Think about being a writer for twenty years. Think about it at age 12, walking in the woods next to your house, the Dutchman’s Breeches all in bloom, you overflowing in wonder.
Think about it in college, a young freshman at DePaul, studying the works of Virginia Woolf and Jean Rhys, the thought flickering. Write it in your journal in your list of goals but decide that becoming a high school English teacher is a more practical goal for the present. Become distracted by the city life, your new circle of friends, your boyfriend (whom you eventually move in with and marry). Graduate from college, get a job teaching on the South Side, throw all your energy and passion into that for three years. Then decide that you want to pursue your Master’s degree (another goal on your list). Apply to UIC’s Creative Writing graduate program. Spend a weekend filling out the application, writing ten poems and a personal statement, and send it in. Get a rejection letter a few months later. Spit on the flicker.
Grow restless and long for a change, any change, something to give life a new purpose, which becomes moving back home to St. Louis. Start a new teaching job at a local high school and do that for a few years. Decide again to pursue your Masters degree. While you’re in the process of applying and collecting letters of recommendation, discover that you’re pregnant (oops). Quit the application process and put all your energy into becoming a mom instead. Read books on breastfeeding and natural childbirth. Give birth to your first daughter, then 22 months later, your second daughter. Discover (from raising two small children) that you have strength that you didn’t think you had and recommit to the goal of earning your Master’s degree.
Look into the available programs at your local university. Decide not to study Creative Writing and instead pursue a more practical degree, Teaching of Writing. Labor on this degree for five years. Enjoy using your brain, which was feeling dim (the taxes of motherhood). Learn that you are a good student and a hard worker.
Take a Flash Fiction writing class one summer with Geoffrey Schmidt (to fulfill a degree requirement), absolutely love it, and feel that flicker blaze up. Feel it burn and let its warmth fill you up like a pitcher.
Spend the last year of grad school completing your thesis work, have a few meltdowns, but get through it. Feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment when your diploma comes in the mail. Feel like you can do anything you want and go after another goal on your list.
Register for the St. Louis Rock N’ Roll Marathon. Train for months and injure yourself. Curse those flat feet of yours, but run the marathon anyway. Then recover—your foot in a boot for a month, physical therapy for another month, not running at all for three more months.
While recovering, re-enroll at the local university, this time as an unclassified graduate student (since they don’t have an MFA program). Take a Creative Writing class with poet, Allison Funk. Write something new each week. Workshop and rewrite/revise those pieces.
Make it the goal for your summer break to get published. Send in lots of Flash Fiction stories. Read lots of Flash Fiction in literary journals. Create a Word Press site, (after reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work), just in case. Admire the work of one writer in particular, Rachael Warecki, especially her story, “The Dykettes of Shawnee Junior-Senior High School.” Visit her personal website and decide to send your work to all the journals she has been published in.
Get lots of rejection emails a few weeks later. Decide you’re not as good as Rachael or all the other real writers in the world.
Feel dejected but persist. Know that you’re not giving up (not this time). Know that you can make this happen—you just need to keep at it.
Then in October (while taking another Creative Writing class with poet Joshua Kryah) get an acceptance email from a journal that you have completely forgotten you have sent work to (namely, Spry Literary Journal). Jump up and down a lot, kiss your husband and dismiss his joke that he was your inspiration.
Keep working. Keep writing. Underline in the just-all-right fantasy novel (Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear) that you’re reading on your family vacation in the Wisconsin Dells the line, “Something of her own. Something she had bought with her own currency. Something that had not been given her.”