Owning Your Creative Past

by JT Ellison

Shame isn’t something I’m generally accustomed to feeling. But the other day, entirely by accident, one of my dear friends, Alethea Kontis, shamed me. It sounds rather silly, to be honest, but it’s true.

I was reading her blog (a worthwhile past time on any day, but especially those when you need to be uplifted) and Alethea had done an interview about her brand new novel that’s about to come out. 

As is typical in these interviews, they asked about her background. Now, I know this particular friend has written her whole life. But there was one line that truly blew my mind.

Between the ages of eight and twenty-five, I was a poet.

I read, and reread the line, all the while saying of course you were. Of course you were.

So was I.

So why have I never said that? Why have I never taken pride in my creativity?

Here’s Alethea’s full answer to the question:

I have always written. Between the ages of eight and twenty-five, I was a poet. I started my first novel in the seventh grade. I wrote short stories all through high school and college. I was filling up journals long before anyone conceived of the word “blog.” I wrote to entertain myself and my friends, and I dreamed about having a novel published one day based on the fairy tales I’d loved as a child.

Now she and I were different, because it wasn’t until I was in college that I even thought about writing for actual publication, and that’s when my professors were kind enough to saddle me with these two bon mots: “The style is too informed by B-Grade detective fiction” and “You’re not good enough to be published.”

No wonder I stopped writing for ten years.

And I mean that. I really did stop writing. College sapped the creative right out of me. Yes, I dreamed about it, thought about it, and once, after being laid off, made an abortive attempt at writing a novel a la Patricia Cornwell. But that was back in 97, and three chapters in I recognized it was such sheer, unadulterated crap that I stopped.

But the bug was back under my skin, even though it took until 2000 or so for me to entertain the thought, back surgery to force me into reading crime fiction, and 2002 for me to try putting pen to page again.

Here’s what I normally say when asked if I’ve always been a writer. I’ve said this so many times I can hear my own voice in my head as I write it down.

I’ve always written. I did the obligatory horrible poetry and some short stories in elementary through high school, all of which should be burned.

{{{Cringe}}}

Self-destructive language there. It’s almost as if I’ve been taking pride in the negative parts of my writing past, rather than openly acknowledge that I’ve been a poet since I was a child.

What I should be saying is I’ve been a poet since I could hold a pencil. Which is the truth.

Why am I embarrassed to admit that I’ve always been a scribbler? Because the work doesn’t meet my standards? Because it won’t meet yours? Because if someone were to read something I wrote before I was a “legitimate” writer, they may think less of me, or not buy my new book? Will they hold it against me?

I was ten when I won my first writing contest, and had a poem printed in the county newspaper. Trust me, this was a VERY BIG DEAL. And yet… have you ever heard me talk about it? Because I have, just not in the way I just phrased it above. Instead, tell me if you recognize this line:

I received my first rejection at the age of ten.

Yes, that’s me, talking about the same poem that won all these huge accolades. The poem happens to be about slavery, which we had been studying it at school, and I’d read and watched Roots with that kind of childish awe that is monumental. It was my first taste of injustice, and it really spoke to me. After the poem was published in the newspaper, my GranMary took it upon herself to submit it – to True Confessions magazine. I rode the squee high of being published until I received that little piece of paper that said Dear JT, this isn’t right for us.

A crushing blow. (Not really. Even as a ten-year-old, I had a keen sense of market, and knew this wasn’t exactly the right place for my poem.)

But. I’ve spent the past several years, since I became a writer …. See, there I go again. I can’t even see myself as a writer until I was “accepted” and “legitimized” by writing a novel that I was paid for.

That’s just wrong, damn it. I’ve always been a writer. It’s just that now I write for publication.

Alethea’s interview was ironic timing, since just the week before I’d been speaking at a library event, and was asked and answered the ‘have you always been a writer’ question with my usual, what I thought was self-deprecating humor, and my husband made one of his thoughtful comments afterward, when we were in the car on the way home and I asked him how I did. He said, “You know, you probably shouldn’t talk down about your earlier writing.”

