Once upon a time

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Once upon a time, I was an English major in college plunking away on a manual typewriter or setting words to paper with pen in hand.

And since having an English degree alone didn’t necessarily lead to a lot of opportunities in the job market, I decided to put my degree to good use by becoming an English teacher. Hence, my Bachelor of Science degree is in English Education.

Often I wonder why I chose that major. I was the first one in my family to attend college, let alone graduate. From early on, my parents encouraged me to get an education, preferably in college. I remember my mom beaming when I told her I wanted to become a teacher.

My two older sisters had married young but still managed to obtain decent jobs with just a high school education, but I distinctly remember my mother trying to steer me away from a young marriage.  That was fine with me because I didn’t want to get married, if at all, for a very long time. 

Since my siblings were so much older than I was, I’m not really certain why neither one of them aspired to get an education beyond high school. One of them is extremely skilled with numbers, bookkeeping, and in business and would have made an excellent CPA. The other one is empathetic and has a personality suited to be a care-giver and I remember she considered being a nurse, but she did not pursue that field.

So maybe my folks just wanted me to reach for a different future than the rest of my family.  And perhaps they hoped that when I went away to college, I would explore new horizons, not just academically but socially as well, and would discover that there was someone better romantically for me than my high school boyfriend, who wasn’t a real winner.

Whatever the reason, after I received my college acceptance letters, I made my choice about which school to attend and had to declare a major. I honestly didn’t know what to select. So in the end, I picked English because it was a subject I excelled in and I liked to read and write.

But I wasn’t a typical English major. I didn’t get my kicks out of reading authors’ works of prose and poetry and analyzing themes or archetypal images in classic or modern literature.  Sometimes I would read an assigned work and think, “Huh?? What do I make of that?”

I remember sitting in class listening to my fellow English majors discussing those analytical aspects and me kind of shrinking in my seat, hoping the professor didn’t call on me to add to the discussion.

Because honestly, I had no clue what they were talking about. I didn’t see those analytical features that they so easily identified in a short story, a novel, poetry, or a play.

So I kept mum and nodded my head a lot and, if I’m honest with myself, pretended to be something I was not. If a thought did come to my mind, I feared it just didn’t measure up to the kind of discourse fellow classmates were having.

I thought expressing my thoughts would sound stupid or clueless. I just didn’t believe I measured up to being the typical creative, often non-mainstream type of person who was an English major. In other words, I felt extremely lacking.

But when it came to writing, there’s where I found my niche. I always had a good command of grammar, syntax, and excellent editing and proofreading skills. So crafting sentences and paragraphs, writing and re-writing, proofing and editing what I wrote (and often proofing non-English majors’ papers or helping them write) came easy to me.

“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” ~ Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

I can still spot grammatical errors, typos, and misspelled or misused words immediately in reading material. Papa probably gets tired of hearing me spout off about all the mistakes I find in our local newspaper when I say “Don’t they teach these kids how to write well in journalism school now days?” 

So writing is my thing. It always has been. But it wasn’t until I acquired a job as a reporter/assistant editor at a daily newspaper that I honed my craft even more.

I should have majored in journalism instead of declaring an English major, but by the time my university offered journalism as a major I had completed almost all of my requirements for an English Education degree.

The thought of changing majors and taking more courses which would require attending college longer just did not appeal to me.  I was ready to be done and graduate and move on.

But writing was my saving grace. And it still is now, over 45 years later. However, I’m still not this vastly creative kind of person who has tons of novel and short story ideas floating around my brain.

I find the kind of writing I excel in is more real-to-life.  I tend to be more of a journalist or an essayist, I suppose. I take facts and weave them into a story that hopefully appeals to and resonates with my readers.

Recently, while going through some old belongings and purging items, I found a journal in which I had written poetry from my high school and college days and as a young adult.  

Bad poetry, is how I imagine my old English professors would rate most of it. But the poems were written from my heart at the time.

Here’s a sample:

"On the Death of an Uncle"

You floated in and out
Of my existence.
Why was your life
Snuffed out like a candle
In one short blow?

