A Personal Essay on Why I Write

When I was a girl growing up on the coast of North Carolina, I carried around a small Lisa Frank journal with two kittens in a pink converse shoe on the cover. I would sit by the creek that ran in front of our rural family home, boxed in by the railroad tracks and a cotton field along either side and write about the crawfish that built their homes under the surface of the mud and make small homes for dead bugs on lumpy cotton bolls. I’d investigate the comings and goings of neighbors, taking note of odd occurrences that took place in the ramblings of an afternoon. These notes filled the pages of my journal and at night mingled in the corners of my mind with fantastical ideas from books I was reading, MTV, and reruns of Sanford and Son. I remember the first story I wrote that was celebrated by my teachers and my mother– a short tale about the fruit on our kitchen counter coming alive at night and planning an escape with the support of the Little Debbie cakes and Ritz crackers in the cupboard. Together they fashioned a rope of licorice from the window sill and made their way out past the railroad tracks and into the great unknown. This was when I realized where story could carry me and allow me to explore beyond the bounds of my young working class family’s limitations.

Fast forward a few years to applying for college and a knowing that I wanted to write and continue to study writing, although I now had a sense of the need for money and a realization of how little we had. At the crossroads of journalism and creative writing, I chose journalism to carry me– a path that my family could see as reasonable moreso than creative writing and where I decided I could employ the creekside investigative skills of my youth. I moved to the mountains of North Carolina on a hot fourth of July afternoon with my friend John, close enough and far enough away from family as I’ve liked to say since. I learned the five W’s from Professor Michael Gouge of the ever-important Who, What, When, Where, and Why in crafting your journalistic piece. I purchased a small recorder that I carried in my pocket and began smoking cigarettes and getting tattoos, dreaming into my young beatnik writer self. Try as might to write the facts, my work always veered toward the arts, where I found myself volunteering to take on covering a local theater performance or the controversial music of a band. One shining accomplishment during these years was sitting down with John Waters in the lobby in front of our humanities lecture hall and after a few brief moments of conversation, pulling the recorder from my pocket and asking him if I could ask him a few questions. I remember the way he smiled at me in amused curiosity and nodded in agreeance, coaching my fumbly star-struck self as I asked questions about his life’s work. 

As I approached graduation with a degree in communications, I stumbled upon a UNC Asheville alum with a startup digital marketing company looking for writers. I pitched him a story on how I would write about the recent developments around town and left him my resume. He called me the day of graduation with a job offer, which I eagerly accepted without any further consideration of how this might affect or become the lens for my work as a writer. I was young and simply grateful to be offered a job that didn’t involve asking someone if they wanted a 10 or 12 inch pizza and if they planned to stay for trivia night. And so my work as a writer in the digital marketing space began, where I learned to develop stories with optimized keywords that would support a small business or nonprofit in being found by seekers of random information around the world. I was mystified by the digital space and how writing and storytelling was being used within it. Fast forward five years and the proliferation of social media engines and my feelings had taken quite a turn as I was asked to add photography and videography to my work, as I was asked to package my writing in tight headline style blurbs to catch the reader’s attention and draw them into the fold, into the click. My mystifcation turned to dread as I felt my craft awash in a vast sea of clickbait. 

I left digital marketing, still young in my writing and in my life, and met an artist who became a lifelong friend and muse who helped nurture my curiosity back from it’s digital marketing death. My work took new shape in the form of freelance writing for local publications, still dancing around art and advocacy while leaning on the five Ws from my undergraduate studies. Along the way, I crossed paths with poetry as a form that had somehow never found me outside the nursery rhymes of my youth. The dreamlike prose wove fact and fantasy so delicately that one could be unsure of the who, what, when, where, why and wonderfully so. In fact, this writing beckoned a softness, an exploration of language as I had never encountered. I began filling my mornings with Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver, with bell hooks and David Whyte. I allowed my writing space to shape-shift and soon I’d reconnected with the small girl that I was sitting alongside the creek bank with my Lisa Frank journal, curious at the comings and goings of crawdads and the way the light crossed over the culvert at dusk.

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