For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer.
I’ve been writing since the time I was old enough to hold a pencil. In elementary school, I penned stories such as “Tammy the Tomato” and “Bob the Bean,” written on wide-ruled notebook paper and bound together with construction paper and yarn. I’m pretty sure my mom still has them at her house.
When middle school and the ensuing angst hit me, I turned to writing again. What started out as a Star Trek fan fiction became the dozens of journals piled on my bookshelf and in bins that tell the story of my life. These volumes hold the evolution of my writing style, my journey into poetry, the rise and fall of several romantic relationships, my stays in treatment centers and hospitals, and so much more.
When I was a teenager, I spent my summers at Duke TIP, a summer studies program for gifted students. I took both of the creative writing courses that were offered. TIP was where I met my best friend, where I felt like I finally fit in, and where I was challenged to be the best writer I could be. During my first summer there, my professor, Angie, introduced me to poetry. I had never read a poem that wasn’t a sonnet or some other sort of extremely formulaic, formal piece. But when I read e. e. cummings and heard a spoken word poem by Andrea Gibson, my mind was blown (for lack of better words). I realized that poetry was a way to say things I could not say in plain words.
For the next few years, I wrote all sorts of cryptic, angst-ridden poetry about a serpent (which represented my depression) a girl called Scarlett (who represented my self-harm) and so on. Once again, another teacher impacted me. My high school freshman English teacher, Mrs. V., would read my poems before school and return them to me at the end of the day with corrections. I felt that I could confide in her safely. She knew that I wasn’t a bad kid or doing things for attention. She saw the good in me when I hated myself, and became a listening ear when I was in distress. The poems were not for class, and I’m sure she had more than enough papers to grade, but she always had time for me.
I am happy to report that while I am still writing, most of what I write these days is not riddled with self-loathing and suicidal ideation. When I was nineteen, I wrote a novel, tentatively titled The Sea of Jessica. It took me about a year to write it, and six months out of that year were spent in a treatment center in Alabama. It was an all-women’s eating disorder center, so as you can imagine, tensions were high in there. Take a bunch of maladjusted, depressed, hungry women and stick them all in one building with constant turnover in the staff and counselors who were just barely out of college, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. While I did reap a few benefits from that particular center, most of my time there wasn’t especially productive. I met some absolutely beautiful souls there, women who desperately wanted to recover and get their lives back. But I also met some ladies who were downright awful.
To get away from the drama of the milieu in there, I began writing. I didn’t anticipate that I’d write an entire novel. I’d never done that before, and I didn’t think I could do it. But I did. The basic premise of the story is that the main character, Tabby, blames herself for her friend Jessica’s death. It follows her through adolescence into college where she ultimately heals from her grief.
This was about five years ago. The novel sat in my computer, which ultimately crashed. I was able to retrieve some of my files, but not all of them. I lost years’ worth of poetry, pretty much all of my short stories, and tons and tons of photographs. “It’s fine,” I told myself. “It’s not like any of that was good enough to publish anyway.” Perhaps my eighth grade poetry shouldn’t see the light of day, but the truth is, a lot of my writing is, indeed, good enough.
One day, I was looking for something in my Google Drive. I dug through various files and folders, and I discovered that past-Katherine was looking out for future-Katherine and had backed up every single thing on the old computer in Google Drive. And I mean EVERYTHING! I found poetry going back to 2011, stories I wrote at camp, you name it. There was my novel, just waiting for the right time for me to find it.
Getting published is hard. Many magazines charge a “reading fee,” or their wait time is 6-9 months and they don’t accept simultaneous submissions. There are so many online literary magazines with so many different niches that sometimes it can be impossible to figure out where my work fits. Because of this, it’s easy to just give up, which I did for quite a while. I was in my own bubble, not reading any contemporary poetry and not trying to get my voice out there.
Recently, though, I have discovered that there are plenty of other poetry books out there besides the overly simplistic things like Milk and Honey and the other copycats and #instapoets. I devoured Jenny Zhang’s latest poetry collection, My Baby First Birthday. It was bizarre and vulgar and I loved every page. It was also the first book I’ve finished in a long while.
Lately, I’ve been asking myself big questions like, “What do I need to be happy? What actually fulfills me? What does my soul want?” Like many people, I love instant gratification. I love to shop for new clothes or art supplies. But do I really need another pack of stickers or a dress that I’m going to get rid of in six months? I get jealous when I run into people I went to high school and hear things like, “I just bought a house. I’m working for such-and-such law firm.” It makes me feel like I have not accomplished enough compared to them.
The truth is, if there’s a race, I’ve already lost, so I may as well take my time. I am very excited to say that I will be attending Stetson University this fall. I will be majoring in English with a minor in Creative Writing. When I spoke with my advisor, she informed me that if I only took the minimum requirements to be a full time student, I would not graduate on time. I’m already not going to graduate at 22 years old because I’m 24. I’m not worried about it, though. The important thing is that I was accepted to Stetson, that I got a pretty hefty scholarship, and that I try my hardest when I get there. I don’t need to compete with the other students or random people from high school. The only competition I have is with my past self. I want to be better than I was at my previous college and outdo my previous subpar academic attempts.
When people ask me what I want to do with my English degree, the honest answer is, “I don’t know.” If I can muster the academic stamina, I would like to get my MFA in Creative Writing at Stetson and possibly work as an editor or for a literary magazine. When I ask myself what’s genuinely fulfilling, it is writing. Although my novel needs work, I firmly believe there are people out there who will feel the need to read it. I will leave you with the first paragraph.
All young girls believe in a benign kind of magic which permeates the universe. This is the kind of childhood magic that enchants broken branches, calls girls to the ocean and makes them half-believe they are mermaids. It is the magic of girlhood, of pure love and devotion in friendships. This is the magic of talking to animals and believing they can understand and answer, of a bonfire on a summer night, feeling kinship with the massive flame, for girlhood is all consuming, not easily extinguished, and sometimes burns those who get too close.