A Likely Story
Although my writer’s bio says that “Dear Abby, How can I get rid of freckles?” was my first published piece at the age of 11, my writing career officially began the first time I was paid for my writing. I was a full-time young mother at the time who couldn’t afford a subscription to my favorite magazine, “Mothering,” so I wrote an article, which was accepted for publication. Getting paid was a bonus to the subscription I earned.
Jump rope jingles, nursery rhymes, and the songs from the 40’s that my father taught me were some of the early influences that contributed to my love of language, rhythm, and word play. My writing education has been un-orthodox and at times has seemed accidental (or incidental), because writing has never been removed from the rest of my life and has almost always been directly related to issues close to my heart.
After having a cesarean birth in 1979, I became an advocate for mothers and babies by writing for a homespun cesarean prevention newsletter that a friend had started. Later, frustrated by the fact that the U.S. was the number one arms seller in the world who helped to arm Saddam Hussein before we went to war with him, I co-founded a local publication called “The Bell: a Call to Peace” with my friend, poet and activist, Alwyn Moss.
I was barely 20 when I enrolled in my first creative writing class at Quincy College in Massachusetts while working in a factory that made fire alarms during the day and scribbling poetry notes as I worked. For years I oversaw the art projects and library trips for preschoolers as a day care teacher, my next job, which is where my love of children’s literature was solidified. Later, I would audit renowned poet Nikki Giovanni’s class at Virginia Tech and be hired by a Blacksburg art publication to interview the first woman poet laureate of Virginia, Ruby Altizer Roberts, who was ninety-two at the time.
While raising my sons, creating and selling my handmade jewelry, I put together booklets of poetry and worked to conquer my fear of public speaking by taking up the mic at local poetry readings. Letters to the editor became political commentaries that were published in the Roanoke Times, The New River Free Press, and at Commondreams.org. Excerpts from letters and emails to my family back home in Massachusetts found there way into articles and essays.
Meanwhile, the majority of my writer’s training ground took place within the pages of “A Museletter,” a homespun community newsletter that is cut, laid out, pasted, and collated by volunteers every month. I first began writing for and co-editing the Museletter when I moved to Floyd, Virginia, in 1985 and my involvement with it continues to this day. In the early days I wrote a monthly home-schooling column, but soon my subjects branched out to include those on gardening, herbs, self-health, woman’s issues, environmental issues, and travelogues. Mostly I contributed poetry, and I still do today. Some of the poetry that first appeared in the Museletter went on to be published in other publications, such as the We’moon journal.
When my brothers, Jim and Dan, died in 2001, it was as if all the writing I had done before their deaths was in preparation for what happened next. I wrote a book, which was part a recounting of the last few weeks of my brother’s lives, part a humorous retelling of growing up in an Irish Catholic family of 11 during the 50s and 60s, and part a chronicle of the day to day living and writing my way through life-altering grief. Initially published locally for family members, the book sold out of its first printing of 300 in little over a month. It went on to be used as curriculum for a grief and loss class at Radford University, spurred a Hull Village reunion in the town where my siblings and I were raised, and is now at the tail end of its 3rd printing.
My next writer’s leap took place in March of 2005 and was called “Loose Leaf: Notes from a Writer’s Journal.” At that time, I was newly retired from providing foster care for an adult with developmental disabilities and was writing mostly political commentaries but was burned out from that kind of writing. Ready to turn over a new leaf, I wanted to have more fun with writing. So, I posted a photo of me in Ireland with a shamrock pinned to my sweater and drew on my Irish heritage to inspire the storyteller in me.
For me, blogging has served many purposes. Because I understand life by translating it into words, I’ve generated a lot of writing. I needed a container and a way to organize and cross-reference it. The rapid-fire pace that blogging requires has helped me develop my skills, which has led to the airing of a number of my essays on WVTF radio and to freelancing and providing contract stories to The Floyd Press, Natural Awakenings of Southwest Virginia and other places. It also gave me a forum to continue writing about grief and loss and a place to express my love of photography.
Blogging brings out my nutty professor side and appeals to the record keeper in me. I consider my blog to be my writer’s petri dish, my lab where new work is developed and sometimes launched from. It’s also a day-to-day interactive journal that has allowed me to meet and form meaningful friendships with readers and other bloggers from all over the world. ~ December 24, 2009. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Update note: The Museletter ceased publication in early 2014. You can read more about that HERE.