“You must be a FACEBOOK writer?”
That’s the message I opened this morning, complete with the capital letters. He caught me off guard. Why the emphasis on Facebook? Was he insinuating I call myself a writer but only write on Facebook? Kind of like that woman who calls herself a model but only models on Instagram, and only ever on her own page? Was he asking me if I am a REAL writer?
How the heck should I know? I’m assuming it must be true–it says so on my coffee mug.
What is a real writer, anyway?
It probably didn’t help I’d just spent a hopeless hour looking for jobs to utilize my bachelor’s degree in Adult Education. The only way I could make myself less useful is to have added a minor in art history. Not that either course of study is a waste of time, but neither is in high demand in rural Ohio. There is time before I need to start worrying about a job, but I need an escape plan formulated in my mind. I call them contingency plans. My friend calls them “plans to fail.”
I didn’t know if the person asking me if I am a FACEBOOK writer was genuinely curious about my craft or asking for proof of my writing pedigree. Or perhaps he was making small talk. I told him I use social media as a platform on which to share my writings. I didn’t phrase it exactly like that–I might have come across more convincingly if I had.
I remember wanting to be a writer from the time I was young. Exceptionally young. My first memory of creating something includes standing in the lunch line with the other first graders looking over my shoulder to see the poem I’d written my mother for Mother’s Day. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember I’d put kitten stickers on the paper. I gingerly pulled it from my pocket, let them read it, folded it, and hid it away. I repeated the same pattern for the next thirty years; write it down and hide it away.
I hid it the most unimaginative way possible, in a purple folder under my bed. I’d take it out every so often; to read aloud but quietly in my room, or to show my mom–who remains my biggest fan. I went so far as to enter a poetry competition in college once. The first place was $50; the second was $25. I won first. There was no second. I asked why and was told I also won second place, but the judges didn’t think it acceptable I got both–so they skipped it. I might question that response now, but at the time, it seemed logical; I wasn’t good enough to be that good. I shoved the accolades behind the work and slid the folder back under the bed.
It was still there seventeen years later; dog-eared and dusty, spots faded to lavender. The pages inside were yellow stained with time. I found it while in one of those cleaning fits that comes with a crumbling marriage, the kind where you try to symbolically clean up the mess by literally cleaning up the mess. I sat down and flipped through the folder, combing for a glimpse of who I used to be or a hint as to who I was to become. I didn’t find one.
I started writing again, in part because it was fun, but mostly because it was my connection with the outside world. I remember telling people I was trying to be a writer. Trying. Because the impertinence of calling myself a writer was unimaginable. Who did I think I was? A writer. Please.
One day I saw a clip of an interview with Oprah Winfrey–I love Oprah. Go ahead, judge me–I don’t mind. She was talking about telling someone she was “trying to be an actress,” and that person chided her; she either was or she wasn’t–there was no “trying.” I might have been listening to Yoda, doesn’t matter–it struck a chord. I could work to be a better writer or a published writer–but I’d accomplish nothing if I didn’t first believe that I am, in fact, a writer.
Since then, my work has been varied; personal essays for friends applying to graduate school, op-ed pieces in the newspaper, a brief stint as a columnist for a magazine. I’ve donated my time more than I’ve been paid for it. I’ve written other people’s stories more than my own, and I practice more than perfect. I’ve learned not to measure my success by the number of bylines I rack up or the praise I receive. I still think accolades should be filed away behind the work.
I don’t know if I’m going to need a contingency plan in a few months. I can’t say if I’m going to make it on talent and determination alone. It might be the only work I’ll ever do is this blog and my WIP, and the only time they will ever be seen is when I link them to social media. FACEBOOK or otherwise. The only thing that matters at this point is the title I claim proudly.
Besides… it’s already on my coffee mug.