We talked a little about it, but it wasn’t until I saw Alethea’s interview, and thought about how she’s owned her creative streak from day one, and how excited and happy that makes her, and in turn makes me, because if you know Alethea at all, you will find her enthusiasm is more than catching, that I realized that I need to stop worrying about hiding my past as a closet poet. Just because the name on the paper changed, it doesn’t negate everything I wrote prior to signing those contracts.

Perhaps this is all just a symptom of the fact that I do use a pseudonym, and as such, I focus all my promotional efforts on “J.T. Ellison” rather than little old me. I used to be able to keep the two halves of my persona separate, suspended above the gorge, pulling from each world depending on what situation I’m in. That’s not working for me anymore. And I think it’s time to allow the creative part of my earlier life into my current world. Or at least acknowledge that I’ve been doing this for a while now.

Hello. I’m J.T. Ellison, and I’m a writer. Always have been. Always will be.

And to prove it, here it is, in all its humble, unedited, ten-year-old dream glory, the poem that launched a thousand ships.

ALONE

 

Out of my wilderness,

I was taken

I was so scared

My knees were shakin’

Then they threw me on

That dirty old boat

Without a cover

Or a coat

I was sent to the new land

Across the sea

When suddenly it dawned on me

My mama and papa

They left back there

`Cause they were old of bone

And white of hair

No longer a princess

I would be

A slave of

Some cruel family

My mama and papa

They taught me

To be the best

That I could be

I knew someday

That I’d be free

But that day came

Without a family

I struggled through

But when I finished

The world had a look

Almost too bad to see

I learned to write

As you can see

But please preserve

The life of me

And here I lay

In the cold dark ground

I died in the year 1787

But memories of me

Are still being made

When the artifacts of me

Have been found again

Preserve my life

I’m in heaven.

JT Ellison – 1979

 

Do you have something to share from your archives today? Have you ever been embarrassed to admit you’re a writer?

In Vino Veritas…

Wine of the Week: 2009 Poet’s Leap Reisling


P.S.  In a nice bit of serendipity, Word Nerd was my very first ever interview, way back in November 2006, a full year before my first book was ever published…

43 thoughts on “Owning Your Creative Past

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JT
    Lovely sentiment in your poem!

    I suspect that what your professor meant when he said, “You’re not good enough to be published” is actually: “I’M not good enough to be published and I will attempt to squash the creative spirit out of you, too, so you don’t achieve MY dream…”

    Yesterday I received a press release from the CWA (Crime Writers’ Association in the UK for those who don’t know us) listing the finalists in this year’s Young Crime Writers’ Competition. The youngest was just eleven years old. Wow.

    I, too, can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, and I penned my first novel when I was fifteen. Don’t know what I was doing before that – just loafing, I expect. I usually just tell people my very first novel did the rounds of all the major publishers and received what are known in the trade as “rave rejections” from them all.

    I didn’t write poetry in my youth, but I did write songs, like this one:

    The Aberfan Mining Disaster

    In the Welsh mining village of Aberfan
    In the evening light, as the sun goes down
    They wait for the children who’ll never return
    After the day that Tip 7 came over the town

    Tip 7 was built on a mountain brook
    And hung like a thundercloud over the town
    As each day the water, the foundations it took
    Until the day that Tip 7 came sliding down

    The small village schoolhouse was right in its way
    (can’t remember the line here – hey, come on, I’ve been doing well so far!)
    And people sent toys, but there’s no-one to play
    After the day that Tip 7 came over the town

    There you go – deep dark depressing stuff, but I’d just read about the disaster where nearly 150 people were killed – including 116 children at the local junior school – after being engulfed by a slag heap that slid down the hillside from the nearby mine. It still chills me, even if my youthful words don’t convey that very well!

    Reply
  2. Reine

    JT thank you – so liberating.

    OK I'll have a go with one of my youthful ventures into "deep dark depressing stuff" with Zoë. Not WITH Zoë… with ZOË. OK, enough delaying. Here I go to liberation from the historical-me poet.

