INTRODUCTION: This essay was written for ENG 507, Methods & Issues in Teaching Composition taught by Dr. Shawn Towner. Our task as students was to reflect on our writing journeys and consider why we feel/felt so connected to English and literature as subjects. While I wrote this piece, I felt a great sense of nostalgia. I hadn’t thought about my childhood in a very long time and this essay gave me the opportunity to reflect back on my youth and recall some very fond memories. Reflective, personal pieces have always been very easy for me to write due to the source material and creative freedom, but writing this assignment challenged me to piece together my development into a writer in a chronological fashion and dissect the key events that led me to the written word.
Growing up as an only child, I really had to rely on my imagination to keep me entertained. Especially growing up as the child of two parents who had busy full-time careers of their own, I was alone a lot as a little kid. But it never really bothered me to be alone, because I didn’t know any different. My imagination ran wild, and I was able to transport myself into some pretty out-there stories and adventures, all while never leaving my dad’s office, where I’d often wait while he’d teach a class down the hall. I’d transform myself into the princess-regnant of some far-off land using printer paper and paper clips and preach to my “subjects” while standing on the cushions of the old yellow couch in his office and hide from any “evil marauders” lurking outside the magical “portal” that were really just college students walking past the heavy glass door with a placard that read Dr. W Cummings: ECON/560B. I was only about five or six at this time, still a bit too young to write, but there were plenty of stories in my head, just waiting to come out.
I was seven years old when my parents took me to the movie theatre to see the just-released James Bond film Die Another Day starring Pierce Brosnan. On the way to the theatre, I was made aware of the origin of the Bond films and how they all started off as books by Ian Fleming. It was also explained to me that every ten years or so, Bond would be played by a different actor so that his character could live on. After walking out of the movie and only seeing about 75% of it because my parents had me close my eyes and cover my ears during some of the more *adult* parts, I felt a sense of inspiration. If Bond could be played by different actors, why couldn’t Bond be written by different authors? That night I wrote two whole pages of my version of a Bond story. Two pages! I was amazed that I had written so much! Surely no one was capable of writing two whole pages in one night – I must be some kind of prodigy! Or so I thought. And the next day, I wrote another two pages, excited by the thought that I must have been creating the next great Bond film script. I would be famous! Three days after seeing Die Another Day, I had five pages of wide-ruled notebook paper filled with the tales of James Bond as he tried to outwit the supervillain Soybenny Walsher (also a name of my own creation). To say that I was proud of myself would be an understatement. I took those five chicken-scratch-filled pages with me wherever I went and showed them to anyone who would give me the time of day.
I honestly don’t remember what my story was about, and I don’t have those notebook pages with me anymore. They were probably thrown out by accident, but I’d love to read what I wrote all those years ago. Might give me some insight into a childhood that I really don’t remember much of! I do remember though, that the feedback I got from the few adults that read it, my mom and dad being part of those select few, that my story had “potential”. I’m not sure what that meant – did it have a plot? A climax? A denouement? Not likely, but the fact remained: I was really, really, proud of my little James Bond story. And I think it was those few days of storytelling that gave me the idea that one day, I’d be a writer.
If there was some kind of magical file cabinet that existed as an archive of everything I’ve ever written, I’d imagine it would be two miles long at this point. Of course, not all of what I’ve written even deserves to see the light of day, but I do know that up until I was about sixteen, I wrote something every single day. Whether that was a journal entry, a poem, a song, or a long-winded, overly romantic iMessage to whatever boy I was dating at the time, I wrote a lot when I was younger.
But I didn’t take my writing very seriously, or really, think I was any good at it, until one day during my sophomore year of high school in an Honor’s English class. We had a big, end-of-semester rhetorical analysis essay due on whatever book we were reading at the time, and as per usual, I had put this massive, multi-part assignment off until the very last second (or rather, the night before it was due). I sat down to start my essay at around eight o’clock in the evening and pounded out four pages of what I thought was complete nonsense. I was just hoping to turn something in rather than get a big fat zero for the assignment. I didn’t edit, proofread or even fact-check my essay. I just typed the last sentence, printed it out, went to bed, and hoped for the best.
Two days after we had turned our essays in, we anxiously awaited our grades, and I was just hoping for a high ‘C’ or low ‘B’ at best. Our teacher pulled out her Docu-Cam (a fancy projector, basically) and said that she wanted to show us an essay that one of us had done that was, and I quote, “perfectly written.” She had blacked out the student’s name for anonymity, but lo and behold…there was my essay. I honestly couldn’t believe it. It was so hard for me to keep my mouth shut as she showered praise on my paper and pointed out all the things I had done right. She said things like, “clearly, this student spent a lot of time on this essay,” and “you can see evidence of a really great pre-writing process,”. Of course, none of these things were even remotely true, and I never owned up to it, although I really should have. I had spent a grand total of two hours on that essay, and it was comprised of literal word-vomit that I had spewed on the page at ten o’clock at night in a last-ditch attempt at scraping by with a ‘C’. But the praise I received from my teacher made me think, “wow! I wrote a nearly perfect essay without even trying. Imagine what I could do if I actually applied myself!” Her high praise made me consider myself a good writer for the first time, and admittedly (and somewhat ashamedly) I still carry those words with me to this day.
Fast forward about five or six years, and I had all but stopped writing. My transition to adulthood was rougher than I ever expected, and I was plagued with persistent anxiety and depression that turned out to be the comorbid symptoms of undiagnosed ADHD. I dropped out of college after one semester because my mental health was just not where it should have been, and I found myself stuck in a series of menial jobs that made me absolutely miserable. I was completely uninspired and detached from my creative “self”. I had lost all confidence in my writing (and general life) abilities and barely deigned to write an email without feeling like a total failure. I had re-enrolled in some courses at my local community college, but I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight for more than a minute at a time, so I dropped out of those, too. Writing had always been a great therapeutic tool for me growing up, but that’s the not-so-funny thing about depression – it keeps you from doing the very things that help you feel better.
But eventually, my survival instincts kicked in and with help from my family, I got back into regular talk therapy and finally found a medication combination that treated the root of my depression, ADHD, rather than just the symptom itself, and slowly I started to come back to myself. Writing came back to me when my therapist at the time suggested that instead of having traditional conversation-style therapy sessions, I write my thoughts and feelings out in an email that I would then send to her. Needless to say, it helped enormously. I’ve always been more honest, open, and verbose (perhaps too much so) when I write, and it was easier to tap into how I was actually feeling when I wrote it all out instead of explaining it out loud. Some of my greatest insights and ideas have come from my time spent writing for therapeutic purposes. Writing for therapeutic purposes helped me to transform my otherwise chaotic, nonsensical and self-defeating thought patterns into more linear, productive and rational ones. Oftentimes I would re-read an email I had sent my therapist and gain new insights into how and why I was feeling a certain way. It was almost as if I was drafting my own map of self-realization. I had the answers in my head, but I needed to get them out on to the page in order to truly understand them.
Fast forward another three or four years and we come to today, as I sit here writing this piece. I’m married, wrapping up graduate school, and expecting my first child in the Spring. To say that the words are spilling out of me would be an understatement. In my darkest of days, I never imagined I’d be here. I never imagined I’d be getting a Master’s degree so that I could pursue writing as a living. How’d I get so lucky? At best, I imagined that writing would be the side-hobby I’d use to keep myself sane, but here I am, pursuing a life I really didn’t think was possible. And it’s all because of a villain named Soybenny Walsher and a hero named James Bond.