Mom was crying.
Usually it’s a bad sign when your mom cries. Usually it’s a worse sign when you’re happy your mom is crying. I remember at the time thinking that I must have been some kind of sociopath, and that it couldn’t really be healthy to feel good about this kind of thing, when she came up to me and gave me a hug.
“Wow,” she said, wiping the tears out of the corner of her eyes with her long nails as to avoid messing up her mascara. She handed me a packet of stapled paper. “This is really great.”
And as I looked down at the two-page story in my hands–the two-page story I had written–Mom went outside to tell my aunts and uncles about it. To tell them how talented her daughter was. And she laughed with them, saying she hadn’t been wearing her waterproof make up and that next time I asked her to read something, maybe she should.
Everyone wanted to read it then.
I was thirteen.
I was thirteen when I stopped thinking “I write” and started thinking “I’m a writer;” when writing went from a hobby to an identity and I started to consider it seriously as a long-term career and not a short-term fling. When I realized that I could do more than just write–I could connect people to my story and bring them to an emotional state they weren’t at before. With words. Only words.
I felt so powerful.
When I told Mom I wanted to be a writer, she didn’t do what most other parents would. She didn’t try to convince me to get a “real” degree. She didn’t tell me I should do something else “just in case.” She didn’t once say she thought it was a bad idea or that it was a waste of money. She smiled at me, and she supported me.
“You can do anything you want to, sweetheart.”
In a lot of ways, I am extraordinarily lucky. My childhood was not without drama and upset, and my relationship with my mother was anything but perfect, but one thing both my parents were always exceptionally good at doing was supporting me in anything I tried. I really did believe I could do anything I wanted to, because they really did believe it, too.
And that made it okay for me.
I’ve never been scared about my decision to pursue writing. Ever since I handed Mom that story and it moved her so much that she had to pull out a glob of tissue from her pockets and dab her eyes, ever since she started telling other people–fellow teachers, family, friends–how talented I was, I knew I could make it. I knew I would.
Most other creatives don’t have the same experience. Most kids I knew who wanted to pursue singing or art or acting were instead “gently led” into more suitable career choices. College was hard for them. They weren’t motivated. They weren’t happy.
I wasn’t going to college to become something: a teacher, or an engineer, or a nurse. I already was something, and I’d know it for years.
I was a writer.
It’s ironic, now, to think about that story. The one that revolutionized my opinion of myself and of my work. The one that made my mother (and my classmates) cry. It was somewhat prophetic.
It starts out with a young child, sitting at his mother’s funeral.
And seven years later, four weeks after graduating with a creative writing degree, I sat at my mother’s funeral. I spoke, and people were moved to tears.
Who would have thought the first piece I’d write as a true “writer,” an educated “writer,” would be my own mother’s eulogy?
And I suppose the education paid off. Afterward, everyone told me how eloquent and beautiful I had been.
Mom was right–I could do anything. Nothing is harder than this.