Writing about Writing
August 24, 2020 § 25 Comments
By Ann V. Klotz
As a little girl, I wrote elaborate stories in my head and rhymed doggerel that impressed only my mother; in clumsy cursive, I penned an epistolary novel set during the Civil War, carefully stored in a secret compartment of the large desk my grandfather left to me. Today, that desk occupies pride of place in my school office, but the compartment is empty. I would be a novelist because reading was my favorite activity, what I did best. I gobbled books, devouring my school and local library’s juvenile sections so fast that the librarians shook their heads and promoted me to adult fiction when I was nine. As high school loomed, though I loved to read, schoolwork required more carefully structured essays with quotations to support my ideas and fewer flights of fancy.
An uncertain teenager, I would clamber out the window of my sister’s bedroom in our vacation home in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania, to sit on the roof to write. Something about the small rebellion of hoisting myself over the sill satisfied a need. My brother, child of the 70’s, smoked dope, sold dope, partied a lot, and died. I did none of those things. From the gentle slope of gritty, green shingles underneath my calves, I could see the world; they could not see me. Danger was minimal, but I knew my mom would scold me if she knew. I wrote with a cartridge pen that had belonged to my brother, navy blue with matching Schaeffer cartridges. I wrote and wrote, trying to write away the sadness, the fury I felt at my parents for fighting with my brother the night before he died, the rage that roiled, volcanic, that they had, somehow, let him die. An English teacher at my school wrote back to me each week with calm encouragement in an era when WASPY teenagers didn’t go to therapy. I wrote about doing plays and the boy I had a crush on. I wrote because I knew that Mrs. Goppelt read my words.
Mrs. Goppelt threw me a lifeline by handing me that first marbled notebook when school started four weeks after Rod’s accident. Her gift gave me a writing practice that lasted through college, through the early years of my marriage and then… After my first miscarriage, no more words. I didn’t even try. Frozen. Mute. The loss of the hope of a baby silenced me. I did other things with words: I taught legions of girls how to write essays with debatable theses about works of literature; I taught seniors how to compose compelling personal narratives with strong verbs that would make them irresistible to colleges; I wrote thank you notes. I had four more miscarriages and then two daughters. Along the way, I became a head of school and produced, a late-life bonus baby son, almost a decade younger than his second sister.
Some years ago, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye told the girls in my school that “Grownups have a way of talking themselves out of what they most want to do.” She advised her audience to write three things each day. I jettisoned my untouched journals, found a pencil whose lead was pleasingly dark, discovered a small notebook in my desk, and began to write again each day. Why had I waited so long? I think of all that I missed: my childrens’ childhoods, my evolution as a school leader, millions of moments left uncaptured. I no longer felt like writing fiction. Non-fiction was strange enough.
During the pandemic, I acquired a dot-journal, thinking squares might help me control the chaos that is Covid-19. I scribble with a shiny turquoise Lamy fountain pen—I coveted one I noticed a woman using in a writing workshop and bought my own. A pandemic requires ink.
This summer, I write on the porch beneath the window out of which I often climbed to take my secret view. Versions of that girl—awkward, sad, determined to leave a record—lurk around corners in this house. I write to preserve and to know what I think. I write so that we will not lose forever the stories of my family. I write to keep grief and change at bay. I write because it is a privilege to spend time arranging words on a page, a respite from other obligations that threaten to swallow me in a gulp. I write because the spigots inside me have unfrozen and there is still time.
Ann V. Klotz is a writer and teacher who lives in Shaker Heights, OH during the school year and in an obscure mountain top resort called Eagles Mere, PA during July, where she works — with varying degrees of ferocity — on a memoir-ish collection. Her work has appeared on the Brevity Blog, in Literary Mama, Mutha, Thread, The Feminine Collective, Grief Diaries and The Manifest Station. She’s proud that her chapter on becoming a teacher was included in one of the In Fact anthologies published by Creative Nonfiction. You can follow her on Twitter at @AnnKlotz or read her blog: www.annvklotz.com