Writing And My Relationship With It

By John Ward

cartoon shakespeare

 

Writing was always difficult for me. In the first, second and third grades, there were no ball-points, biros or fountain pens where I grew up, in Africa.

I was enrolled at a local convent where stick wielding nuns taught the alphabet and made us write with “dipping” pens that you dipped in ink-wells and which got more ink on your fingers than on the page. If any ink actually got on the page it was usually in one big blob with spider-web like tendrils radiating out over whatever it was you were writing.

Fortunately there was always a nun conveniently close to crack your knuckles when this happened, as a form of negative reinforcement or alternatively a means of expressing frustration at suffering a life of chronic virginity.  Writing, under those circumstances was, understandably, laborious and something to be avoided.

Later, in primary school I had a teacher called Mrs. DuToit, wife of the Headmaster at St. Marks Boarding School and Torture Chamber. One day she asked us sweetly to write about our family routine at home. We now had fountain pens that you didn’t have to dip in an inkwell every three letters, but which also managed to cover your thumb, index and middle finger with ink.

In my essay on family routine, I made the mistake of leaving the “e” out of the word “clothes” when I wrote that my mother put on her clothes to go for a run and I was teased, berated and humiliated mercilessly by Mrs. DuToit and the rest of the class as she shouted “Her CLOTHS!? She put on her CLOTHS??!!  As you might imagine, this and other similar incidences further dampened my enthusiasm for writing. I was eight at the time.

Still later in high school, having given up hope of ever being able to write, I would dread the inevitable essay writing homework. According to my very British teachers I was just shy of qualifying for government assistance due to my moronic and irretrievably cretinous writing style. Hell, even Word for Windows just put a red line under the word Cretinous!

In undergraduate school, some of my professors in Rome, Italy where I studied at John Cabot International College, saw some promise. I wrote a film script and won the accolades of several professors. When I got to Duke University in North Carolina my writing for my psychology degree achieved acceptability! I was thrilled. My father then decided I wanted to be an accountant and insisted I go to graduate school in accounting.

Writing thirty page papers on the benefits of a capital lease as opposed to an operating lease lacked a certain… oh I don’t know – spark, interest, excitement, inspiration? Although my professors, I grant you, would be very excited about reading my views on the subject, they would hand the papers to a woman who purported to be an English professor. She was one of those beautiful but awful people one runs into from time to time through the course of one’s life. If I had the temerity to spell labor with a “u” as in labor, the correct way, since English is the language adopted by Americans, I lost ten points per original English spelling! That was an immediate “B” from an “A” which the paper would have obtained. Programme instead of program (the latter of which I prefer) and cheque instead of check, all wrong and, lamentably, grade killers. By the way Word for Windows has put a red line under all of them.

Eventually I wrote for a couple of magazines and a couple of newspapers and was able to become a little more creative without some professorially pretentious poltroon pontificating about my imperfect prose. Now my screen is covered in flecks of spit. I shouldn’t have read that part out loud.

Every now and again, I write for the Ojo del Lago, not so much to be published, which is always great, but because I am so inspired by the editor of this magazine. A man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, avoided arrest in more countries than I have visited and made something amazing of himself. A man who went from sleeping in his car while writing, directing and producing movies, to sleeping in someone else’s house. A man who would sacrifice all to save a dog and has looked after at least three hordes of dogs during his lifetime, while, and at the same time, writing, reading and editing other people’s work, inspiring others to write, running a writer’s group in town and always encouraging people to explore their abilities.

A man of taste, who would never think of wearing a striped scarf with a polka- dotted dress. (That last part is to check that he really reads the stories he is meant to be editing.) You can see him in Ajijic and Chapala. He walks around with a shillelagh in his hand looking for writers who don’t attach their names to article submissions.

One piece I wrote actually healed a mother-daughter breach and I am very proud of that. It is a musical about runaway children and the horrors they face living on the street. I was informed by a mutual friend that this mother and daughter had not spoken for years. The daughter had dropped out of school, shaved a swastika in her hair on one side and a cross in the other side. She had pierced every available flap of skin and dressed in a way that even people who admired the “Grunge” look were appalled. They went to see the musical together and afterwards they stayed up until 4 am. Talking.

The next day they went to buy her a new wardrobe and she agreed to go back to school. I don’t know how long the new relationship lasted, it’s not easy being a parent or an adolescent, but I was proud just to have provided that opportunity.

So writing has been difficult and frustrating, but also difficult and gratifying. You will notice “difficult” is always a characteristic. Unless you don’t care what you say or how you say it, writing takes work, but work well worth doing.

 

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