Thursday, December 1, 2011

Finally, A Writing Life

When I was four years old, I wanted to read and write stories. My mother gave me scissors and magazines and told me to cut out the pictures and glue them on construction paper to make my story. I was NOT happy. I wanted to read, not look at pictures, and I wanted to write with words! My poor mom. She didn't know what to do. She didn't know how to teach reading. So, she had me read along with her for a couple of books, and, voila, I was reading. But, I was not yet writing. My four year old fingers just didn't make recognizable letters.

By 5th grade, I was reading and writing well, and I decided to write a play about Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin and their times. My teacher was one of those enlightened and inspirational teachers who you remember till the day you die. I loved her. Miss Copeland liked the play and told me to do a production of it for the class. I got to pick the students for the parts and direct the play--I was in heaven. The only sad thing is that my parents would not come to see it. In fact, my dad threw out my play, calling it trash. Why would a parent do that to a child?

While sad that I no longer had my play to look at (there were no copy machines then), I went on to write occasional short stories, which my teachers liked. I also loved writing essays, which I'm sure mystifies many of my students. But, while I loved writing, my first love was science, and I directed most of my energies in that direction.

Calculus was my Waterloo. I just could not figure it out, so my science career ended before it began. Determined to get a BA in something, I turned to my old friends reading and writing and became an English Literature major. I took a wonderful playwrighting class and was told to quit school and write plays, but I thought the professor was just being kind and supportive, so I stayed in school. :)

In graduate school, I began teaching English and loved it. One of my pleasures is writing Letters to the Editor and sending them to local newspapers. I always taught my students to write them because I wanted them to see how their writing has power and purpose. What a thrill to see a student's face light up when his or her letter is printed in the paper--truly one of life's greatest pleasures.

Then, just as I was about to begin my illustrious career as a Shakespeare scholar (Lol), I fell in love and had four children with whom I shared my passion for reading and writing, and, I must say, each of my children is a better writer than I am, which makes my mother's heart swell with joy and pride.

Always in the back of my mind was the thought that some day I would write. How many people die still thinking that? I have kept a framed scrap of paper with Edward Albee's words to me nearby. They are probably the same words he wrote to everyone who asked for his autograph, but still they are special to me, and they are: "Be sure you're a writer--That it's essential to you--Then write! Edward Albee"

When I turned 60 in June, I realized that some day never comes because there are always so many things vying for your attention. I realized that the time to write is now or not at all. So, I wrote a book this summer. Not the book I had planned all these years. Not the many plays I've started and outlined but not yet finished. Not the short stories I've been working on for years but not yet finished. No, I wrote a book about dementia because my husband has dementia, and I want to make some sense of it and perhaps help others who are dealing with it.

And what did I learn about myself from writing this book? That I am a writer. I loved every minute of writing. Like Albee said, "it is essential" to me. So, I started this blog to keep writing while I get my book ready to publish because I find I just cannot bear the thought of not writing. It is my ready time to be a writer. It may have taken me sixty years to get here, but I did get here, and that is what counts.

Take care,


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  1. Miss Copeland has always been my ideal of a teacher--the one I remember when I think of the very concept of "teacher". God bless her!
    I think you should write a play next.

  2. Kate, What an amazing essay of survival and the power of the written word! While I grew up in what some would call a "rareified environment" at home and with a huge "extended family" made up of my parents' friends and their kids, many of them my age, and who became life-long friends. The courage you displayed as a youngster wanting to read and write, made me think of my childhood and its clinical depression, which I sublimated with pen and paper, and later typewriter and paper!

    I, too grew up with a love of science, and a woman who was my mentor until her demise in 2005 was the first woman on the faculty at CalTech. "Private field trips" to CalTech to see early "atom smashers", plus my dad's encouragement led me to become a physics major. What happened? My professor in my first physics class told me and my best friend (who was from Brooklyn, a far away and "exotic" place in my mind)that "there was no future in scientific fields for GIRLS!" I was mortified, and changed my major to journalism, one of the top schools being right there at the Grady School of Journalism at the Univeristy of Georgia, where I was attending.
    It is so sad to think back at how my professor was such a bully! (Which you discuss in your next essay.) I wish I'd had more of a backbone in those days! But during all that "turmoil" of a 17-year-old college freshman, I never put down my pen and paper, or my typewriter...I just kept writing on, even though I didn't have a scrap of paper with the autograph of a famous 20th Century playwright! Kate, you're nothing short of amazing! Susie

  3. One of my high school friends (she was our valedictorian) wanted to be a doctor. But the high school counselors convinced her that she was too delicate to be a doctor--there were too many hard decisions and difficult situations for a girl to cope with. So by the time she graduated, she had decided to be a nurse. I lost track of her after high school, but have always wondered about the outcome.

  4. Ah, you are stirring up those old "writer" feelings in me...the day to day grind of the office sure gets to me!