Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Product of My Environment

For yesterday's writing prompt, I asked what is one thing you are thankful that you learned, and one of the responses I got was from Susan at Wellness Writer, who said:

"By her example, my mother taught me how to write. She wrote a neighborhood column for a community newspaper for 40 years. And from the time I was child, she wrote poetry to tell us how much she loved us, or to make us laugh! I just assumed that everyone's mom wrote poetry!"

Susan's response made me think about my own experiences growing up. I never had a mentor like that for my writing. My parents both grew up in London during WWII, an experience which molded them into the serious, practical, financial-security-seeking people that they are. When I showed an interest in writing around age 10, I was indulged and told how lovely my poems and stories were, but I was not really taken seriously. The prevailing attitude was that it was fine for a hobby, but really, one had to be practical. How was I to support myself?

And so I grew up with the idea that art was something that other people did for a living. People who had lots of money, or people who didn't mind living in rat-infested garrets. People like me had to be practical, had to support ourselves. A career in the arts wouldn't allow that, and was not even to be considered.

I wish it had been different. I wish I had defied my father and majored in English or art anyway. And I hope that when my own children are ready to make decisions about what they will do with their lives that I will not influence them to abandon their hearts' desires. One of my greatest fears as a parent is that by being a product of my environment, I have influenced them in some way that they will regret, but only realize later on.

Writing Prompt: We are all products of our environments. The things we are told growing up can have a huge influence on us. In what ways has being a product of your environment been an advantage for you? How has it been a disadvantage?

18 comments:

Gianna said...

Jazz,
One of my girlfriends who has a 13 year old daughter and is 37 is returning to grad school in a creative writing program...might I suggest it's not too late for you to pursue your hearts desire??

Of course you can do that without going to school.

But if you wanted to pursue the arts in school there are programs that have only brief residential stints and most of it is long distance...I'm actually hoping to do something like that at some point...

cheers...

Jazz said...

Gianna--
I've been thinking about doing a MFA in creative writing for a while now, but it is the tuition cost that really stops me from pursuing it. Even if we had the money, I couldn't justify spending it on school for me when my son is going to start college in five years and I don't think we're even going to be able to help him other than supporting him. I can't believe how much worse off we are now than five years ago...raises have been nearly non-existent, and everything keeps getting more expensive. It's pretty disheartening.

Gianna said...

agghh...
yes, that may be what stops me too...finances...and your son, of course, at this point in life gets priority...makes perfect sense...

but still, say I, you can follow your dreams and it seems to me you are!!

teaching the course and writing the book...you're doing it!!

Jazz said...

Exactly...and I'm not sure how much good a degree would actually do me, really. What a writing teacher can teach is what works for them...figuring out what works for you is the key...and I think I already know that. So now it's really just a question of putting it into practice. I think it's the sense of community I long for, not so much the teaching. I would love to have a regular writers group...I have one person I meet with on a semi-regular basis...but his attitude toward writing is completely different from mine...his passion to have written, not to write...he's all about product and I'm all about process...so it doesn't usually end up being too productive. Not for me, anyway!

Gianna said...

well, when I think about school for writing all I care about is the community...do you have a craigslist in your area? you can put an ad in it for a writing group and define it the way YOU want it...

My issue with school is that I very well may really need a degree if I want to practice nutrition or holistic medicine and if that is what I decide I want to do, I will be bummed out about not being able to afford it...

for now I try to take it one moment at a time as I don't really know how all of this is going to unfold...but I so often think I want to go back into working with people, but if I do, it's got to be in a different capacity than prior to my disability which will require the legitimacy of a graduate degree...

I was able to do the social work I did without an MSW, but I'm not interested in that sort of work anymore...I want to lead...without a degree I would be stuck in a system that wants to drug the crap out of people...

What we need to do for legitimacy in this society is sometimes so ludicrous. At this point whatever program I study I will already know enough to actually have the degree!!

sorry...I sorta rambled there!!

Jazz said...

Well, keep in mind that there are loans and grants available for education...and that once you get to the graduate level, you can often get yourself a teaching assistantship or a research assistantship. When I was in grad school, I was a research assistant, which meant I paid in-state tuition, and got a (small but mostly liveable) salary for doing the research that would lead to my doctorate...so I basically got paid to go to school.

