I was six or seven, sitting at the redwood picnic, my feet dangling from the bench, unable to touch the concrete. I had a thick green pencil in my hand. The blue-lined tablet paper had random chunks of wood that caused staccato breaks in my printed letters. I loved the words, “Once upon a time.” Every story started the same way. I don’t remember if I showed my stories to anyone. Probably not. If I was caught writing or reading, my mother would say, “If you have nothing better to do than sit around, I have some chores for you.” She was an educated, working woman with a four-year degree in nursing. Not until I was an adult did I wonder why she did not encourage me.
However, I did have a junior high English teacher who nurtured my writing, inviting me to write for the school paper. But when my family moved to a large city, my high school guidance counselor insisted on filling my schedule with science classes. In twelfth grade, I finally found room in my curriculum to join the school newspaper. After turning in a sample article to the teacher, she asked where had I been for the last three years. But her effusive praise did not endear me to the other students who had worked their way up from newbies to senior staff. They made it clear I did not belong.
Despite my apparent writing skill, reading comprehension was difficult. I struggled to maintain good grades, hoping for a scholarship to a college where I could major in journalism. But that didn’t work out. I enrolled in a junior college where I discovered I had more success writing English essays than analyzing classic novels or breaking down sentence structure. I also didn’t have the chops for the highly competitive career in journalism. (Or so said the instuctor.)
Leaving my writing dreams behind, I married a wonderful man and started a family. An eye exam disclosed astigmatism and and myopia (nearsightedness), which explained my difficulty with reading as well as retention of what I read. With prescription glasses, my world transformed from a pencil sketch by Van Gogh to crisp, clear images. I no longer had to re-read a page several times to absorb the information.
Even though I wrote in my journal every day, even though I read more and more books, even though I secretly wished I could go back to college, I didn’t think I would ever become a “real” writer. I was happy to be a stay-at-home mom, enjoying doing things with my kids that I never did when I was young. In hindsight, I know now that I had no self-esteem from long-buried childhood trauma. I battled food addictions intersperced with bouts of bulimia and addiction to diet pills. As a result, I was forty pounds overweight.
Searching for a healthier lifestyle, I followed a friend to Richard Simmons’ Anatomy Asylum where he had designed a program specifically for the overweight member. First, a half-hour motivation class addressing the reasons behind overeating, then an hour of low-intensity aerobics, ending with a brief cool-down as the instructor shared an inspirational thought for the day.
After I lost most of the excess weight, the club manager suggested I become an instructor. Though the idea seemed crazy, I really loved motivating others to reach their goals. So I gave it a shot.
Soon I was teaching three mornings a week. My biggest challenge was finding new topics for the half-hour motivation. One morning, I asked everyone to think of one thing that they’d once wanted to do but never got around to it. It could be anything–ride in a hot air balloon, skydive, see a Broadway show, paint a picture. Sometimes we are unhappy with ourselves for giving up on our dreams so we reach for food to fill that void. We need to look back on those old dreams, and see if there’s still a spark of desire. If so, we can take small steps, like signing up for a painting class. Or save loose change in a jar for that balloon ride.
One of the members asked if I was living my dream. I laughingly replied that a motivational weight-loss instructor had never entered my mind! I had always loved to write. The next day, that same person gave me a college class schedule with “Writing 101” circled in red! She had also picked up a registration packet for me. In one of those “put up or shut up” moments, I signed up for the class, of course!
During the second semester, the teacher read my assignment aloud. I braced myself for his critical analysis. Instead, he looked around the room and held up my paper. “THIS is good writing.” That assignment is the first page of the first chapter of my first book published by St. Martin’s Press.
Shortly afterward, a friend said she admired me for going after my dream of being a writer and becoming a published author. She seemed wistful as if something was on her mind. Once again, I found myself asking, “What is your dream?”
She answered dismissively, “Oh, it’s too late.”
“No. Tell me.”
“I wanted to be a nurse. But I’m too old now.”
“No, you’re not! Your boys are in school. You could take classes at the community college during the day. If you want it, do it!”
She did! She graduated and eventually became a lactation specialist. A few years later, I met a young couple at a dog park. They were expecting their first baby. After the little one arrived, they raved about an amazing nurse who was a God-send, giving them her phone number so she could answer any questions. I was thrilled to learn this sweet nurse was my dear friend.
Not only has writing influenced me in many more ways, it turned out to influence others, too!
Disclosure: I am participating in the “Writing Contest: How Writing Has Positively Influenced My Life,” hosted by Positive Writer. – See more here.