In August of 1986, I was contacted by a publisher, Jack Fahey, who was excited about my book Search For Peace, and wanted to publish it, as I described earlier in “Why is This Fantastic News So Scary.” By October, it had started to become apparent that I was not going to call him back. Part of me was sad, but part of me, down where I didn’t want to admit it, was greatly relieved.
And I thought I knew why. It was because of the poetry incident I had remembered recently. It had been deeply buried, but came out through a series of events, and suddenly I knew why I stopped writing at an early age.
When I was 14 years old and in the 8th grade at Hermosa Junior High in Farmington, New Mexico, Mrs. Ogden, our English teacher, had organized us to publish a literary magazine. We had been writing a lot since 7th grade, but here was our chance to organize it all and announce ourselves to the world as writers.
We worked on it most of the year, and we were terribly proud of it. As a matter of fact, when I went back to a reunion of that high school in the summer of 2008, I was surprised to learn that four of us still had our copies of that magazine, and my classmates had the same warm feeling I did about that experience.
When the magazine was finally published, I had five poems and a short story published, and was thrilled! I ran home with the magazine to show my Dad, and bubbled out, “Daddy, Daddy, guess what? I’m a writer. Teacher says so. We did this literary magazine and I published a short story, and five poems.”
He just looked at me for a long moment, then he slammed his fist angrily on the arm of his chair and shouted, “Poems! You little shit, you’ll never amount to anything!”
I stopped writing, except for required papers in school. The light of joy went out of my eyes. I was sad. I was horrified by the harshness of his words and the terminal pronouncement. Part of me died that day. I thought that was the source of my writer’s block. It was a damaging factor, for sure. It wasn’t all that was going on, but I didn’t know that until later.
So in frustration, I wrote a poem, entitled “And Then I Stop.”
The desire to express,
I was taught to repress,
Has caused me a block,
I wish to unlock.
I pick up the pen,
Start writing again,
I feel the flow,
And then I stop.
I went so far as to offer an impromptu group meeting at a 12 step retreat for people who had grown up with alcoholism, to talk about blocked creativity. I mentioned at one of the group sessions that I would be over in the library at a specified time, if anyone wanted to join me. About 15 people showed up, which surprised me. I wasn’t the only one with issues around my creativity. I shared my poem and talked about the poetry incident with my Dad. Others shared similar incidents. It was heartening to know I wasn’t alone, but didn’t lessen the frustration much.
That about summed up my attitude toward the writer’s block at that time — frustration. When the writing all dried up, I wasn’t sure what to do about it. But I could feel, down inside somewhere, that part of me was enormously relieved to not be publishing a book!
At the same time I had contacted Mac Publishing, I had sent a query to Health Communications Inc. They responded and requested a full manuscript, which I provided. They responded positively, and I did a complete rewrite of the book at their request.
That publisher had just brought out several books on ACA, including Struggle For Intimacy by Dr. Janet Woititz. But again, the books were by therapists, and none by people who had grown up with alcoholism sharing their personal experiences, as I did with Search For Peace. So this was another exciting prospect, a publisher who was interested in my book, a personal account by someone who had been there.
I felt myself not wanting to continue with Health Communications. After I submitted the rewrite, we agreed that it still needed some cleanup and editing. But by that time, I was telling myself, “I’ve lost the thread of the book.” I stopped communicating with them, and — once again — walked away from a publisher. I thought it was because of the incident with my Dad. But there was another reason as I was to discover much later.