by Tamuira Reid
Recently I was interviewed for a college podcast on the craft of writing. I dread this type of thing, mostly because no matter how hard I try to not sound like a complete asshole, I end-up sounding like one. Write about what you know? I guess. Write everyday? I sure don't, but okay. The truth is this: most writers I know are just trying to survive. Financially, yes. But mentally even more so.
Then there's always that question – when did you know you were a writer?
I was a weird fucking kid. I know everyone says that but it's very true in my case. In every class picture, my hairstyle is a couple years behind. The gap between my front teeth a little wider than it should be. Eyes kind of glazed over. I tap danced in my spare time, made wedding gowns out of paper towels that I'd put on spoons for their weddings to forks, played ice hockey down our long marble-floored hallway with a toilet plunger and a severed doll head. It was all just a tad off: my timing, my style, my eye-hand coordination.
When I discovered in grade school that I hated people, myself included, I decided to become a writer. I needed to leave something concrete for the aliens who would eventually come to take over Earth. If I was dead by then, how would they know the truth about humans? How would they know how much empathy and intellect our species truly lacked?
So it was with an altruistic spirit that I began to write. About my family. About my slutty, teenaged dance teacher with all the hickies on her neck. About the boy across the street who had two fathers and no mom. About the voices in my head that only seemed to go away when I wrote about them.
A few years later, when my parents admitted they didn't love each other anymore, when my dad moved to a crap apartment across town to establish space — between us, between them, between the then and the now — those voices would become my first poems, first one-act plays. They would become my lifeline.
I was left home a lot to fend for myself. This usually meant microwaving eggs for dinner and watching sexy TV shows that no one could tell me to turn off. My older, cooler, more beautiful sister was too busy being older, cooler, and more beautiful. I sucked the powder out of hot chocolate packets in the walk-in closet, pretending it was a nuclear bomb shelter.
If I was feeling lonely in my wait for the alien takeover, I'd ride my bike over to Greta Bergen's house, by the old sugar factory. She was four feet tall, toothless and scary, a Romanian drifter that at ninety-eight, refused to die. I kind of loved her. I kind of wanted to be her. She would eventually become the villain in my first original screenplay.
Sometimes, if the weather was nice, I'd pass time out on our front porch, watching the station wagons and company cars pull into their matching, cul-de-sac garages. I remember laying in bed at night, worried my newly single mom had met someone interesting at the bar and wasn't coming home. That wasn't the case and she'd always somehow materialize the next morning in the form of a human pretzel, her long limbs wrapped around my sleeping body.
Yes, my childhood was chaotic and unplanned and raw. But never, ever boring. Growing-up in a family of all women taught me to fight hard. To love hard. To recognize a good story when I see one. To give life to those stories. To give life to that thing inside me that I could not, would not understand.
In essence, writing has been a lifeline for me. When the days got dark and I tried to drink them away. Or when I hopped planes to far corners of the world to hide from who I was, only to get further lost. When all of the one-night stands and half-hearted relationship attempts and ridiculous career paths failed, I'd think back to that house, in that tiny town of Manteca, California where I grew-up. Where the madness first started. Where I felt depression so thick it literally hurt to breathe. Where the weird little girl with rainbow legwarmers and a mullet twirled in front of a mirror while reciting poetry with a British accent.
When did you know you were a writer? See. Total asshole. It is completely unavoidable to sound like anything else when you are talking about the one thing that has kept you alive in this world.
Now, as a single mother in NYC, I constantly worry if I'm doing the parenting thing right, if my little boy needs more, if all the noise and take-out food and subway and pavement pounding is somehow stunting his own spiritual growth. If he misses his father. If I work so long that he's forgetting how much I love him.
But then, each evening, after the dishes are done and my writing is tucked away, I hear sounds coming from the tiny bedroom we share. Voices. There's an alien one, a monotone one, a train conductor. A dude that speaks in some strange Russian dialect. And I smile, ear pressed to the door, knowing that he's going to be just fine.