planning a rehearsal schedule for the fall musical, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore.

I was ill, constantly. My blood pressure was sky-high. My hair was falling out. I didn’t sleep. I ate sporadically, and when I did, it was quick and easy junk. Teaching was not healthy for me.

I envy those who are able to pull off the teaching gig. I wish that I was one of them. I pretended like I was, for a long time. And I felt guilty and was angry at myself every time I realized I wasn’t. I felt like I had failed and was continuing to fail every time I woke up and wasn’t happy to be going to school. But I would put my head back down and keep on. What else was I going to do?

Well, life is life, and so I started my own business called Review My Paper. Freelance editing. It takes what I love about teaching (digging deep into someone’s writing to make them better) and takes out what I hate (fighting administration for what I knew was right but didn’t align with the latest fad to make us all “better teachers”).

To be or not to be: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.
— Hamlet, 3.1

What this all boils down to though is now I have time for myself. I can sleep. I eat better. My blood pressure is slowly working its way down. But most importantly, I have time to write. Because, honestly, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s what I was built to do.

And that’s where I’m at. I have been out of the school for one whole semester, and it is incredibly freeing. But also there are times I wish I could wake up somebody’s trophy wife so I don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage or feeding the dogs.

But, as my former student and really good friend told me, I’d be so bored with that.

So I choose to write…because I’d rather suffer the slings and arrows of my own outrageous fortune, even when it’s scary as crap.

I’m going to try to document it — writing, editing, making a living, dating (maybe??). Mostly to keep myself honest, but maybe you’ll get a kick out of it, too. Oh, and I like to read a lot, so I’ll probably talk about that, too. For my first, and very brief, book chat: Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare (if you couldn’t tell).