While I was driving home from practice on Tuesday, I had an inspiration about what I want to write: Young adult novels for modern queer kids. I want to write about figuring out you’re bisexual in a town that hates gays and thinks bisexuals are “just sluts trying to get attention.” (If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me that…) Or perhaps for kids raised in religious communities who are questioning their faith and torn between their needs for both intellectual honesty and acceptance from their community. Or for kids who have always just known they weren’t normal and would never be whatever their home town expected of them. I want to write about being that kid.
When I was in grad school I tried to write this elevated version of it like I was yelling my own story up to the academic gods and asking them to validate it. It took me a long time, a lot of therapy, and a fair amount of weed to come around to the conclusion that the story never truly worked because I needed to tell it on my own terms. But for starters, I needed to figure out my audience: Who was I talking to, and why? I wrote my entire MFA thesis because I had to, and I came up with a pretty cool way of approaching the story, but the writing felt stilted and inauthentic. There were things I was still afraid to say. They were hidden in the essays but never stated forthrightly, with confidence and full self-ownership. In other words, I had some shit to figure out, so I went heads down for a few years to work on it.
It has been a miserable time of not writing, frankly, as writing was once my only solace in a world I didn’t understand. Without writing, I continued not to understand, and found myself more-or-less at sea in every situation. Let me tell you, I have learned some amazing coping techniques in the past 5 years or so, and I’ve done some real soul searching about my relationship with writing. I always knew I didn’t see myself as a journalist, but I felt it was the only legitimate career for a writer, especially one who has a degree in nonfiction writing. But a career in journalism was never in the cards for me whether I wanted it or not, as my small business grew almost uncomfortably quickly while I fretted about what I want to be when I grow up. I decided to throw myself into life as fully as possible and not worry about writing for a while, which worked, but it also hurt. Playing on the charter of my old derby league, cross training obsessively, training to be a yoga therapist, teaching yoga classes, and running a business at the same time … Who the hell did I think I was? When the burnout hit, immediately after the 2016 election, it hit hard. I stopped teaching yoga classes and retired from derby entirely, cutting out all that extra training. I took some time to focus solely on the things I absolutely had to — work, my core relationships, and my health — and then there was this new space in my life where I felt there was room for a creative birth of some kind, but it didn’t come. I had to recover from my burnout, do the quiet but hard work of self-reflection, and re-build my life with a great deal more intention. I took a year off from skating, joined a different league, and only after having skated with my new team for nearly a full year do I feel put back together.
Letter writing has been allowing me to get words on paper again, but the blog still seemed to mystify me, because try as I might, I cannot fake myself into believing I am writing just for one person here. Nor can I pretend I’m “just journalling,” and then betray my own trust by publishing my journal entry. I have to know who I’m writing to and what is most important to tell them. And when I think about the stories I want to tell, and who I most want to hear them, it’s not a younger version of myself exactly, but other kids growing up in my hometown. I think of my siblings’ kids, but really anyone going through what I went through there. And what I want that reader to know is that it’s ok if you’re different from everyone else, and that everyone else is kinda faking it anyway. I want that person to know that they are not alone in their fears and discomforts. And I also want to empower them. That’s part of why I want to write the roller derby story eventually because in the long run, although derby has been a difficult journey in it’s own right, it has been deeply and irrevocably empowering to me. Our society tells kids (girls in particular) that they are powerless. That they are merely consumers in training, not thoughtful, sentient beings with the ability to learn, create, and take charge of their own lives. We are taught to be more afraid of what could be done to us than inspired by what we could do. I would like to work against that tide.
So I have an idea of my audience and my message, and I have a lifetime of stories to work with. A precedent I set early in my life is that I learn every lesson the hard way and get everywhere the wrong way. I’d like to think at 36 that no longer holds true, but when I get around to writing the derby story, I think you’ll see that it does. But I don’t care because for me, doing it the wrong way is just right. You know how they say bad dates make interesting stories? Well, it’s like that. I have made some deeply ridiculous and perfectly human decisions in my years — enough for my own Ramona Quimby-style series.
I’m not saying I’m going on a novel-writing spree just yet, but do you remember when I decided to try out for roller derby and I made an announcement on my blog about how it was probably inadvisable, but I was so excited I was willing to put my anxiety aside long enough to try? I think we’re in the same emotional/energetic territory here, which means it’s time to make a plan and start taking steps. I don’t know exactly where this road leads — we never do, in all honesty — but I’m gonna keep putting one foot in front of the other and putting words on pages till they tell a story.
Wish me luck…