When I was sixteen, my teacher encouraged my parents to enroll me in a writing class. My high school was small and didn’t have its own writing program, so I signed up for a course that was offered to all the area high schools—an online Creative Writing class.
At the time, an online class, especially at the secondary school level, was virtually an unexplored concept. As a matter of fact, at sixteen, I had never been on the Internet in my life. Ever.
It was different. My “classmates” were people my age, mostly from different schools. Definitely not people I would ever have met or thought I had anything in common with in other circumstances.
But here, in this little private forum, was an entirely new world. My teacher, Virginia “Ginny” Little, was unlike any teacher I’d ever had in my life. She encouraged conversation and discussion rather than testing and grading. We graded ourselves at the end of the semester, by writing a paper explaining why we felt we deserved the grade we had given ourselves.
On the surface, the class seemed easy. Too easy. All we ever did was write back and forth—someone would discuss music and lyrics, another person would bring up current events. All we had to do was participate in the discussion.
We each had our own “folder,” where we could share our stories and poetry. It was in fact my very first blog. We would be given a loosely based assignment, post it in our folder, and everyone was open to comment. We learned how to critique fairly, without being unkind.
The first year, I was intimidated. It seemed as though everyone was smarter than me, far more clever and witty and daring with their responses and writing.
But I was drawn in. Through the intimacy within our forum, the freedom we had to talk, discuss and debate as adults, and the creative energy flowing through the wires, we became friends. I found myself thinking in ways I’d never considered before—about religion, politics, the writing process, and getting a truly unique perspective on the world.
And it was the world.
Ginny had a vision, and she brought us all into her fold. She had friends all over the world, and she networked everywhere for our class, for us. We had a student from Switzerland in our class. Visiting authors from England.
And then she brought in a friend of hers as a visiting author from Australia, and he understood us and what were about. He believed in us. He talked to us frankly, he showed us how to consider other opinions—think “outside the box,” cliché as it is, it’s true—and quite often he shocked the hell out of us.
His name is Dirk Flinthart.
The next year I signed up immediately for the class. And the year after that, when we graduated from high school, a handful of us stayed on with Ginny and Dirk for the new classes coming through.
These classmates became friends, close friends—we still stay in touch, although we now live all over the world. We’ve had weddings, divorces, children, death, and sickness. We’ve shared in each other’s ups and downs and though we’ve moved on with our lives, we still have that connection.
Throughout the last decade Dirk went from being my teacher to my mentor to my very good friend. Two years ago I was at one of the lowest points of my life. My marriage was crumbling. I hated my job. I hadn’t truly written in years.
One night, when I felt desperate and alone, I wrote Dirk an email. I went on and on about how unhappy I was, and as usual Dirk responded in his thoughtful, kind and truthful way. What I remember most, however, was that he encouraged me to check out his journalspace page. This was in response to a comment I’d made about how much I missed the intimacy and sharing we all had in the Creative Writing class years ago.
I didn’t know what a blog was, really. But when I read Dirk’s journal, it all came back to me. I set up my own account. At first I was intimidated, and let it sit for quite awhile. Then one night I decided to try. At this point my marriage was all but technically over. My husband would disappear, and sometimes I didn’t see him for two or three days. I started to suffer from insomnia and I was so ashamed, I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could tell.
So I wrote. Clumsy, awkward posts. Sometimes I’d try to be funny, to cheer myself up. Other times my posts were sad. But I didn’t care, really. I cannot tell you how it felt to be writing again. It was like that song—“Since You’ve Been Gone” (fine, laugh at me. I would.)—with the lyric “I can breathe for the first time.” That’s how I felt. It was such a rush, it was such a relief, it was the first time I’d felt like me.
Everything around me was dying, but here, I started to feel alive. And go ahead and laugh, it’s cheesy, I know, but it’s true.
When I was in college I had a professor tell me to give up writing. He’d smirk every time I shared my piece in workshop. He told me I was awful, and the kiss-ass grad students would poke their heads out of his ass just long enough to nod agreeably with every word he said to me.
It was a devastating blow, and I took him at his word. I did stop writing, and decided to focus on getting married and having kids.
When I wrote on journalspace, that all began to fade away. Because I’m not writing to get into grad school. I don’t write for that professor. I don’t write for my ex, or Ginny, or even Dirk.
I write for me. I write because it’s the only time I ever truly feel alive. I write because it makes me happy, it makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me think. I write because it’s a wonderful secret I carry around with me everywhere I go.
The world is unkind. People bring you down, people try to make you believe you are your job and then they yank it away from you. People tell you you’re nothing if you don’t own this or collect that. You’re meant to believe everything’s a competition and you have to keep up. And I feel that pressure, all of it, every day. As do all of you, I’m sure. But when I write, or when I think about writing, or dream about stories, or imagine ideas—everything else stops, all the anxiety starts to fade to black.
That’s why I do it. That’s why I’m here. I love to write. I love the community here. I love to learn about all of you and your lives. I love and appreciate all of the feedback I get (more than you know!), and I love to give feedback to all of you.
So thank you Ginny, for getting me on this path. And thank you Dirk, for always encouraging me and being my friend. And for introducing me to the world of blogging AND all of your mates here, now my Twitterbugs.
And thanks to all of YOU, who read and comment on my stuff regularly--that is so cool. You have no idea how much I truly appreciate it.
So, now, you're turn--why did you all start blogging, and did anyone nudge you into it?