Why did you go
Without warning?
Without me being there?
When I was so far away?

People always thought
You were “odd;”
I always thought
You were “unique.”
Well…not always.

I remember how angry
I was with you
For telling me I shouldn’t float my toy boat
Down the tiny trickle of water
Flowing through the yard.

“Watch out for copperheads,” you said.
Part of me, in all my 10-year-old wisdom
Called you a fool,
Yet the other part
Believed you.

You always enjoyed
Arguing and teasing with me.
And even scaring me
A little.

Yet I remember
The hand-picked bouquet of lilacs.
“These are for you,” you said.
And I believed
In you.

I remember the honeycombs,
Dripping with honey
Magically produced by
Those bees of yours.
But mostly I remember
How proud you were
Of them, the bees,
And me too,
I think.

I always thought
I was your favorite niece.
Why did you leave
Before I could say goodbye?

I know you didn’t like
Dealing with death,
Me either.
I remember how
The two of us sat,
Huddled in the funeral home corner
And cried
When Great Aunt died.

Is that why you
Left so quickly?
To spare me the grief,
To spare me the tears?

It didn’t work, you know.
My tears sill flow.
My grief is still here.
Why did you go
And not say goodbye?

©CCM 1979

Tell me what you think. You can be brutally honest. I can take it, because I learned to be brutally honest with myself once upon a time.

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” ~Harper Lee

©2018 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com


10 responses

  1. I wanted in the worst way to be an English major, but my family talked me out of it — not practical, they said. In a sense they were right, since teaching would have been the normal course, and I didn’t want to teach. Ironically, I ended up doing a lot of teaching in my life, including classroom stints, and loved it.

    As for writing, I’ve always laughed at people who say everyone has a novel inside, just waiting to get out. I don’t, and I know it. Why invent an imaginary world when the real one’s so great?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, majoring in English really isn’t a practical way of landing a job. How ironic that you did end up doing some teaching. I actually did not enjoy it during my first go-round as a teacher, but later in life, I came back to it happily.

      Oh, I so agree with you that not everyone has a novel inside of them waiting to get out. Nope, don’t think so. And not to be too critical, but for some of those ‘authors’ who self-publish their novels, I think perhaps, they should have left that novel where it belonged…inside their heads. 😉


  2. I love your blogs and that poem is very honest and moving. I wrote a LOT of poetry in high school (and beyond) and while it will never be discussed in a University English class, I’m very proud of it, as you should be of what you wrote. Anything that comes “from the heart” is GREAT WRITING. You do it exceptionally well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I usually never comment but I felt I just had to let you know how beautiful your writing was today! The page seemed to jump out at me! Even though it was a real-life story it seemed like a novel to me and I found myself wanting to hear more! I think it was your complete transparency that got me. Beautiful poem, too. I’m sure your professor wasn’t thinking “bad poem” at all. Looking forward to anything you write! God Bless!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Suzette, what lovely words you’ve given me. I know that you’ve been a long, faithful reader of my blog as you mentioned that to me on my Facebook fan page awhile back. I’m so pleased that you decided to comment here and let me know your thoughts. Reader feedback means the world to me and I so appreciate you. I’m humbled that my transparency touched you. I didn’t post this for accolades and because I was being so transparent, I actually second guessed myself before I hit the publish button. I didn’t want it to seem like I was searching for praise. So thank you from my heart to yours. Be blessed!


  4. You know i am a huge fan of you and of your writing. I think we are so much alike in our approach–we are story tellers and take any opportunity to weave a story out of something we have seen or a short passage. I write like I talk I have been told. I think you are very gifted and it was fun to read your journey and a sample of your poetry as well. I liked it—it told the story of a young girl who was left to grieve and did not understand why she had to grieve so early. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank YOU for always being an enthusiastic cheerleader! Your words of encouragement always touch my heart. Yes, you and I are storytellers. Not everyone has that gift and I’m glad we can use it to give uplifting words to our readers. Be blessed, sweet friend.

      Liked by 1 person

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