Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Writer's Biography

Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. At five I had a dog-eared notebook in which I penned one page epics with titles like “Mystery Martian and the Lost Glove.” My story about how the catfish got its whiskers represented the 5th grade class in the school anthology.

Schoolwork was always very easy for me, and the only reason I didn’t keep a 4.0 GPA was that I often “forgot” to do the homework. Throughout high school, I fought off boredom by scribbling down whimsical children’s stories or illustrations during my least favorite classes (physics and government).

Then, as graduation approached, my school chum Robert Chang challenged me to live up to my potential.

“For most people, placing 7th in their class is an accomplishment, but for you it’s just sad,” he said, half joking. “We both know you could have been valedictorian if you wanted to, Margaret. Think what would happen if you really applied yourself? There’s no reason why you can’t get straight “A”s from now on.”

I took his challenge seriously, which to my all-or-nothing mind meant no more daydreaming. Once college started, I put the kibosh on scribbling down story ideas in class. Other than a prayer journal that I used intermittently to process the daily onslaughts to my faith from the secular humanism that surrounded me, the ink stopped flowing for two years.

In my third year of college, my creativity enjoyed a brief resurgence, sparked by the creative writing and journalism courses that were part of my English major. My work got rave reviews from the professors. I worked as a summer intern at the copy desk of the Youngstown Vindicator, and even had two play reviews published with my byline. My last year at Muskingum, I allowed creativity back into my life. Having completed most of my graduation requirements, I chose only “fun” classes for my last two semesters of college, courses such as The History of Film, Lyric Theater and Introduction to Drawing in addition to my English classes. I worked as the copy editor of the campus newspaper, the senior section editor of the campus yearbook, and the editor in chief of the campus literary magazine.

Yet this success was clouded as my faith went into a tailspin. I became involved in an intense relationship with a subtly controlling man. He proposed within six weeks of our first meeting, and a few months later, I willingly gave him my virginity. Satan turned the conviction of the Holy Spirit into tremendous condemnation, guilt and shame. I had always wanted to live to please God, but now he seemed distant and demanding. By contrast, the prevailing culture of “an ye harm none, do as you will” on campus felt safe, sane and reasonable. I now welcomed the slings and arrows of my relativistic culture, taking comfort in them as I tried to redefine God in my own image. I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe there wasn’t a God, but I also couldn’t live with the judgment of the one I had grown up believing in. Maybe if what I had always believed about God and His ways wasn’t true, maybe I wasn’t a wretched human being.

That year was bittersweet. The enjoyment I gained from my involvement in the world of the arts was always tainted by the painful separation from my Creator. Too, I harbored an irrational belief that this burst of creativity was my last hurrah. I equated creativity and the arts with play, and after graduation I would have to give up such frivolous pursuits and be serious.

Too, despite the encouragement of my writing and art professors to further develop my skills and explore my talent, I feared deep down that I wasn’t good enough to make a living at it. Reinforcing that belief and playing on my fears, the boyfriend suggested I was best suited to go into business. Having pushed God out of my life, I let the man I loved become god to me and swallowed every word he said.

So, choosing money and financial security over passion, I enrolled in an MBA program at the University of Miami. The coursework didn’t challenge me mentally, and I once again began to daydream, sketching my fellow classmates or writing short stories rather than listen to the lecture.

What am I doing here when my heart is so obviously somewhere else?” I wondered in the margins of my notes. I toyed with the idea of quitting, but then the boyfriend broke off our engagement with cruel, devastating words that shattered the last vestiges of my self-confidence.
My well of creativity dried up as I told myself “I have nothing to say worth hearing.”

I felt stuck. I believed it was too late to change course. I had gone $30,000 into debt to foot the bill of the first year of the MBA program, and I wasn’t about to give up that much money without walking away with a degree, even if it did cost me another $20,000. Feeling lost and hopeless, I partied with my fellow MBA students as an escape, overindulging in alcohol which occasionally led to casual sex.

Somewhere in those months, I started to go to church again. Someone I met through AOL Personals invited me to a Bible study at his house, and I attended faithfully. Hungry for God and community, I didn’t stay away even if I had sinned the night before. Slowly but surely, God drew me back to his side, and my hedonistic lifestyle began to lose its appeal.

After graduation in 2001, I entered the working world. The dot-com bubble had just burst, followed swiftly by the tragedy of 9/11, and I took whatever job I could get in the shaky employment market. An internship researching apartment sales for a prosperous team of brokers turned into full-time work, and I ended up working for five years as a Marketing Specialist for various commercial apartment brokers. An unexpected extra blessing, the job required a lot of writing and even some graphic design skills. Still, something was missing.

During Lent of 2003, I went through the 40 Days of Purpose curriculum with my church. Rick Warren’s insistence that I had been made for a purpose struck a chord. As the program drew to a close, my purpose became clear: I was to use my creative talents for God’s glory.

I plotted out an ambitious three-volume roman-a-clef or biography that would show God’s work in my life, but when I sat down to work on it further, found myself unable to write a single sentence. Paralyzed by self-doubt and a life-long tendency to procrastinate, I put the idea for my life’s work aside. With the long hours required by my job, I didn’t have much time to work on it anyway.

God continued to show me His love in extravagant ways until I finally understood that it wasn’t a matter of earning his love with my good works or lack of sin. He loved me so much he gave me His righteousness so we could be reconciled. On Easter morning, I chose to be baptized to solidify that fact in my mind.

God began to move in a mighty way in my life from that moment. He opened a path for me to leave Miami and return to my hometown in Southern California, where I met a gentle yet strong man who loves the Lord as I do. A year later, we were married. Eventually, after much prayer, we decided together that I would leave my high-stress job as a Marketing Specialist and go to work as a corporate proposal writer.

More importantly, God gave me courage to seek counseling to heal the lingering hurts from my past relationships and bad choices. As a result, I found my voice. In 2007 I began to write, with the goal of completing a novel by my 30th birthday. I didn't quite get there, but by the end of 2007, I had 60,000 words written of that novel I plotted out in 2003.

As most first drafts are, it’s quite messy and I'm currently stuck on how to complete it. It's also frustrating to see how rusty my writing skills became from lack of use. But although I have put that particular project on the shelf, writing is still part of my life. I've completed a children's story based on the healing of my dog's broken back, and I've brainstormed ideas for and even plotted out several other projects.

Last September I had precious baby girl. She is sensitive and spirited to say the least and it has taken much of my creative energy to nurture her and figure out ways to juggle career, motherhood and housekeeping.

That brings us up to today. I'm about to embark on a new era. The season for the proposal writing job has come to an end, and I am about to transition to life as a Work at Home Mom. I want to increase the role of writing in my life. I'm writing this blog, and will continue to do so. But I need more. The sheer joy of creative writing is beckoning to me. I want to imagine deeply and see what worlds emerge from my pen. I still believe God has a purpose for my life, to use my story (and stories!) for His glory.

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