One Writer’s Evolution
by Catherine Conroy
I don’t expect to be rich or well known; I write because I must about the imagined and the real. I spend my time struggling through words, contemplating unlimited choices and daunting nuances. Loss – my mother and a relative I have often referred to as the mother of my soul – created a void and fostered this direction. After their passing, I stumbled through my duties at home and in my office. Mail passed through my hands. Most landed in the recycle bin among the mound of “must haves” because I have an address.
One day, I tossed out a local college catalog, continued pitching, paused, reconsidered. Why, I’ll never know, such moments don’t come with clarification or explanations. A corner of the catalog peeked out beneath the deepening detritus – an oxymoron in my case, because my company is a mail order business and if you’ve once contacted us and your heirs don’t discontinue your address, they’ll continue receiving our offers. It wasn’t glossy on crisp white 40# paper; it was limp on gray paper. I retrieved it, added it to the “review” pile, and shoved the stack into my briefcase.
In my second floor office, I thumbed through papers until I reached the college catalog. I scanned the front and the back, allowed the pages to slip across my thumb, pausing here and there when something caught my eye. If I could take any course I wanted, what would it be? Silly, lady, haven’t you had enough of school? I recalled earning my BS in biology, chemistry, and secondary education at the age of thirty-two after four years in college while balancing a home, three children’s needs, and fending off an obstructionist husband. How did I survive? I continued to look over the pages. I discovered, a friend of mine is teaching an art class. That could be fun.
That’s how it began. I signed up for the art class and added a second class, ceramics. The next semester, I signed up for another drawing class taught by my friend and replaced ceramics with a course titled, “Literary Nonfiction Creative Writing.” Near the completion of that semester, I registered for one class, Fiction and Poetry Writing. Soon, writing consumed my early hours, demanded attention throughout the day, and kept me restless throughout the night. And still, I considered myself a business woman who happened to write stories, that is, until what happened in class.
We’d read a short story, The Liar by Tobias Wolf, about a mother struggling with impossible demands. Her teenage son, in an effort to call attention to himself, began lying at every opportunity. His mother responded to his need by seeking advice from a doctor.
When the short story was reviewed in class several students baulked at the mother’s actions. They insisted the boy’s mother should have realized he needed her attention. She should not have foisted him off on a doctor. After class, while driving home I contemplated the student reactions. They just don’t get how hard it is for a mother. Infused with the idea for a story, I pulled off the road, skidded to a stop, grabbed some paper and began writing. I was determined to create a story that would reveal the demands within a mother’s life, a story to make my fellow students feel the daunting weight of a mother’s roll within a family. My impulse became a short story, “Choices,” which I turned over to my fellow classmates the following week when they handed out their latest writings.
A week later, we discussed each others stories and returned their copies to them. On one of my returned copies, a young man, the most strident about the mother in The Liar wrote a note to me, including, “…because of this story I called my mother to apologize for all the truly rotten things I put her through when I was in high school.”
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