This essay by Cat Robson won First Place in the 2006 Santa Barbara Writers Conference Workshop Genre Award for Nonfiction, under the title “If Only I Could Write,” and is part of a collection of autobiographical essays titled “Out of My Tree.”
She is writing a noir mystery novel about the Hollywood blacklist of the late 1940’s.
Here is an excerpt from her wry essay:
Dorothy Parker once excused herself for missing a deadline by telling her editor “Someone else was using the pencil.”
I see that pencil, Dotty, and raise you a set of Berol Prismacolor pencils missing flesh tone, a floaty pen with hula dancer and palm trees that says “Our Honeymoon, December 5, 1941,” a rubber stamp alphabet, a Waterman pen that I dropped in a daiquiri that doesn’t work, and a tiny red pencil from a bowling alley, all inexplicably in use.
I was young when I first learned to fight my temptation to write. At 12 I had an idea for a novel. I thought cultures and political systems might be evolving much like an individual psyche.
For years I mused on this idea, drawing comparisons in my mind but admirably restraining from writing them down. I gloated privately over my audacity and insight.
When I finally shared my idea with a friend in college he said my book had already been written by a corrupt interloper named Thomas Mann and was called The Magic Mountain.
I couldn’t bring myself to read it. It just doesn’t do to think big. It’s been done before, more lavishly, with more depth, with greater social impact, and undoubtedly with greater literary merit, than I could ever muster. …
In spite of myself, my hunger to write continues. Like a rogue wave, determined to hold up the meaning of my life against the undertow of my culture, my past, and my family’s fundamentalism, it surges and ebbs. I want to trust it.
To be carried into the deeper waters of the things I do not understand, to let the questions remain unanswered. I’ve stood too long on the shore, hoping to feel capable, hoping for the authority to speak, the confidence to pit myself against all the rigid certainty of my past.
I’ve been waiting to be transformed into a Borzoi of a writer. Sleek, refined, reserved and competent. Unconcerned with the approval of others. Instead, I’m a gangly golden retriever, rocking and swamping my little boat.
Eager, boundlessly expressive, full of hyperbole, and loving – above all, loving – everyone and everything because they’re here, because they’re fleeting, because I can.
From essay Why I Don’t Write – by Cat Robson.