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.


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.


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.


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