It was an axiom during my years as a working journalist: I must keep myself out of the story. Yet here I am, in my third decade as a professional writer, diving into the narrative nonfiction space. It’s a new world for me, one in which agents, editors, and writing instructors all tell me I have to put myself in my stories.
I started this blog a few months ago to help work that neglected writing muscle into shape. I also started a class last week at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for the same reason.
(A side note — the class is heavy on memoir writing, and all of the other 12 students are female. Is this a sign we men are told not to see, or perhaps are congenitally incapable of seeing, inside of ourselves and then sharing what we see? I’ll leave that for others to debate.)
The first class started out a bit slow — do we really need the instructor to read the syllabus to us when it’s right in front of us? — but got interesting when she gave us in-class writing assignments. I was flummoxed with the last one — write a two-page life story.
For the last two months I’ve been in the process of building a full-time freelance writing business. I’ve written untold variations of my professional bio, for query letters, book proposals, my web site. But I realized the instructor wanted something a little different; she wanted a slice of who I really am. As much as I dislike writing professional bios, I at least have a comfort level there.
I took a stab at it, and decided to start with the fact that I grew up in the desert. I was surprised at where my pen took me. I learned a lot about myself in that fifteen minutes. It helped me understand a question a student had asked earlier, about how to write a memoir if you don’t know where the self-enlightenment message is leading. How can you not know where you are now? Well, turns out it’s easy.
As an exercise to force myself to share a bit more, I’ve decided to post my essay below. It is unedited, merely retyped from the ink version I wrote in class. If you do read it, and feel compelled to comment on it, please be kind.
My Life Story in Two Handwritten Pages
I’m a desert rat. I grew up in the Sonoran Desert outside Phoenix. I felt most free when there was open land in front of me and desert mountains breaking the horizon.
For the last 21 years I’ve been a fish out of water. A soul who thrives on solitude surrounded by people. A Type A who is most happy in a world of Type B’s, who is driven to A+ mode by the movers and shakers of Washington.
I long for an idealized life of memory, a life of lazy days spent under the summer sun, with little to do and much to dream about. In reality, I never had that life, and I escaped the possibility of it by moving East.
I have never gone back, but there is no “back” to go to.
For the last 12 years I’ve sought to create my own Type B life here in this Type A world. I’m creating a universe — of family, of friends, of professional colleagues — who have ambitions and aspirations, but who pursue that life in accordance with the knowledge of being interconnected with others in a larger world.
I encourage my wife to be everything she can be, in an atmosphere of love, happiness and support.
I strive to provide my children the opportunity to grow into themselves, to take their inherent goodness and build lives of peace and well-being.
I work each day to better myself, to be better to myself by being better to others. I work each day to learn something new, and to apply that knowledge in a constructive way.
I am a desert rat surrounded by a busy, bustling world. The serenity of a sunrise over a sea of saguaros is mine to build, in my mind and in my heart.