Where I’m From

I’m a novice in the world of fiction writing, but I’m a determined learner and listener. One tidbit I’ve gleaned from the accomplished is that sometimes writers set sail on their writing journeys with no compass in hand, content to dock wherever the wind should take them. Sometimes they don’t.

How about you? Do you need to know where you’re going when you write? Do you use a storyboard? A map? An index card system? Post-it Notes?

Or do you just wing it?

If you’re in need a point of destination but you still aren’t sure where your story is taking you, perhaps you should take a look at who you are and where you’re from to  know where you’re going and why you want to get there.

In 1996 I had the pleasure of hearing Tennessee’s own Poet Laureate Margaret (Maggi) Britton Vaughn read her poem “Who We Are” at our state’s bicentennial celebration in Nashville. Her words stuck with me, and for years I’ve used her poem (and poems similar in format, i.e. The Where I’m From poem) as writing prompts for me and my students.

Where are you from? Where do you want to go with your story? Why do want to go THERE?

Here’s my attempt at a Where I’m From poem. Why not take a few minutes to jot your own thoughts in your journal. You might just find a new story in you. (I used this website as a launch pad for today’s poem:  <http://www.swva.net/fred1st/wif.htm&gt;. You can tell that I didn’t stick with the format. I created my own.)

Where I’m From

I’m from strawberry patches, an old mimosa tree, and cornfields, begging us to get lost in you.

I’m from stories about my Great Uncle Joe Frank and Great Aunt Carlena.
I wish I had gotten a chance to know you.
Every time I walk through the door of that great white manor on South Ramsey
I feel like part of me has been there all along.

I’m from Denmark, Ireland, and Robertson County,
where Old Kate drops by every 107 or so years.
Am I related to you?

I’m from just around the corner from Hans Christian Anderson’s place
and some fellow Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about,
all those places,all those people my grandmother used to talk about.
Don’t know how much is true.

I’m from eating Christmas dinner in the middle of a long line of cousins on a heated tiled floor.
Save me a piece of the chocolate meringue pie, Momma Bell.

I’m from watching my cousin’s fingers glide along the neck of his magical guitar.
As a kid, I never made it that far.
I found my destiny in a cheap pawn shop six string with the action so high
that tiny fingers could barely push them down.
But, Steve, I still want to be like you.

I’m from Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. But I couldn’t stay there long.
I’m not much for music with a twang.
Give me Southern rock, just a touch of country attitude, and a whole lot of blues.

I am from a pitcher’s mound and a softball bat, playing all night till the sun comes up.

I am from a diehard love for the Red Sox and an undeniable disgust for the Yankees.
But the Lord tells me He loves them too.

I am from an imagination that dwells in the dark, places visited by Poe, Koontz, Peretti, and King.

I’m from a love for the humble, an appreciation for the confident,
and a contempt for the proud and the arrogant.
Don’t flatter me; just tell me the truth.
I value your honesty more than your praise.
I love all; I trust few.

I am from a long line of teachers and preachers, songwriters and poets, sinners and saints.
But pardon, me all you highfalutin folk, blocking my path
as I reach for the hand of my fellow traveler.
Don’t cast us to the wayside
because we don’t fit your mold of what is beautiful and godly.
Don’t you know someday you might entertain angels unaware?
Do your eyes see what Jesus sees?

I am from Jesus, and to Him is where I’m going.

Saints and poets

Something magical happens when a writer puts pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard. Sometimes dreams come true.

If you know me, you know I’m not much of a talker. Well, to most people, I’m not much of a talker. If I trust you and if I like you, if I like you a lot, I probably won’t shut up. (Just ask my students. I’m crazy about them. I can hear them groaning right now. “Oh, she goes on and on and on.”)

Usually when I try to say something really important aloud, it never comes out right. So when I can’t say it aloud, I say it through my writing. When I can’t say it through my writing, I pick up my guitar.

So the creative process goes. Some people paint. Some people sculpt. Some people take pictures to release their secrets when simply speaking will not do.

And then sometimes something magical happens. The creative language transcends the ordinary and speaks in a way kindred souls can understand.

Sometimes a writer almost gives up. Sometimes a writer succumbs to the demons that taunt him. Writers, poets, musicians and artists feel life much more deeply, more intensely, than do others who can’t appreciate the exhilaration that comes with creation.

I can’t help but think of a quote from Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Emily asks the Stage Manager, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” He replies, “No, saints and poets, maybe–they do some.”

Most of us just go about our busyness, ignoring confrontations with life when we can. But writers take time to reply when life begins a dialogue. And then sometimes the magic happens when he or she leasts expects it.

Take, for example, J.K. Rowling, a single mom with a failed marriage. She was on a train from London to Manchester when she ran into a four-hour delay and could only sit and think. She didn’t even have a pen to write down her thoughts, and she was too embarrassed to ask for one. But she held on to her story of a wizard child and found her muse and the courage to write and see the story to publication—even after multiple rejections. Did I mention she was an English teacher?

How about Stephen King? Like many of us, he suffered through discouragement and, as a result, battled a severed drinking problem. He encountered such doubt that he even threw away a draft of Carrie. His wife retrieved it—thank goodness. He continues to produce works that make us tremble. By the way, did I mention Stephen King was once a teacher?

(He’s also a Red Sox fan! And, shhh, promise you won’t tell? I think I may once sat by him at a Red Sox game at Fenway. If you see me, ask me to show you the picture to prove it. And by the way—this is for my newspaper students:  He a wrote a column for his college paper called “Steve King’s Garbage Truck.”)

For all of my fellow writers out there, I encourage you to continue the conversation life is having with you. If you work hard at your craft, perhaps magic will light upon you and you will enjoy the moment of being able to speak the language of saints and poets.