Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California with his wife of forty-seven years, Sally (upon whom he is emotionally, physically, and spiritually dependent), two grown children, a daughter-in-law, two granddaughters, and sixteen cats! Don’t ask. Like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, he believes that the instant contains eternity.
Evolution, Revolution, Hibernation — Write On, Write On, Right On
By Rick Hartwell
Have I continued to evolve as a writer? Absolutely! Am I a writer? Ah, there’s the rub! What is a writer? If, by writer, I mean someone who is paid to write, who makes their living from writing, then no, I am decidedly not a writer. If, however, by writer I mean someone who can and does write, and the does is very important, then yes, I am a writer.
I am also a reader, a parent, and a grandparent. I don’t get paid for any of those either. I am also a teacher, but I do get paid for that, sort of paid. Now some of these functions I do very well; reading and grandparenting for instance. But it’s not the level of my ability or the quality of my product that labels me, it’s the fact of participation. If I continue to read, I’m a reader. If I continue to cry, I’m a parent. If I continue to try, I’m a teacher. If I continue to write, I’m a writer. And I have continued to write, more voraciously than ever. I don’t know if I’m getting any better at it, but I’m certainly getting more at it.
Perhaps, like bellybuttons, writers can be classified as innies and outies. Innies are closet writers. Hidden diaries, adolescent poetry, the first suicide note would all be the work of those writers who have not yet faced the world, who have not yet outed themselves. Daily journals, public announcements and shared stories are works belonging to outies. I used to be an innie. Now I’m an outie. I write. I write openly. I let others know what I write. I do share my writing. Heh, in fact, I even force it on some, but usually only my defenseless students. Yes, I’m one. Are you one too? But wait! I think I hear others. There must be more. Soon there will be scores and scores.
Now, to some, the foregoing may have seemed a bit trite, too concocted, and self-serving, and there is a certain truth to that. Yet, when was the last time someone came up and in sotto voce asked, “You mean, you read?” Probably not since the age of four or five or six. And once you were able to proudly answer, “Yes,” did you stop reading? Certainly not. Then why have such hesitation when asked, “You mean, you write?” And why do many then continue with great reluctance, “I used to?” What? You forgot how? You unlearned it? I did not write anything of note between twelve and the time I was sixteen. I had been “turned off” from writing by a poorly motivated teacher. But I did not stop writing. I was merely hibernating. There, now I have it. I have written freely enough about this, brainstormed enough, metacognitively cogitated on paper enough that I finally tripped over the metaphor for periods of non-writing: hiatus, vacation, refueling. Any of these might serve well, but hibernation seems to capture best the essence of those periods of non-writing through which many of us have survived.
I have also had periods in my life during which I did not read, or did not read much. I never thought that I was no longer a reader. So, what is it about writing hibernation that causes us to say we don’t write when once we did? To the first issue, I still occasionally answer, “I have nothing to read.” Perhaps that framework would serve the second issue as well. There have been times in my life when I could have answered, “I have nothing to write.” Now neither of these may literally have been true; however, the subtle, shaded messages were that I possessed nothing I wished to read at that time or nothing I wished to share with others through writing. I merely had not completed a cycle of hibernation. Once I did, I was again prepared to read, to write, to share. I didn’t emerge from a chrysalis, newly formed into another, but rather slowly lumbered from the dark cave of my introspection and was again ready to face a new Spring. Yeah, I like this metaphor!
So, where am I in all this rambling? Oh, yes, I remember. I have continued to evolve as a writer. As a young adolescent writer, I revolted from one teacher, was revolted by several, and was myself revolting in turn. As a teenager, still revolting I’m certain, and more particularly as a college student, I slowly changed as a writer. I began approaching the task as a craft which could be learned and whose skills could be honed. I was evolving as a writer. But then I needed hibernation. I needed the hibernation of marriage, of Vietnam, of deaths, of divorce, of alcoholism and drugs, and, finally, of teaching. I am no longer hibernating.
Yes, I am a writer. I write. I share. I read. I share. I teach. I share. I live. I share.