It isn’t what you think, probably. When I was in elementary school, I was incredibly shy. Now, for the record, I still score on the extreme introvert side of the Myers-Brigg test (INFP if you’re curious), but when I was a little girl, talking to other people was a bit of a challenge. In the third grade, my reading teacher, Barbara Telford, encouraged me to write. I don’t know why; I’m not sure whether she saw some creative spark or if she was just at her wit’s end for getting me out of my shell, but by the end of the year, I was writing short stories for High Hill Elementary School’s High Hill Herald. The stories were usually about talking dogs. I was about eight. Nevertheless, by that time, I was in love with words. I read Shel Silverstein over and over, practically memorized D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, abandoned Disney for the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, and devoured every other book I could get my hands on. My fourth grade teacher, Sharon Lehr, took me under her wing next, and by the end of the year, everyone knew I was the writer in the class. She was the first one who assured me that someday, my books would be on store shelves–and they are!
My first love was poetry. There have been times I’ve dived into it, drowning my brain in language, washing my hair in words, losing track of everything but the sound and rhythm of my life; there have been times I’ve let the well run dry, abandoned writing altogether. Poetry has never abandoned me, though. It’s been a constant, even when I thought it was simply a phase. Until a few months ago, it had been a few years since I’d written poetry. I told myself I was too busy with the novels to focus on poems, but in reality, I was afraid to put pen to paper. I was out of practice. I thought those days were behind me. I was, I told myself, out of ideas. Inspiration doesn’t come easily all the time–all writers seem to deal with this. I see this issue on so many author’s group pages to which I belong. What do we do when we’ve got nothing left to say?
A professor of mine once described my writing in terms of her favorite author, E.M. Forster, who said, “In the creative state a man is taken out of himself. He lets down as it were a bucket into his subconscious, and draws up something which is beyond his reach. He mixes this thing with his normal experiences, and out of the mixture he makes a work of art.” Professor Taylor, while introducing me for a poetry reading back in the 90’s, added that in my case, I did what many writers won’t do: look into the bucket to examine what’s inside. No wonder I fear what I love.
Nevertheless, I’m back at it; I can’t not look in my psyche’s bucket and pick away at it. But, luckily, metaphor and symbolism have my back. My go-to’s for ideas, once I (ostensibly) outgrew anthropomorphic animals and silly songs have varied. As a teenager, it was mood and angst; as a college student out to change the world, it was the newspapers and other poets. The mainstay of my inspiration has been art for most of my adult life. I discovered Magritte, got hooked on surrealism and modernism, and it was as if a language spigot had been opened in my head.
I just got my contributor’s copy of Ekphrasis Literary Journal in the mail today. The magazine features poetic, critical takes on works of art, as the name implies, and the editors kindly chose two poems of mine for the Spring/Summer 2019 issue. My trilogy of novels, of course, takes its title from Salvador Dali’s famous work with the melting clocks. Much of my master’s thesis, which is a book of poems and stories, contains references to my literary and visual predecessors.
With people like Frida Kahlo and Anne Sexton behind me, what can I possibly fear in my own words?