“Paperback Writer”, The Beatles

Paperback Writer sleeve

I have always written, therefore, I have always been a writer.  Right?   For as long as I can remember I have been calling myself a writer.  I have written many things since I first picked up a pencil and applied it to a blank sheet of paper: notes to friends, diary entries, song lyrics, poems, short stories, school papers, novels, essays.  I have pretty much written it all.  Where did this desire to express myself through words on a page come from?

 

If I am going to attribute my lifelong love of writing to pop culture, I can point to three things:

  • Natalie on The Facts of Life always talked about writing The Great American Novel
  • Patty on Square Pegs was wise beyond her years (as was I) and wrote for the school newspaper
  • The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” made the idea of being a writer sound fascinating

 

Sarah Jessica Parker as Patty Greene on the short-lived yet brilliant early 80s TV series "Square Pegs".

Sarah Jessica Parker as Patty Greene on the short-lived yet brilliant early 80s TV series “Square Pegs”.

Natalie always talked about needing to have lots of life experiences so she would be able to write that Great American Novel, so I figured I would have to do the same thing.  Patty was cultured and intelligent and ambitious yet not pretentious or annoying, and she was the kind of girl you wanted to be friends with.  I wanted to be more like her.  And the paperback writer The Beatles sang about was struggling with a boring, regular job, but still he found the time and energy to write a thousand pages.  He was not shy about submitting his story—it’s based on a novel by a man named Lear—to a publisher and telling him that his story will make a million overnight!  I wanted that kind of confidence. 

 

These three influences seeped into my psyche when I was very young, not yet ten years old.  Writing was fun and people think writers are smart, and there were lots of stories about cool writers and how interesting their lives were.  I wanted to be fun and smart and cool and interesting.

 

My very first diary, inaugurated on February 28, 1982.  I wrote that I bought a diary, and then looked at my sister's new hamster.  Her new hamster, in case you were wondering, was white.

My very first diary, inaugurated on February 28, 1982. I wrote that I bought a diary, and then looked at my sister’s new hamster. Her new hamster, in case you were wondering, was white.

Some writers write because they cannot say out loud how they feel.  Some are great storytellers, and the written word is the best way they can craft their tales.  I think I’m both, depending on what I’m trying to express.  I started keeping a diary in 3rd grade; I wrote a lot about what songs we sang in our weekly music class.  As I got older my entries became more personal, more dramatic, and much, much longer.  That’s the natural progression, of course, but I really needed to have that sort of private yet very loud conversation with myself inside that little white diary.

 

Instead of holding scandalous details of an affair with JFK, I used these little red diaries to record everything I felt about the boy with whom I was in unrequited love in high school.  Very, very dramatic.

Instead of holding scandalous details of an affair with JFK, I used these little red diaries to record everything I felt about the boy with whom I was in unrequited love in high school. Very, very dramatic.

When I became interested in Marilyn Monroe in 8th grade, I bought a red diary so I could keep secrets as Marilyn did in her red diary.  I wasn’t sleeping with presidents or mafia dons, but how I longed to have that sort of scandal to capture for posterity!  In high school I graduated to using notebooks instead of suffocating my emotional and psychological dramas in between the covers of those tiny diaries with the miniscule locks.  And boy, did I have a lot to write in high school!

 

These notebooks I used as diaries in high school held more teen angst than you could imagine!

The notebooks I used as diaries in high school held more teen angst than you could imagine!  On the cover I mentioned three of the men I loved: Michael Dukakis, who I was convinced would become president in 1988; Elvis, you know, Elvis?; and Eric, the boy who never loved me.

It was all in my head, of course.  Over hundreds and thousands of pages throughout my high school career I obsessed over the boy I loved from afar, using lots of ink every day as I detailed his outfits and recorded when and where I saw him in the hallways.  I fantasized about what our future would be like—filled with drama, of course!—and really thought it was all going to happen.  If only he could see the real me, he’d surely fall in madly in love and leave those popular girls–known in my diary as “prep bitches”–alone.

 

At that time I was planning on being an actress, and I figured he would be an actor since he was superb as Dick Deadeye in the 9th grade production of H.M.S. Pinafore.  He was class clown, so obviously, a career in show business was in the stars for him as well.  We would be the new Liz and Dick, our passionate romance and drunken escapades splashed across front pages all over the world!  What a life that was to be. 

 

No matter what career path I thought I would take (comedian, DJ, archaeologist, politician, actress), writing was always going to be part of it.  I clearly had a very vivid and precise imagination (I even did mock therapy sessions with a friend as if I were the most famous actress in the world), so creating these other worlds in words was very natural. 

 

In my twenties I started taking my writing career seriously.  I sent many manuscripts (novels and poetry) to publishers, I submitted work to poetry anthologies, and I even wrote to Rolling Stone to tell them how much I would like to work for them; I explained that though I am not Hunter S. Thompson, I could be a valuable asset to their company.  Jann Wenner was not impressed.

 

But I need a break
and I want to be a paperback writer

 

My mother and uncle used to put their initials on all their records.  This one was my uncle's.

My mother and uncle used to put their initials on all their records. This one was my uncle’s.

But I kept writing anyway, no matter how many rejection letters I received.  In my late twenties I let drama and drinking get in the way of writing, and I had writer’s block for a couple years.  I came out of that when I fell in love with Dave Grohl and was inspired by his hyperactive creativity.  I wrote a 50-page essay about my inability to write.

 

But in my thirties, I again became sidetracked by drinking and scandal.  I kept calling myself a writer, but I didn’t write much.  It had been years since I had even written a journal entry.  I was wallowing in misery and partying instead, drinking myself to sleep at home when I wasn’t going out and partying until I blacked out.

 

Then I returned to school to finish my BA.  How I missed writing research papers!  I found a job right after graduation, but it had nothing to do with writing.  After two months, I was fired.  Then I found another job that had nothing to do with writing; five months later, I was fired.  But I did start freelance (emphasis on the free) writing for a local online magazine, and it was heavenly!

 

A year and a half after completing my BA, I started grad school and was again luxuriating in the abundance of school papers I had to write.  It fueled my desire to write on my own, and I noticed that my interest had sharply shifted from fiction to nonfiction. 

While researching my thesis about rock and roll and race relations I became quite excited at the idea of eventually turning it into a book.  Once I defended my thesis and graduated, I knew that there were many topics within that paper that would become larger projects, including a documentary.  I presented my thesis at a history conference a year later, and that led to contributing a chapter to a (hardback) book of history that was published in early 2013. 

I started this blog in the summer of 2012 when I had pink eye.  I had created a few blogs years ago that I did not keep up with, but What I Like Is Sounds is different.  No matter what, I write.  Part of why I started it was to turn it into a book, but I also see it as a way to keep myself excited about writing regularly.  I have always been a writer, even when I wasn’t writing.  I was living so I could have something to write about.  I am thankful to Natalie on The Facts of Life for explaining that you have to go out and do some shit before you can sit down and write some shit.  

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