    Museum Piece People

    People on display.
    I was eleven then.
    Remembering the dusty staircase.
    Peabody Museum.
    Harvard University.
    "Open Every Day of the Year,
    Except Christmas and the Fourth of July"
    Up the stairs,
    Around the Corner,
    In a display case on the floor,
    There they were.
    A man and a woman.
    A dead man and woman.
    Indigenous.
    People.
    Native Americans,
    Decorated for viewing.
    Grandmother, Grandfather.
    What are you doing here,
    Out of your grave?
    Did you know?
    Did you know,
    You would be enternainment,
    After you died?

    That's the first section. It was written as part of my final exam for a class on social justice. The teacher said be creative, so I wrote a book of poetry and illustrated it. I had no idea I was over doing.

    Reply
  3. Grace

    A poem coming from your young heart that was touched by the lives of others is simply beautiful. Wonderful post!

    Reply
  4. Reine

    Oops, I mean liberation WITH the historical-me poet. I didn't miss the point – really, JT… it is just so new a thing to do, to claim that history as self.

    Reply
  5. PD Martin

    Love the post and the poem 🙂 And on the sapping nature of college (university as we call it here!) it sapped me of my desire/need to read. I just had to read so much stuff for assignments and essays, it took me a few years before I could look at reading as enjoyable again.

    And if we're shouting it loud and proud…I wrote my first detective story when I was ten. And then studied physics, chemistry and maths and forgot all about it for a few years. It was songwriitng that reignited my love for the written word. But I guess songwriting isn't that different to poetry.

    Phillipa

    Reply
  6. Barbie

    Your poem is really good, JT, especially for a ten year old. 🙂

    I don't really call myself a writer. I'm 22, my craft is raw and I'm not near ready for publication. There's so much I nees to learn and grow, and, yeah, I don't feel I've earned the title yet. Maybe I should 🙂

    I wrote my first poem in pre-school at four years old (I could read and write then). I still have it, in my childish handwriting, the misspelled words and my messy signature "Barbara 1992". It was about a bunny who didn't want to do this chores, then his mom yelled at him, so, he did them. No masterpiece, but I did get a Pretty sticker. Also, I was the only one in my class who could read and write so I had to read it at the end of the year party.

    I have most of my childhood writings, but they're all in Portuguese (I'm from Brazil). I didn't start writing in English until I was 15 and there's no way I'm sharing my raw teenage ramblings in a place full of talented authors 🙂

    Reply
  7. Alafair Burke

    No fair that stuff you wrote when you were 10 isn't embarrassing! You were already scary talented. I have a mystery short story I wrote around that age that I may have to dig up now for a future post.

    Reply
  8. PK the Bookeemonster

    I've been fighting writing for 35 years. I started my first book in grade school on paper my dad brought from work (the FAA). The paper was blue and had an airplane in the corner. The story was about a teddy bear coming to life and I thought it was stupid. I wrote poetry too in high school and first year of college. I started a romance book in my early 20s (not knowing what love was) and left the story with the couple stuck in a jail in some Caribbean island — eh, at least they were together. I read books about writing all the time. I wanted to be a journalist and intended to major in it but my first year of college I didn't have guidance and I was anorexic and it was all about bad news. I've known how hard it was publish; I've known how hard it was to complete a project. So I stopped.
    I took an adult ed class last month on writing which turned out be not so much a class but more of a critique group of — this is going to be harsh — losers. Like myself. So I was at the same time inspired to write again but also not so much. I have a story that's been bouncing around, a big one, but… do I want to give up what I know I have to in order to go in that direction? To make the time I'd have to give up reading which I love. Time with my husband and now two dogs. I don't know the answer yet.
    JT. You are a creative and I have to say an organizing wonder. Accept all the gifts and expressions of you.

    Reply
  9. Chuck

    JT, what a cool posting today! Your poem is beautiful and heartfelt.

    I cannot identify with a life of writing, however. I didn't begin writing for fun until 2005, and in earnest back in September 2008. I won't bore anyone with any of my early stuff. In fact, I just looked over my first manuscript. Let's just say I may need some help boosting my confidence after shuddering my way through the first few paragraphs.

