Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 7:27:14 PM
I read about Stage of Life in Sunday's newspaper after I saw the name "Eric Thiegs" in the living section. I don't know Eric Thiegs, but his wife was my English and Creative Writing teacher during my junior year at Red Lion. Rebecca was a great teacher, one who really really brought a breath of fresh air to the stagnant waters of that senior high. I still can't put my finger on what set her apart, but I think it had something to do with her actually caring about reaching people.
I wanted to be a writer before I could even write. I loved books and stories as a child, I loved letters. I couldn't wait to start school so I could start learning. After I learned how to use a typewriter, and then a word processor, I would spend hours writing stories. This went on until I was a pre-teen. I think I was in sixth grade when I started feeling self-conscious about writing made-up stories and began focusing my efforts on writing book reports.
I had won the first-place award in a writing contest a few years prior to this, and my dad laughed when he read my story because of the impossibility of one-hundred stairs leading to a secret attic. He just couldn't get over it, but conceded that it was a good story. After all, it did win the first-place award. I know he was proud of me, but his teasing really made me evaluate my story telling abilities. Similarly, I used to take dance lessons, and after a performance at the Galleria Mall, he informed me that I was not in line with everyone else and was basically dancing to my own music. He laughed and joked and it was all light-hearted and in good humor, but I realized that I really just was not a good dancer and quit taking those lessons to save myself future embarrasment.
So, in sixth grade, I overheard a couple of students talking about the Riverwalk Arts Fair and how one of them had received a third-place award in the writing contest and two others had received an honorable mention. "Who won first place?"
"Oh, I think it was someone from another school...I can't remember."
I was the one who had won first place, and for some silly adolescent reason, not being remembered or recognized really hurt my feelings. Here were these students, feeling as though honorable mentions gave them bragging rights, and there I was, not even brave enough to take credit for winning first place. I felt like my story and I were forgettable and less than an "honorable mention."
I still enjoyed writing in the following years, but the only things I wrote were book reports and research papers. Writing was safer that way; no one could criticize me for an unrealisitc imagination, and I wasn't writing for any audience other than a teacher and maybe a few "peer-reviewers."
It wasn't until my junior year of high school that I returned to any sort of fictional creative writing in Mrs.Thiegs' class. And it was like pulling teeth. I felt like everything I wrote was ridiculous and pointless, and I was afraid to really put myself out there. I was afraid of embarrassing myself or letting my guard down, and to this day, I still don't write stories anymore, because I don't have the confidence I did as a child. But for those few months when I was in that class, Mrs.Thiegs prodded me and praised me and helped me see my own worth as a writer.
Two years after graduating from high school, I was working in the costume jewelry department at the Bon-Ton when I saw Mrs. Thiegs and finally heard the desperation in my own voice when I was talking to her about my life after high school. Rebecca had written me a letter of recommendation to York College when I was a senior, a letter that brought tears to my eyes because she believed in me more than I believed in myself. Seeing her made me feel guilty; I had never applied to college, had never sent in that letter, and hearing myself tell her about selling crap jewelry for a living made me feel ashamed. I knew I was better than that, but it wasn't until I saw Mrs.Thiegs that day that it really hit me. I had talent, I was intelligent, and I needed to do something with my life other than sell junk jewelry. I applied to York College and enrolled as a Professional Writing major.
The major seemed perfect at the time. I wrote research papers like they were going out of style, and I enjoyed every second of it, even when I was getting two or three hours of sleep because of procrastination. It was grueling at some points, but I honestly loved what I was doing. It wasn't until I was in my senior year that I seriously began questioning my choice of major. Sure, I was good at writing. Sure, I liked doing it. But in the real world, how was I going to earn a living? The majority of my classmates had entered the major because they wanted to be novelists or authors; they wanted to write books and stories and poetry and screenplays or be sports reporters. I had entered the major because putting words together in complete sentences on a piece of paper was something I was good at and enjoyed doing.
When people would ask me what I was going to school for and I would reply, "Professional Writing," they would ask, "Oh, like writing books?" or "Oh, like journalism?" and I would reply, "No...not really..." Then they would ask, "Well, what do you write?" I would pause a minute to think. "Um...research papers?"
Now, almost two years after graduating from college and not having a job in my field, let alone any kind of legitimate job in general, it's gotten to the point where people ask, in response to me naming my degree, "Well, what is that? What does it mean? What will you do?" and I reply, "You know, I really don't know what it is. And I don't really do or write anything."
Because that's the sad truth. I don't know what my degree is good for. I never took a single journalism course. If I had wanted to write novels or poetry, I would have just done it...No degree is required to be that kind of writer. I don't have any experience as a news writer. I'm not good enough at grammar to get a job as an editor. And I'm not brave enough, secure enough, or ambitious enough to freelance. I'm just sitting here, in the words of John Lennon, watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll. But it doesn't pay the bills, and it doesn't give me any sense of accomplishment.
I'm a writer who doesn't write. I don't know what to write, but I do know that I need a change. Even if I can't make a living as a writer, I need to write something. Mrs.Thiegs pulled me out of my shell and gave me an outlet for writing on two different occassions, and after reading the article about Stage of Life in the newspaper, she has done it, unbeknownst to her and in a really round-about way, a third time.