I skipped into my first college writing class at 18, riding the high of an A and a few published poems from my tiny highschool Honors English class.
One of our very first assignments was to write about something we had lived with our entire lives, but took for granted. I was attending a college where the majority of students shared the same religion, so you can imagine the slight seed of panic that planted deep in my belly as we passed our papers around the room to be evaluated by our peers. Every paper I read told stories covering similar topics: religion, faith, truth, and so on.
I had written about my arms.
How my life would have been lived differently without shoulders, elbows and hands.
It was cute and clever and touching (at least I thought so), and I had followed the instructions as they were laid out.
I got a C. I was told I didn’t take the assignment seriously (little did the professor know how seriously I take the use of my arms).
I fumbled my way through the next few months of papers, not trying to be too cute or overly clever, and managed to get a B in the class.
My next English class focused more on structure than it did content. This was almost twenty years ago, so I’d like to say that I tried...but I’m guessing I didn’t try that hard, since my transcript bears witness with a C.
Nursing school was just as much writing as it was heart sounds, pharmacology and clinical skills. I could whip out papers in no time, the process came easy...but they all came back the same: marked and crossed out in red pen with the same comment: “I can still hear your voice”, “Your voice is too loud”...over and over, all red pen and no gold stars because my VOICE was too strong for science.
Too cute, too clever, too ME. Bs and Cs in bright red ink.
I conformed, fell in line. I had to. No descriptions. No narratives. Just boring facts and fancy words I didn’t care to know the meanings of. By my last year I was whipping out twenty page research papers that embarrassed me to turn in. The structure was there; bones, limbs, all the organs where they should be, but no soul. No blood pumping through the veins. Facts lined up and perfectly packaged, but it didn’t FEEL right. It didn't feel at all.
I earned the A, lost mySELF.
It took me a good year after I graduated, but I was eventually able to find my voice again. The slightly off topic, not-so-structurally sound, looking for different points of view, voice. The voice that gets Cs, but stays true to itself.
So if you’re looking for some kind of proof, I do not have the best track record with my writing. But also, maybe in the big picture of life, letters on old papers and official titles don’t really matter, do they? I run, I’ve never won a race. I’m a photographer because I enjoy taking pictures. I have failed at parenting more times than I care to admit, but somehow whoever is in charge still allows me to call myself a parent.
I have a voice, so I write (which I could not do without my arms).