    Seriously, thanks JT. I'm inspired by today's blog. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Shizuka

    As a kid, I tried drawing comic books and found out that they took waaay too long.
    I'd be tired of the story by the time I inked page 3.
    I wrote a bit in high school, but the two pieces my English teacher recommended for the school
    poetry/short story book were rejected. Maybe for the quality of the writing, maybe for other reasons. I know my Catholic high school objected to the word "pimp" in the short story title and didn't like the sensual implications in the poem. I should probably find those things. Hope I didn't burn them on one of my teenage angst moments.

    Reply
  11. pari noskin taichert

    Wonderful post, JT. Thank you. I just went to my file and looked in a folder I haven't touched in decades. A lot of the writing is just adolescent angst. But here are two that amused me for different reasons. These were written, I think, when I was in 9th grade. I almost feel apologetic for them — there's no tremendous craft here, no extreme "talent." But they sit in a file with hundreds of others and serve as testament to my creativity whether they ever "work" or not.

    my children
    your children
    all dancing, silently moving
    my children
    your children
    all now but never then
    my children
    your children
    all fine and exact and alive

    School

    The pencil sharpener yells
    as the yellow box with four wheels
    slowly rolls up to the sea of thought
    and staleness.
    Come and experience knowledge!
    If you like it . . . good.
    If you don't . . . you'll learn to.

    Reply
  12. JT Ellison

    Zoë, wow. That's some seriously heavy stuff for a kid. Did you ever put it to music? Do you play guitar? I didn't know… Yeah, it wasn't the best advice I'd ever been given, sadly.

    Reine, you've so captured the museum mentality! I think that's why Night at the Museum caught on – we all loved to imagine their real worlds. A beautiful entry!

    Thank you, Grace. That means the world.

    Phillipa, you've just given me a wondrous idea. Young Murderati anthology – what came before they were adults… I am so glad college didn't sap my reading desires, or else I'd have been quite the little brat for years. Oh, wait…

    Reply
  13. Allison Brennan

    I never wrote poems. I never wrote short stories (except for school) until after I was published. I've been starting full-length novels since I could hold a pencil, but never finished anything until I was 32.

    I wrote a ton of crap, but had fun doing it. I don't think it's being self-deprecating or self-destructive because it's just the truth. Though I suppose HOW you say everything you wrote before is crap could be important 🙂

    I've made fun of my first completed novel, but I don't regret writing a word of that mess because if I hadn't done it, I would never have learned story structure, I would never have understood character, I would never have known I *could* finish a full length novel. I learned how to edit in my first few unpublished and unpublishable books, I found my voice, and I loved every minute of it, even when it was hard and frustrating and I didn't think I'd ever finish. (I was quite ignorant before I was published–I thought the hardest part about getting published was FINISHING the book. LOL.)

    I've always thought of myself as a writer, though, whether I was writing garbage or something that might have some potential. I've always wanted to be an author. It's part of my wiring. And I think that's what "I have always written" means–it's such a part of a writer that you can't imagine NOT writing.

    Reply
  14. JT Ellison

    Barbie, you'll have to share sometime… and in this lovely, generous forum, you can be totally safe from any and all ridicule. But I completely understand!

    Dusty, that's how I've always felt. And now… well… I bet yours is wonderful. The songwriter in you, like Z…

    Alafair, you are too kind. All I can see is the repetition of words and unstructured couplets. Always a self-critic… and yes, definitely, share the early work! I'm sure it's magnificent!

    PK, dear, I think you should read the WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. It may help you decide to go ahead and pen that BIG idea. Because what do you have to lose? You don't have to show it to anyone if you don't want to. But if you've been fighting writing all these years (lovely image, by the way-I see the words smacking at your door, ringing the bell, jostling in the windows) why don't you turn and face the muse down? It sounds like you are just about there already.

    Chuck, thank you! I love that you've come lately to the beast within – it's seized you with both jaws, too, right? You'll never escape now…

    Shizuka, I hope you didn't burn them either. Sad that the overarching environment might have dissuaded you from something wonderful.

