Two days ago, someone asked me to write out a brief bio of my writing life. My internal engine has been stuck on idle ever since. Although I’ve written such things when publishing a poem, I get rattled every time I’m asked, without exception. It’s that word brief. And that other word bio, short for biography.
I have been writing, pretty much everyday, for the past thirty-five years. Nothing brief about that. And my writing is what is called Confessional, meaning personal, or Biographical. That means I write about my life, my experiences, what I have learned through those experiences, what I felt, and thought, about being inside of those experiences, and how they may have altered me, or not, and why.
What might be even more important is that I’m seventy years old. In turn, that means that I didn’t start actually writing until I was in my late thirties. Why? Wouldn’t that be a rather important question to this whole topic of a writing life? Especially when one realizes that words, language, and music, have always been a central focus of my existence. I had near perfect pitch, and from the age of about four, could sing any popular song I had heard more than twice. Which might lead one to think that I was aimed at a life on stage.
But, that would be a definite, “NO.” I do suffer from a bit of stage fright. I really don’t like to be in the spotlight. And now, we might be getting closer to all that idle rumbling I’ve been doing. Whether I like it or not, I have been in the spotlight, seem to consistently make choices that lead me there, but not with that specific intention in mind.
It might help to know that for those first thirty plus years, most of my energies were aimed at fitting in. Conformity was the call that formed and framed most of my choices. And, fitting in means not being on that stage. It means being just another face in the crowd, indistinguishable from any others. And yet, somehow, I chose to set myself apart by choosing to write, to be a writer. Worse than that, I chose to write poetry. Where I come from that’s not anywhere near being normal.
As luck would have it, or whatever you might call it, one of the first pieces I wrote, won first place in a poetry writing contest. I won a small amount of money, some other goodies, and publication. That should have stopped me cold, right? It didn’t because I had found a vehicle that changed my life, my awareness, and my understanding, but not that fear of the spotlight. The man who called me, to tell me the news about being the winner, was a bit taken aback when I rather forcefully demanded to know who had put him up to what I considered a really poor joke. After a lot of questioning on my part, and cajoling on his, I finally accepted that I’d done it correctly and been understood.
That, to me, only meant I would do more because I felt that writing was the cheapest damned therapy available, a private means to help me to understand the mixed up creature I was sure I had become. And for many years, it remained nothing more than that. The very real fact that it continued to lead me to that stage, that spotlight, was a minor problem, at least I thought it was.
I continued to write, eventually being published in small presses but also keeping my day job, managing a bookstore. Joined the longest established poetry group in the area, eventually becoming its Moderator. Which meant I had to read my poetry out loud, never really feeling at ease when I did so. One of my poems was accepted by a large press and used as the anchor piece for an anthology, which was later turned into a set of tape cassettes and nominated for a Grammy Award, in the Spoken Word category. Now that is a spotlight. But, one that led to teaching at a University (how much more onstage can one be?), and my own column in a monthly magazine about the value to be found in a regular, personal writing regimen.
Forced into retirement because of a severe spinal condition, I still spent most of my time writing, both prose and poetry, eventually finding the blog world. I have several blogs, and that request is for an online interview that will feature one of my poems. That internal engine is still rumbling, and I have yet to write that “brief bio”. I will do it, eventually, because I do believe that writing is a straight on path to the most important conversation we will ever have. That one with self. I just can’t guarantee that it will be brief.
I truly do believe that story, especially our own, is medicine: meant to heal not only our own person, but that of the world around us. Wish me luck, although I am more comfortable in that spotlight, I have never really calmed those willies completely.