“Don’t quit your day job!” Is that not the most annoying expression ever? Why don’t they simply shout: “Stay small!”
For me, my day job is sitting at home in a ratty sweatshirt, writing and sometimes preparing to teach. And then one night a week, I get to put on good clothes and lipstick (i
suppose I could do this all the time, but I guess I’m too lazy to work at looking good for my cat) and drive over to the University of Washington and teach my Writing the Memoir class for UW’s Extension Program. The class runs Fall to Summer and draws in students from 25 to 90 (yes, 90–and you don’t want to mess with her, let me tell you) who are ready to pursue writing. The course is pretty challenging–they write a lot, read a lot, and because it’s memoir they’re writing, they do have to dig in pretty deep. At then at the end of the year, there’s a reading at the University Book Store, and each writer shares a five-minute slice of the year’s work.
I can’t tell you the thrill this night gives me. I love watching them take to the podium one by one and read their own words in their own voices. And I know I’m biased, but I’m blown away not just by the talent although, yes, that’s there too, but by their courage. On Tuesday when this year’s group took to the podium, they shared stories that included, among other things, forbidden sex, abuse in the name of religion, self-delusions, foreknowledge and foreboding,
Beattlemania, foreign travel, dreams deferred, death and dying, and potty training. But the courage wasn’t so much in the topics as in their rendering, and in their rendering I heard narrators who were willing to lay themselves right down on that line. And, that is why I won’t quit my night job.
I want to share with you one of the pieces from Tuesday night because this piece–“Late Bloomer” by Star Roberts– captures the spirit of the writer coming to the page after already establishing a full life, the very writer I get to meet year after year in my class. I love this piece! Here’s Star…
by Star Roberts
Sometimes the most profound moments can hide in the details of an ordinary day. Like going to the bank. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you’ll need to know I’ve
always been a late bloomer.
I got my period the summer I turned 15. I grew an inch when I was 20, and finally, thanks to birth control, I attended my 10 year high school reunion, with actual breasts. Duly noted by one of the jocks who yelled across the parking lot “Hey, Roberts, where’d you get those tits?”
Late blooming has been my ace in the hole, the trick up my sleeve, my last chance to sing before the fat lady, or as the fat lady. I’ve viewed it as my insurance policy, just waiting to be cashed in. Then, I’ll whip up that book I carry around inside me and voila open the long stuck window of opportunity to call myself a writer. Out loud and on paper, and have it be true. But I digress.
From the moment I first realized its power, I’ve been in love with the written word. I have a vivid memory of my scrawny, six-year-old-self sitting on the toilet, looking over the newspaper someone left in the bathroom, cracking the code for the first time. The. And. Now. Then. I realized with a thrill, I could make sense of these little words and connected to bigger words they told a story of limitless possibilities. They made me hungry to know more. To be in on the secrets they held in their shapes.
Looking back to my old-school days, it was a simpler time.
Thongs were something girls wore on their feet in the summer – not between their cheeks peeking out of their jeans. But sometimes simpler wasn’t always so great. And when I needed relief from my poor, small-town, life and my alcoholic stepfather who had a mean streak and a bead on me, the quickest and easiest way out was to open a book.
Books pointed me towards my future during my fragile adolescence. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Kahlil Gabran’s The Prophet, and Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying took me into their worlds and offered me sacred moments to forget my own. They were my therapy, my spiritual counsel, my sex education and most importantly, my escape. They threw me a lifeline to a bigger universe and I grabbed it.
Since then, I’ve secretly hoped in my heart, that I too, could string words together in a way that might carry someone someplace else. On a journey they didn’t know they needed to take. But as you know, I’m a late bloomer.
Fast forward a decade from that 10 year reunion, where I brought the boobs and I’d moved back to the Great Northwest from Southern California. Like the salmon, I came home to spawn.
Ever the glutton for punishment, I went to my 20 year high school reunion – eight and a half months pregnant with braces on my teeth – in a long, black, lace dress that I’m pretty sure made me look like a pup-tent for Victoria’s Secret.
My classmates acknowledged my lack of hotness by voting me ‘Least Recognizable.’ This honor required me to waddle up to the podium to collect my award, right after Linda Rio, ‘The Sexiest Grandma,’ got hers. With only a mere shred of tattered dignity intact, I leaned into the mike and said “I prefer to think of this as the Late Bloomer Award.”
I became a first-time mom at 38, but let’s say before that, I had a life. A job. Even a career or two. I never thought I’d be a Stay at Home Mom. I feel like I’ve put myself in a permanent time-out and in many ways I have. Don’t get me wrong. I love my children dearly and if I had a do-over, I wouldn’t do it differently. I’ve been fortunate to have an option many would kill for. But it’s been so easy to get lost in the details of their lives.
Until now, that is, remember I’m a late bloomer. I’m 55 years old and my own daughter will be graduating from high school next year. I’ve optimistically told her, her graduation present from me will be a book. That I’ve written.
I have stories to tell and it scares me. I am not sure if I’m up to it – if I have the skills, the guts, the discipline, the clarity – if I can quit blubbering long enough to write. But it’s time to step up to the plate or the key board, and let fly.
This gets me back to that profound moment in my ordinary day. Recently, I went to the bank to open an account. As the bank guy was updating our information, I looked over at his forms and said, “it’s all the same” then, my eyes landed on my husband’s name with the title of Architect and below that my name with Stay at Home Mom.
I couldn’t help it. I blurted out “Stay-at-Home-Mom. I hate that term. That expression.”
The poor guy, didn’t know what kind of can of worms or wup-ass he’d opened up, but said very kindly, “What would you like me to put?” as he told me he needed to put something because of the Patriot Security blah blah blah act, and I said “Put writer. And student.”
“I like that.” He said.
So, you heard it here, from me, first. (Well, except for the bank guy). I’m a writer. And a student. With a deadline. Bloom on baby. Bloom on…