    Pari, your insight in amazing. I can HEAR your voice all the way back then. And the practical – if you don't love it, you'll learn to – God, what moxy!

    Reply
  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Good timing on this post, JT. I've really been thinking a lot about the reams of poetry I wrote when I was in high school and later, after my father died. I wrote my first story when I was eight, called SAMMY THE DINOSAUR. Complete with dinosaur drawings like wavy stick-figures. Nothing to write home about, but it was the first and it made my mom proud.
    I'm thinking about going back and pulling all the poetry together, maybe do an ebook or something, at some time. I even have my real first short story, which I wrote when I was twenty, called YAHRZEIT CANDLE, which won two national contests – I sent it to Eli Wiesel over twenty years ago and he called it "shining, evocative, penetrating," and said it should be published. I never tried to get it published — I don't know why…maybe I was focused on being a musician or a film-maker, maybe I wasn't ready to think of myself as a writer. I don't even have it on computer – I'll have to retype the story entirely, and I know I'll do a polish along the way, since I'm 25 years older than when I wrote it.
    I think the ebook revolution will allow all of us to go back into our vaults. It would be very exciting to see some of that early work published.
    It's funny – I wrote ten feature screenplays before I wrote my first novel, and none of that will see the light of day. People don't read screenplays, they watch films. And I really don't want to revisit any of it – I've grown so much since then. But the poetry and short stories are different – they come from the heart.

    Reply
  16. Princess Alethea

    JT, I love you, girl. *hugs* I am so touched by this. I'm even going to own up to the fact that I'm more than a little misty-eyed right now. (And you totally weren't alone in the English department. My English teachers cringed and belittled me and even accused me of plagiarism.)

    Here is the poem I wrote when *I* was ten, when the world clicked and I knew that I was destined to be a writer:

    Sometimes I wonder why
    I am who I am
    I tell the truth, I never lie
    I'm gentle as a lamb
    I don't have much to give you
    In friendship as in pen
    But I'll always need you
    For you're my only friend.

    Reply
  17. Allison Davis

    JT, there you go, stirring the dust of past lives. I published and received money for my first poem when I was 9, published more in college in chapbooks, and my last public reading was in 1995…I have boxes of the stuff, and about 10 of them are any good. I don't have any handy to share, but what I did for about give years in the early 80's (please don't do the math) was write art reviews about "performance" art like Karen Finley and the Kipper Kids, Chris Burden (who nailed himself to a volkswagon)…crazy stuff right at the birth of the rap/punk era. Huge fun. Then I went to law school.

    Fast forward, and I've started writing the essays again only this time, on local painters. I forgot how motivating and fun writing essays could be. http://www.escapeintolife.com/art-reviews/fictional-portraits-by-jonathan-parker/ and http://www.escapeintolife.com/art-reviews/lily-martine/ are the two recent ones.

    So yes, I've been a writer all my life, in a meandering sort of way.

    Reply
  18. Chuck

    Definitely seized me with both jaws! Along with leg irons and a rack (that's the getting an editor part.) I won't quit, no matter what. Never.

    Thanks for all you do.

    Reply
  19. Barbie

    JT, if I'm being totally honest, what I'm most embarrassed about isn't the writing per se. It's just that… Like, your poem, you have this HUGE world perception, this conscience of looking at another's situation and caring enough to write about it. I didn't have that until *very* recently, maybe two years ago. So, my writing is so… narrow minded, focused on my own little world. While at ten years old many people had that broad view of the world, I lived in my own head and stayed there for a long time, so, I feel kinda… inadequate? I'm not very mature when it comes to that. Also, my language skills were limited for a long time, since English isn't my first language and I attempted to write in that, so, my own language hadn't mature. I guess my poems feel very… shallow. I don't think they have depth. But, then, we're our worst critics, right? I'll let you be the judge of that 🙂

    The world that I know has gone,
    Everything has changed.
    The world that I know has gone,
    Everything has ended.
    The world that I know has gone,
    I keep looking but I can’t see.
    The world that I know has gone,
    I wonder if the matter is with me.

