I am not a writer, I tell myself. I never was or wanted to be. In home videos I’m playing with bugs and reading about cars and saying I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up. In high school I tinkered with electronics, an interest I said I’d never outgrow. Young college me founded a tech company and dreamed of being a billionaire. Older college me found programming and the fun startup life as a software engineer. And loved it. At no point in my young life have I wanted to be a writer.
Then I left for wooded mountains, where I said I’d learn the nuts and bolts of computers on dial up internet. I made plans to build mountain lion detectors and write political code. Somewhere along the way to my plans, I got lost in the library. And oh what a library it was. I reveled in the musty smell, aggressively browsed shelves, and made small talk with the flower covered bust of an old man. My days became filled with books and I grew to know the library almost as well as I knew myself. I swam in words (even as many of my friends drowned in them).
Out in those woods we read 100 pages a day and I found myself unable to stop there. I had piles of books stacked like towers all over my tiny ass room. I read every moment I could. I read F. Scott Fitzgerald (not a fan - too depressing), Thomas Merton, Vine Deloria (what a firebrand), and Louisa May Alcott. I tried (and failed) to read Foucault and WEB Du Bois and Ghandi. I’d never had so much time and so much encouragement to read. All my life my reading had been a distraction, a guilty pleasure, a break from all my “real work”. In the mountains I found a place where my voracious reading was not only tolerated, but lauded. No longer did I have to stay up till the crack of dawn to read and no longer did the guilt of doing "nothing" hang over me. Reading here meant something.
It soon became obvious, though, that reading wasn’t enough. Everyone I read was a writer and I wanted to try my hand at it. There was only one problem. I still wanted to be a tech tycoon. And I sucked at writing.
The next step on my journey to tech tycoon was a course in sustainable business. As part of the, you got the chance to work with and pitch a company to the founder of Clif Bar. I would not have gone to the mountains of Oregon without this course. As the course neared, I started to waffle. The founder of had resumed his position as CEO and couldn't come. The course itself didn't sound novel. At that time, I wasn't interested in making a business plan. I wanted to make money, lots of it, fast.
Right as I was waffling, I heard about a Nature Writing course. It didn't sound a good fit. I didn't love nature (too many bugs) and I wasn't a writer, let alone a good one. But, my spidey senses told me to this class would fit like a glove. Whoever or however it was, I had a feeling I should take the class. So I set about convincing myself it was logical.
I was a bad writer, I knew that. But, what if that was actually a good thing? Through this class I could salvage my writing and not look like a half whit every time I put pen to paper. That’s practical right?
That's as far as I got in my argument. I picked the business class. It was the practical choice and I could serve my classmates with my experience in startups. I'd worked in Boulder the summer before and felt at the very least I could be something like a TA. And heck, I could even come up with a half decent business idea after a month on a mountain.
After telling my professor my choice, I had second thoughts. Later that night I couldn’t take it anymore and sheepishly knocked on his door asking for a change. He checked me, asking me all the same questions I asked myself.
But something deep in me wanted to write. I didn’t know it yet as I’d cloaked it in practicalities and logic. My LinkedIn self would say I wanted to write to improve my "written communication skills". In reality, something more soulful was happening. I chose that Nature Writing class.
So began a journey that I haven’t finished. Along the way I've written about trees and myself and squirrel penises. I've read my stories aloud, shared them on every social media platform I know, and cowered in fear at the vulnerable words that sometimes slip out.
I'm reminded of Anne Lamott's words here.
"If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive."
I could never have guessed how simultaneously scary and exciting writing could be. At the end of the day, writing is as simple as sitting down at a keyboard yet it can be as scary as jumping from a plane. It can hurt as much as pulling your shoot too late. It can heal as much as the hospital you are rushed to afterward.
I’m not sure if I’d call myself a writer now. My professor said to be a good writer you had to write every day. During the class I did, dragging myself out of bed to lay tired hands on a keyboard. 3 months later I started doing that again, on . Another few months later I began again, this time using and it’s been a few weeks that I’ve gone a day without writing. Does that make me a writer now? I don’t know. All I know is that my best days involve writing.