Mr. Young was our sixth grade teacher at the Seaford Avenue School. He was an older man, bald and very white, with thick glasses. He always made a show of yelling at us for chewing our “cud” (gum) and could be hard, even on his favorite students, but we were devoted to him. Mr. Young died over Easter break that year, and we came back to Mrs. Cronin as our teacher, who we treated very badly, not because she was nasty or mean but because she wasn’t Mr. Young. It was also the year I competed with my best frenemy — the OTHER smartest girl in the class, Phyllis Leopold, who is currently providing spiritual guidance as a minister in Connecticut; I remember running into her completely randomly in a gym in NYC in the mid-‘80s and we picked up as if more than a decade had not passed since we’d last seen each other – for the lead role in a play called something like “Way, Way Down East”, a damsel-in-distress melodrama (“You must pay the rent!” “I can’t pay the rent!”), which featured Joe Benenati in swirling Snidely Whiplash mustache tying me to the railroad tracks. (Or was Joe the Dudley Do-Right hero doing the saving? I can’t recall the details, just the thrill of the applause. It was my first and only dramatic stage performance.) One of the earliest things I ever did on Facebook was engage with Joe and the rest of the Seaford Avenue School alumni on Facebook after he had posted a photo of the entire sixth-grade graduating class of 1971, and a bunch of us reconnected trying to identify everyone.
Sixth grade was also the year that we met Clifford Lindsey Alderman, an actual writer of young adult historical novels who lived in Seaford and who, very generously and inspirationally, dedicated his novel Rum, Slaves and Molasses: The Story of New England’s Triangular Trade (1972) to me: “For Nancy Lucas, an aspiring young author, with best wishes for her success.”
So I started writing in earnest (“I must live up to Mr. Alderman’s dedication!”). I wrote short stories and even a couple of full-length novels. As I recall, the first novel was called Fun in Florida, and the sequel was called Moving to Montana. (The randomness of the locales mystifies me to this day. I think my ultimate goal was to do a novel set in every state.) Both novels featured a blended family based in no small part on “The Brady Bunch” engaging in antics in the spirit of “The Monkees” and “Love American Style”, including an episode stolen outright where an idiot man/boy gets his mouth stuck on a doorknob. The writings were passed around so much the paper they were written on was soft as cloth. Everyone in class was a character in the novels, so of course there were complaints about the inaccuracy of portrayals and the relegation to bit parts, but I tried my best to show everyone in the best possible light.
What I miss from those days is the complete confidence with which I put ideas to paper and then passed them around. I’m not sure when the self-doubt started creeping in, but it was probably as an undergrad at Trinity College, when I decided to become an English/Literary Writing major. I did well enough but was never given the kind of encouragement that my writing professor, who I idolized (the late Hugh Ogden, award-winning poet and founder of the creative writing program at Trinity), gave to other, better writers in my fiction and poetry writing classes (Joanna Scott, Trinity Class of 1983, for one – good for Joanna! Bad for Nan!). I worked for OMNI Magazine after I graduated and wrote some articles, mostly for the magazine’s weird-science/paranormal “Antimatter” section, but they were inevitably re-written, enough so that I wondered why I had even bothered.
So while I’ve always believed myself to be a decent writer, over the years I’ve steadily grown to doubt my abilities, to the point where I sabotage myself at every turn – probably most of all by NOT ACTUALLY WRITING ANYTHING. I believe what I write won’t be “good enough”, so I don’t even try. This is a problem.
Recently I found myself reading (without consciously choosing to do so) various autobiographies of writers. True writers always seem to have this innate talent, and they write instinctively and compulsively. I see myself in them, but reading about them also reminds me that I lack something they all have: the innate talent. That’s the self-doubt in spades. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never write the Great American Novel or a prize-winning short story because I lack the tale-telling knack for fiction and the ability to get into the mind of any character that isn’t me.
But of course I do write – voluminously. I’ve diligently kept journals since my sophomore year at Trinity (which was literally decades ago). There are many things I have to overcome in order to fulfill what I believe is my destiny — which is to live the life of an artist, to make a living as a writer and to make some kind of contribution (however minor) to humanity — but the first order of business was to start this blog, which was the closest thing to writing in my journal that I could possibly imagine.
There is another hurdle: Thinking back on my being the best-read sixth grade author at the Seaford Avenue School, even while I felt no compunction about depicting my classmates in a way that sometimes pissed them off, I am reminded of a frequent theme of my “no way you can write a blog” negative self-talk, which is that I am afraid that I cannot be completely frank and transparent in my blog posts because people reading it may be insulted personally or, even more likely, think less of me. In order to start posting here in my blog, I’ve had to establish a kind of “What would [X] think if they saw this” threshold, because I know that [X] and I have a professional and a personal relationship, but mostly a professional one. I want any writing here on my blog to be as true and authentic as possible, because I strive to be a genuine and honest person (although, as I was intrigued to note, these proclivities did not necessarily serve me well in my legal ethics class or when I took the MPRE [Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, for all you non-lawyers]). Also in those formative years – around sixth grade and into junior high school – I learned that I was singularly terrible at lying and might as well give it up. So, while I will do my best to be transparent and truthful and open, I can’t be completely uninhibited!
One of the author autobiographies that I read was Fiction Ruined My Family, by Jeanne Darst (2011). She describes the freedom and delight of being a writer thusly: “Writing is a choice . . . . A lot of days I’ve gotten to eat lunch at home and this is a really big perk in my opinion. When you’re good and ready to take a break, you stroll into your kitchen and open the refrigerator door and poke around leisurely . . . . To have lunch at home is a huge luxury . . . . This is a nice way to live. To hang around bowls of chocolate ice cream and ideas all day can be worth it.”
Yes, indeed it is, Jeanne. I’m finally trying to get there from here . . .