    I look at the things that I used to,
    But they are no longer the same.
    Will I wake up some day
    And won’t even know my name?

    The world that I know has gone,
    The old people are not there.
    The world that I know has gone,
    Things pass by and I just stare.
    The world that I know has gone,
    And suddenly I don’t know what to do.
    The world that I know has gone,
    What happened? Is that true?

    I’m scared to stay here,
    But I’m not sure where to be.
    The world that I know has gone,
    Will I ever get back the old me?

    Barbie Furtado 09/20/2004

    Reply
  20. David Corbett

    JT:

    Your first sentence floored me: "Shame isn’t something I’m generally accustomed to feeling."

    Honestly? Wow. I think shame is so inextricably woven into the fabric of my being I couldn't tease it out from the rest of my experience with a million years of therapy. Explosives, maybe.

    But I can't say I've ever been ashamed of being a writer, except with some cops and military types I've met, who think it's for wannabes/losers/pansies/parasites.

    That said, when people seem unduly impressed with the fact I write, I often add: "I live in the Bay Area. Throw a rock, you'll hit a writer."

    I thought your poem was wonderful, by the way. What was True Confessions thinking?!

    David

    Reply
  21. Louise Ure

    JT I don't mind the self-deprecating way we talk about our earlier work; cock-proud bragging would be worse.

    I can't say I've always been a writer but I can admit to a lifelong love affair with words, whether they're in the form of a poem, a crossword puzzle or a pun.

    Here's the earliest poetic effort of mine I could find, written in prepubescent purple ink, of course.

    Alone
    At last
    Not with two
    But with one

    Content
    With myself
    By myself
    Amused
    With myself
    By myself

    My world
    Grows solid
    Like ice
    Only to melt again

    Alone again
    At last
    At least
    As always

    Reply
  22. Jake Nantz

    Hey JT,
    I say bravo. Part of my reasoning is, well, that's a pretty good ten-year-old's poem. I would share some of my earlier crap, but unlike yours, mine legitimately is crap–especially my first stuff from high school. Instead, I show it to my students before we start to study poetry so I can loosen them up and say, "See, if I couldn't turn out anything better than this, it doesn't have to be great the first time. It just means you have to keep working on it." They also tend to become less concerned about having their stuff critiqued after I let them (hell, encourage them) to rip mine apart. Trust me, it was all the usual angst-y garbage you could expect from a high school senior with anger management issues. The closest I ever came to a decent (read: less than vomit-worthy) poem was after college/mid-20s called "Violation Aftermath".

    Red-rimmed eyes, stained by tears,
    Her head on his chest. He strokes her hair.
    Cold silence slithers into the room.
    As he recovers from her story,
    A subhuman crime with a faceless criminal,
    Anger ignites within.
    Second-guessing and helplessness jeer and taunt.
    Afraid he’ll blame her, she whimpers that
    It wasn’t her fault
    And the fire becomes an inferno.

    –See what I mean? Best to stick to fiction, where I actually have written a few things worth publishing.

    Reply
  23. Jenni Legate

    I haven't always felt like a writer, but I have written off and on for decades, trying to capture a swiftly changing life and world. I wish I'd been more religious about writing, but my crazy life has a way of interfering. My poems have always been about trying to capture a memory, a picture in my mind of what I saw and felt, heard, tasted; an impression. I've been trying to put together a memoir for several years about my childhood growing up all globally. In the interim, I keep thinking I should write thrillers set in Africa or Asia, places where I grew up. I wrote this silly poem 30-some years ago when I was a senior in highschool in Pakistan, but then years later, after an earthquake devastated the region, I heard from an old friend in Islamabad about what he'd seen when he visited remote areas affected by the earthquake. He was desperately trying to do what he could to help and was shocked by what people were doing to survive. I found the poem again and wrote a second part. I don't know, really, what to do with it or if something like this is even publishable or is just a memory and an emotion. But it's interesting so many people here have re-visited poems written in their youth and still have a connection to that time and place.