Jazz said...

Oh, and about the writing group...I was thinking I might meet some people through the journaling class who might be interested in writing together.

Hannah said...

Oh! My parents told me the same thing! They allowed me to study art and English at school but on the condition that I also studied science and took a science degree. I too thought art meant a life of poverty and was something to do in my spare time, so I became a geotechnical engineer, working in a male dominated harsh environment. I wish I had spoken up and followed my passion!

Marissa Miller said...

Jazz,

I got the same kind of treatment when I told my family I wanted to be an entertainer (singer/dancer). I received the same kind of scorn because it's not a "practical career." Oddly enough, however, my father seemed to think that a writing career was something I should pursue.

If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably invest my time and energy into dance classes and singing lessons. There are some things that, when you get older, I guess you just have to let go.

But you don't need a degree or formal training to pursue a writing career. If you read enough of the genre that you choose to pursue and study it carefully, you can improve that way.

There's a monthly writer's group near me that asks you to do some exercises and then everyone reads their pieces out loud and critiques it. I found it through meetup.com.

Jazz said...

Hannah--
I wish I had spoken up for my passion, too. Well, actually, I did, and was told that if I changed my major to English, all support would be withdrawn. And since I wasn't in a position to support myself, I felt I had no choice. I also got an engineering degree, and went through ten years of school and two years of post-doc work in a male-dominated environment...which I'm sure had a hand in shaping the person I am now. Sometimes I wonder how I might be different if I had been supported and nurtured in my initial desire to make a career in the arts.

Jazz said...

Marissa--
It's funny, but I'm sure they (my family and yours) thought they were doing us a favor by guiding us into something "sensible". I can't imagine my parents ever doing anything that isn't sensible!

I will have to do a bit more digging to check out some of the local possibilities. There is a lot going on in terms of writers' groups and organizations and meetings up in Minneapolis, which is only half an hour away, but I live in mortal terror of driving in Minneapolis! (I know that sounds terribly wimpy, but my anxiety has my car breaking down and me ending up dead in an alley if I go to Minneapolis by myself in the evening.)

Jazz said...

(pretty pathetic, eh?)

Gianna said...

yes Jazz!! pathetic!

Get over it...I wish I lived close to a city the size of Minneapolis!

I'm kidding you know...I have great respect for phobias and irrational fears...

It may be something you try to work on though...slowly...like going in the day time at first and getting used to going to areas you're comfortable with...until you can go in the evening...when the meetings are...

anyway...I feel for you...I don't have that particular fear because I'm so much a city gal...but I have other sorts of fears that limit me in other ways at least some of the time...

Jazz said...

Gianna,
I'd be quite happy to be farther away from the city, myself. 25 miles is way too close for my liking! I wouldn't mind moving another 50 miles south...or maybe a couple of hundred miles north...

Yes, I am pathetic, truly I am! I know it's irrational. Maybe I could find someone who would go with me? Maybe that's worth a shot. I'll have to talk to my writing buddy...

Gianna said...

You are not pathetic at all!! I'm sorry I even kidded you about that...

You are an awesome wondrous soul...who lives a brilliant successful life...

truly...I see you that way!!

Jazz said...

*blushing and shuffling feet*
well, thanks! I knew you were kidding, you know...I was kidding you back...if you ever come and visit me, you'll have to deal with constant kidding, you know. I had a friend in college who was far from home and my parents invited her to come and stay with us one Thanksgiving weekend. When we went back to school the following week, she told everyone it was like spending the weekend in a Monty Python sketch!

Jazz said...

And thank you for the compliment! I needed to hear that, as I don't feel very awesome or wondrous today...today it was a struggle to get out of bed and to get my butt to the yoga mat. Summer is stretching on long, the kids are starting to snipe at each other and I miss the silence!

Marissa Miller said...

Jazz,
I don't know if you're in the Minneapolis suburbs (I'm in the philly 'burbs), but if you are, there's likely a big enough population where you might find a writing group much closer to you. I don't know if that would be the case if you're really rural!