Saturday, December 19, 2009

progress and looking back...

I got my first computer just about nine years ago, in January of 2001. (Actually, that's a total lie, and I just realized it. My dad actually bought me a computer when I was like eight years old--a Texas Instruments thing that I plugged into an old black and white television and copied pages and pages of Basic Programming from a battered manual over and over again in a vain attempt to "see Mr. Bojangles dance"--but this doesn't fit into the story, so let's pretend that computer doesn't exist, okay?)

Up until then, I had done all of my writing on a Smith Corona typewriter in high school, and when I left for college, my family bought me the step up from that--a word processor that had a monitor and could save to a floppy disc, though it still typed my papers out onto the page like a typewriter with a loud, rapid-fire style that really annoyed my roommates when I printed out my essays in the middle of the night.

I still remember how exciting it was when David and I took out a personal loan and bought that shiny Mac G4. It's funny to think about that, how we took out an actual loan to buy a computer. I had been a teacher for two years and had left to go on an adventure out West with my boyfriend and was working in the prepress department of a printing company, a job that had no homework. I was going to be a writer!

It wasn't the first time I had considered being a writer, you know. I wrote stories in endless spiral notebooks from elementary school on, and I remember a point during my senior year when my amazing English teacher (*waves at M.S.*) pointed her fork at me in a somewhat threatening manner and demanded that I become a writer. But it wasn't until I bought that first computer that I felt like I could actually accomplish this goal.

It was that year I started my first novel, The Star Crossing, as well as countless poems and fiction pieces and journal entries. I collected rejection notices from every short story magazine I could find in my thick, dog-eared copy of Writer's Market. I made flyers on my new computer for a writer's group and met every week with the two amazing women who responded. I wrote, wrote, wrote--even penning stories in my journal in twenty-second spurts while I burned plates for the printing press in the tiny plating room.

I had occasion last week to fire up my old computer (which I used as my primary computer up until two years ago, actually) to pull up some business-related graphics for David, and I grabbed a couple of photos and an old short story on my flash drive to transfer to my lappy for the nostalgia. I have most of my documents from that time transferred, but because I was using different software on the Mac, and because I'm fairly lazy, I haven't had a chance to get it all copied. So I spent some time looking over the short story I was most proud of in those days, a story called "Shadows."

And it was weird, so very weird, to look at this piece of writing I hadn't seen for six or eight years, to try to connect it with me--to believe that I wrote it. There's a scene in The Dharma Bum Business where Kat says she doesn't want to design her own tattoo because she knows her art will improve. There may be a point where she's embarrassed of where she was before, and she doesn't want to face that embarrassment every time she looks in the mirror. Looking at my old story, though, I wasn't so much embarrassed as completely perplexed: who was this person who wrote like that?

The writing is rough and naive and yes, I can totally understand why it was rejected, but...the spark in it, the fierce belief in itself, in its own daring...well, I think my current self could learn a thing or two from that writer--the writer who hadn't yet learned about the ups and downs, who hadn't yet doubted herself or censored herself, who hadn't yet worried about the market and whether her work would sell, who believed utterly that the world would instantly adore her brilliance. Reading my crazy old story made me smile; it made me excited about writing, about possibility. And it made excited about the thought of looking at my writing in another eight or nine years, to see what lessons my current self will have for future Elissa.

So along with the story, I dug up this photo of me, with my computer (we named her CalliopeCheetah, the Silver Ponder) and my stacks of notebooks (see them up there on the shelf?) and my keyboard sitting on a board balanced across an open drawer. This is where I became a writer.


Shana said...

I think this is my favorite post from you ever.

elissa said...

aww, thanks! duuuude, let's go out for a drink/coffee/something sooon! :)