    JACKLES
    (In Islamabad)

    The night was silent in its darkness.
    Wrapped in my cocoon,
    I was aware of nothing.
    Then came a howling, wailing noise;
    Looming figures tramped through my mind.
    "Jackals," I thought, and they were gone.
    Asleep again,
    I was aware of nothing.

    (2 ½ decades later)

    I think now of those jackals
    In the aftermath of earthquake.
    Vicious hunger, tearing, clawing.
    Cold rain, snow in mountains.
    Lost children by broken homes
    Fight jackals for scraps.
    Starving victims eat grass
    In the cold rubble of
    Places wiped off the maps.

    There is guilt in knowing
    The people, the poverty,
    The landscape, the jackals.
    Anger and sorrow,
    Disaster fatigue.
    Donations are low
    Relief has been slow
    Unimaginable thousands dead.

    An impatient need
    To travel there to feed
    Lost children.
    Knowing I can do nothing
    But imagine jackals frothing
    In a pernicious pack,
    Howling, wailing, tearing, clawing,
    In cold mountain towns
    In the rubble of landslides.
    I sit idly by, donating till it stings,
    Knowing a country I love
    Is an endless spring
    Of misery.

    Jenni Legate

    Reply
  24. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I love the post and the responses. I would happily kill that professor of yours, JT. By the time I was in college I wasn't listening to any naysayers, it's an interesting thing. I think that's because of the summer I spent in Turkey when I was 16 when I realized that if I ever got out alive, I was going to do whatever the hell I wanted no matter what anyone said.

    I have written poetry occasionally but it's always satiric odes, bawdy, full of inside jokes for the people I write it for, and way too long to post here even if I could find it on the spur of the moment.

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  25. Murderati fan

    A truly childish poem – Age 12

    I love to see the raindrops come marching down the street
    To me they oft resemble tiny soldier's marching feet
    They trample up the glistening roads and down the rain-washed hill
    They march into the waterponds, their duty to fill
    And in a couple of days or so, they're nowhere to be seen
    But they have done their duty
    For, you see, the streets are clean.
    My 8th grade nun accused me of stealing it.

    What crushing blows we writers must survive.

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  26. JT Ellison

    Allison, I love that you started where all of us hoped to end up. Why does this not surprise me? You're absolutely right – it's all in how we view those past works. How we've learned, and how we've grown as writers. In truth, I've always been embarrassed by them, and I'm not sure why.

    Stephen, I'm doing the same thing with my old work. We just bought a NEAT Desk for our tax receipts, and it has the added bonus of being a full fledged scanner. If I ever get around to grabbing a summer intern, that's a great project ahead. I should think you will be thrilled with that story – I hope you do publish it!

    Alethea, right back at you, sweetheart. I love your poem. Love it. I identify too much, I think.

    Allison D – how fabulous that you have it all! I wish I knew were most of mine were. I have a ton from college, but only a few pieces from elementary on. And your reviews are awesome – thanks for sharing! I wish I could interpret art. I just know what I like.

    Zoë, I am so there. So there.

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  27. JT Ellison

    Barbie, that's a pretty damn powerful piece. And I have to tell you, my mom just called and she was very touched by it. Today is my late grandfather's birthday, and also the day we found out my uncle passed away two years ago. You've touched more than one person with your words. And that's the point, right? Thank you for being brave!

    David, I do feel shame, of course. I just don't like to let it control me. It's like guilt to me, a nonsensical emotion that really forces us into areas we don't need to go. Once I let go of those emotions, I became a much happier person. Funny, that's about the time I started writing again. Hmmm…. methinks I see a corollary. And thank you. I think True Confessions was probably quite astute. : )

    Louise, it's a lovely poem. I see such an interesting theme throughout our early works – alone crops up so often. But as Toni used to say – if you wear the purple shoes, work the purple! And you're right, cock-sure wouldn't be appropriate, at all.

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  28. JT Ellison

    Jake, wow. Wow. That's some intense stuff. I really like it, actually. And I love that you show your students it's okay not to be perfect. Man, I could have used some of that.

