June 10, 2009

And you’re going to make money how?

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 2:24 pm

So, I had more than two hundred pages of a suspense novel, and you may not believe this, but I didn’t have the slightest intention of one day publishing it. Hadn’t even considered it.

To understand this, I may have to take a brief foray back in years. I was born on a wintry day in…

No, not quite that far.

But I did write stories almost all my life. “I was writing before I could write” went the line in my college admissions essays.  Apparently, I used to dictate stories at bedtime to my mother, who wrote down what I said.

My unsuccessful college admissions essays, I should’ve said. The sad fact is I was rejected from every single place I applied. For a girl who had hungered to go to college through every one of her high school days, this was a serious blow. I can still remember receiving the final letter, feeling how thin it was, opening it with a burst of pure desperation, then going up to my room to sob.

A good friend of my father’s was there, a Scotsman named Jim, and he just happened to be leaving for home that day. I was too bereft to come say goodbye. This man had known me all my life–since I was dictating those bedtime stories to my mom–and so he braved the sturm und drang of adolescent turmoil.

And when he did, he offered some of the most valuable words I’ve ever heard in my life. “Sometimes, Jenny,” he said in his thick Scottish brogue, “the things we think are the worst turn out to be the best.”

It was another dear family friend named Margie who identified the college she always thought would’ve been perfect for me. Somehow between her and my parents and my high school, I was able to apply late, get accepted, and a few months later set off for what I still recall as the best freshman year anyone could have had. Intellectually eye goggling. Socially as reassuring as warm honey tea. It was everything my high school stung soul needed.

Sometimes the worst things turn out to be the best.

It was during my sophomore year at Bard that my parents approached me about what I was going to do with my life. I was an English major. “Oh, you know,” I said. “Write poetry. Live in the woods.” In a log cabin of my own making. (I’m pretty sure I didn’t vocalize that last part.)

“Huh,” said my parents, who had drummed into me from birth that the way to a happy life consists of following your passions. “You might want to also think about a way to earn money.”

Well, like any writer, I was fascinated by people, and because of the kind of writer I was destined to be, I was especially fascinated by scary people. So I’d already taken several abnormal psych classes. Plus, my mother was a psychologist. I knew that biz. So, nodding amicably, I agreed to a double major in psych.

Remember all those college rejections? They were the sole reason I didn’t apply for an MFA in writing. Writing was my heart, the purest, corest part of me. If I had been rejected on that playing field, I think I might’ve broken. So I took the coward’s way out and applied to Ph.D. programs in clinical psych, which must have been oh-so-reassuring to my parents.

I was rejected from a lot of those, too–they don’t like you straight from college–but you see, in psych it didn’t matter.

By then I’d met the love of my life, which rendered most everything else temporarily meaningless, and certainly took the sting off those rejections. I made it into one program and off I went, knowing it wasn’t exactly calling with a siren’s song, but I was in love–engaged at this point–so who cared what I did with the next five years? I had a wedding to plan!

All of this is to say that it never occurred to me–or my parents–that one could make a living off of writing. Indeed most do not. But something happened to me once I had those 200 pages–as eye opening an experience as that Scotsman Jim’s bit of advice–that me start to wonder if just maybe, possibly I could.

I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

1 Comment »

  1. I love reading about how you came to be a writer! I’m learning all sorts of things I didn’t know. . .

    Comment by Judy — June 10, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

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