In Part 1 of the above, I continued the story of how I became interested in writing, from innocent rhymes to my mother to racy novellas to winning a high school award. Unfortunately, no one thought to refer me to a college with a decent writing program. I was like the Oliver Twist of writing …
At a college for future female gym teachers, I encountered the professor who wrote “See me!” on my first short story. I thought maybe I was in trouble, but he wanted to compliment me. I was thrilled, but the word mentor was not in my vocabulary.
And then a subsequent instructor trashed my romantic poems and asked why I didn’t write more like Charles Bukowski. Humiliated, I clammed up for a full year.
When I recovered, I tried sending some of my work out to literary journals. But what does an orphan know from SASEs? Most didn’t deign to answer, but one sent an angry note chastising me. It spurred another year of embarrassed silence.
In Philly after college, I found out that I had to support myself. What??? One of my jobs was in a go-go bar. I loved leaving the heat and grit of the city to enter the cool darkness there, where life seemed simple. There were drinking men and dancing women – plus really delicious roast beef dip sandwiches. Suffice to say, I learned that life could be a new kind of complicated. In a fiction class at Temple U., I was quite the hit with my stories of the Puerto Rican pimp, the bisexual actor, and the Mafia hit man. An attractive classmate, the only published author in the group, offered to personally infuse me with his admiration. Was I inspired!
I was becoming a writer.
I hit a new brick wall when a supportive feminist women’s group slammed my poetry (and I don’t mean the good kind of slam). Week after week I left in a funk, their critical comments ringing in my ears. Imagine my vindication when visiting author Alice Walker likened my work to poet Sonia Sanchez* (bam, supportive biatches!) And then at our public reading at U. of Penn, I received a standing ovation for my fiction. (Yeah, tha’s right – BAM!)
Shortly after, I sent out some poems (with SASE, of course) and was rewarded with my first acceptance letter. The day I received it just may have been the highest high of my still-young life. Another sort of rapture came when I was introduced to a local poet of some renown, and she said, “Oh yes, I’ve heard of you.”
I was Cinderella at 11 pm.
Long story short, I moved to LA to pursue writing, but I lost focus. I don’t blame the city or anyone but myself for how I allowed my dreams to be sidetracked – by bad boys, nice guys, beaches, clubs, grasshoppers and the relentless need to put food on the table. As I sampled different career paths, writing took the form of legal summaries and banking manuals, sexuality newsletters, syllabi and education journals. I planned to pursue my creative impulses again someday when I retired. Then I met nature writer/mentor Susan Tweit, who helped me to develop the idea for Licking the Spoon, my book about food, sex and relationships. I was no longer an orphan. The day I started this blog felt a little like the day I received that first acceptance letter. Because who can afford to wait for retirement?
*Although at the time I was flattered beyond belief by her comment, only later did I realize that it might not be such a good thing to sound ‘like’ anyone but yourself.