    Jenni, I have chills. What an evocative, eerily beautiful compilation – and so cohesive, even decades apart. Thank you for sharing it with us today.

    Alex, my dear, I so needed you when I was 16. 18. 22. 32. You know???

    Murderati fan – she accused you of stealing it? What a horrible experience that must have been. It's a lovely, lovely piece.

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  29. billie

    chiming in late but wanted to say how much I love it that you're claiming that early writing now!! I got so much attention for a poem I wrote in 2nd grade I think it sent me/my writing into hiding for the next umpteen years… but had been writing since I could hold a pen and make squiggle lines across yellow legal pad paper.

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  30. Reine

    JT, I must thank you again. Your blog today, all the comments, and early efforts posted… well, I'm finding it very healing. xo

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  31. KDJames

    I think the first time I wrote a poem I was in first grade. It was about a pencil. My mom might still have it… somewhere. But I've always written poetry. I used to get in trouble when I was younger for taking extremely long showers, and using up all the hot water, because I was busy composing poems in my head instead of washing my hair.

    You all claim to be embarrassed by poems written when you were wee things, but I'm all grown up and really have no excuse for how awful mine still are. And I don't care. They're fun.

    Probably this is too long to post here, but it's late at night and no one is going to read it anyway. Right? Right.

    I wrote this in October 2008 and posted it on my blog along with a pic of some very cool pumpkins carved by one of my sisters [link: http://kdjames.com/2008/10/31/come-dance-with-me/ ]. I was trying to find a "scary" poem to counter the crass commercialism of Halloween. One that spoke of the dark power of Beltane and the pagan belief that the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is very thin and easily crossed on that night. I couldn't find a poem that fit the mood so I wrote this:

    come dance with me

    they come in the darkest of night
    to be
    afoot in the absence of light
    and see
    the souls who have given the right
    to me
    to waltz upon their graves

    they come now to witness the dance
    and see
    how fortune has done more than glance
    at me
    and evil has won the last chance
    to be
    the footprints on the graves

    and oh how they quiver with fear
    of me
    and how their own lives they hold dear
    and flee
    though fate never has been more clear
    to see
    ’tis written on the graves

    the game has already been won
    you see
    and night will give way to the sun
    and be
    the lament of words left unsung
    to me
    the keeper of the graves

    they say ’tis sheer madness this night
    to be
    awash in the absence of light
    and see
    them link hands this unhallowed night
    with me
    and dance upon their graves

    come
    dance
    with
    me

    Reply
  32. JT Ellison

    Billie, I think I may have had that reaction too, though my Mom wouldn't let me ; )

    Alex, thank God for that.

    Reine, you're welcome. It's always so nice to have something reverberate, you know?

    Barbie, you too : )

    KD, that is a spectacular poem. Love it. Gave me shivers!

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  33. MJ

    Wow. Great post, HUGE issue for me. I stopped writing in high school, since it was "flaky" but being a MD or JD or MBA was acceptable. And so I got JD, was unhappy, kept being unhappy… And now I write, but still have a lot of blocks and trouble with it – my own work is still not in my mind worthy of my time, but of course working for an employer can take over my entire life (that must be worthy, right?)….

    Reply
  34. Tammy Cravit

    I think most everyone else's comments have said what I would say about my earliest efforts. My sister and I were always, so far as I can remember, both writing, separately and together. Though we've both been published, I know I still struggle at times with the feelings of self-doubt and shame that you describe so well. It's hard to get those voices out of your head. Honestly, I don't know if I ever will, completely, but at least now they usually listen when I tell them to shut up and let me write.

    And, though I'm late to the party, I thought I'd share the first effort of mine that I could find as well, written when I was 11 or 12 and the imminent arrival of Halley's Comet was front page news everywhere:

    A fiery, icy ball
    Streaking past the earth
    A comet is coming
    The world is running
    Running
    Running
    To catch a comet.

    Funny that I still remember my stepdad's comment when he read it: "That's not a poem," he said. "Poems have to rhyme!"

    I wonder if this is why I've never since felt really comfortable attempting poetry.

    Reply

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