Searching for that trench coat

Today’s writing prompt in the Ultimate Blogging Challenge is to talk about what got me started as a writer.



Well, actually, I’ve been writing stories since I was about eight years old. I have a vivid imagination and writing gave me a chance to let it loose. But my writing skills were not equal to my imagination, which was a source of frustration for years (and, sometimes, still is). My first challenge was the mechanical aspect of writing. My third grade teacher did not like the way in which I held my writing utensil, and she often took the pen out of my hand so that she could reposition it. It felt unnatural and my handwriting, as a result, was atrocious. One day, I had a brilliant idea. I would copy my mother’s handwriting! If I wrote like an adult, I would get an A in penmanship, right? Wrong!!! I got a C. C for crappy, not for cookie. 


After an entire year of pen repositioning, I decided that enough was enough. I was never going to write another word! After all, writing was extremely overrated and, besides, my eyesight could deteriorate. I was already saddled with a pair of really ugly glasses. So, I made good on my pledge. I didn’t write a word for the entire summer. Not a single word! In the fall, I went back to school, and, this time, I had to write with a fountain pen. Sadly, I picked up the pen and started writing. What??? My handwriting is legible? And the pen! I love the pen! 


Years later, when I went to register to vote, an employee of the Board of Elections said to me, “Who taught you to hold your pen like that? It is completely wrong!”


“Can you read my writing?”


“Yes.”


“Okay, then.”


Since then, I discovered that I write with something called a “right-handed hook.” That led to another question.


“Are you left handed?”


“Um. Am I writing with my left hand?”


I thought that sounded better than saying, “I can’t tell the difference between right and left.”


My confused handedness only got more confused when my left handed sister taught me to crochet. She tried unsuccessfully to demonstrate right handed crocheting to me. Then she asked me if it would be okay if she taught me to crochet left handed. I had already had a previous crash and burn experience with crocheting. My parents had given me a “teach yourself to crochet” kit when I was twelve years old. The hook ended up broken and my crocheting days had come to an abrupt halt. So I told her that I didn’t care which hand I used for crocheting. I thought that I could fail at right handed crocheting and at left handed crocheting. Only I didn’t fail at left handed crocheting. I actually became a crocheter.


To this day, I cannot crochet right handed.

But I digress. So, back to writing. I decided to go to journalism school and to become a real reporter.  Just like the movies! Well, sort of like in the movies. I wanted to look the part.With an eyeshade and a hat and perpetually on the phone. Or typing furiously on a really old manual typewriter. Oh, and the trench coat. I had to have the trench coat. How could I be a Real Reporter unless I wore a trench coat? Sort of like in the movies. 


Movies! That gave me an idea. My introduction to the art of newswriting was faltering. The inverted pyramid didn’t make any sense. If I put all of the important information at the beginning of the story, who was going to read to the end? And the bare bones writing style was causing me no end of an urge to have conniption fits. I was struggling with it. But, unlike in third grade, when I melodramatically decided that I was never writing another word again, this time, I persisted. And I changed my direction. I wasn’t going to be a Hot News Reporter. I was going to be a Film Critic. I could get paid to go to the movies! How awesome was that?


Only one problem remained. It didn’t take long after I graduated before I realized that my illustrious degree wasn’t worth the paper that it was printed on.  And that was the problem. Paper was becoming more and more expensive. Newspapers were going bankrupt and part of the reason was that they couldn’t afford to keep themselves stocked in all of that lovely newsprint. Not to mention ink. What’s a newspaper without newsprint and ink?


As a writer or… um… a writer wanna-be… I had to reinvent myself over and over again as my journalism career straddled the line between moribund and dead. I attempted to reinvent myself as a secretary, after having decided that being the gatekeeper to some big boss was an opportunity to have power (and then, to write about it in the Great American novel). I was expected to do ten things at a time. The phone rang and machines whirred and people came and went and my eyes spun and my secretarial career came to a screeching halt.


I took classes in playwriting and poetry writing and I wrote for and edited an alternative newspaper. It was an adventure. I wrote about road reconstruction and 100-year-old women who had some interesting stories to tell about Buffalo when the Larkin Soap Company was open for business and when people got around in trollies. I reviewed live theater and the visual arts but, oddly enough, no movies.


Later, I got a freelance job at a small, local newspaper. And this time, not only did I have to write the stories, I had to take my own photographs!!! How do I take a photograph, I wondered, that’s good enough to print in the newspaper?? Hmmm…. well, maybe I should compose a photograph like I compose a painting or a drawing?? Asymmetry shows movement, while symmetry is static. Then there’s light and shadow and color and… somehow, I morphed into a photographer!


Blogging has been another part of my adventure as a writer. It’s been a way for me to share my stories within and beyond my community. Through blogging, I have been able to meet people from all over the world.  And I marvel at how far I’ve come as a writer and as a human being. My journalism career still straddles the line between moribund and dead.


And, sometimes, when I writing by hand, people still ask me about my unusual pencil grip. And they ask me if I am left handed. And I can write with my left hand, with pretty legible results, or I can write with both hands simultaneously. It’s a pretty cool party trick. But I digress. Because when you reinvent yourself over and over again, there are always digressions. 


But, I am still a writer. An ambidextrous one, apparently. And I still don’t have that famous trench coat or the hat! 


(to be continued, in one way or another)

7 thoughts on “Searching for that trench coat”

  1. What an awesome progression. Doesn't that reflect all of life, though? We plan one thing, hit a roadblock, reevaluate, and start down a different path.

  2. I found an old reporters' notebook in my childhood bedroom this past week. I always associated a notebook like that as part of the job – just like your trenchcoat and hat. Turns out the only thing we need is our words and ability to use them. Nice job!

  3. Those images were what made me feel i need to pursue a similar career choice a long time ago, though I never did.. but writing – with pencils, fountain pens, and on devices is something i am enjoying

  4. Anna Maria Junus

    If you have an office, or when you get an office, make sure you have a coat stand in the corner where you can hang a trench coat and a hat!

  5. When I was young, I was the kid picked last for teams. At recess, I dreamed of being Lois Lane. And I held my pen totally wrong. When I learned to type, it was liberating! I never did make it to the newsroom but my sister in law worked for a newest. I’m happy I didn’t go down that path. And I enjoyed your story very much.

  6. Cerebrations.biz

    Ah, yes, the infamous pen hold…
    My great grandfather (who was a calligrapher) taught me to write (write, not block letters) at an early age. And, ONLY with a fountain pen. Which certainly ticked off my teachers in elementary school- where I would not print, not use a pencil, etc. And, where they KNEW that I should NEVER use my left hand! (Which is why I write Hebrew lefty and English righty. My Hebrew teachers didn't have such predilections.)
    Oh, yeah- when I write (what? There's no computer?), it's always with a fountain pen.

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