My journey into adulthood began with a jolt mere minutes after my college graduation ceremonies came to a close. While parents and new graduates gathered in the June sunshine to congratulate one another and say goodbye before we left the campus one last time, my father took me aside and imparted these words of wisdom, “Whatever you do, don’t go on for a master’s degree or you’ll never get a husband.”
To be fair, those words reflected the dominant views of his generation, and I realized then that he’d invested in my college education assuming that I would procure a husband along with a bachelor’s degree. But I didn’t. Instead, I went to Alaska by myself to teach school and experience the wilderness.
That same day, when I proudly told my favorite writing professor, Dr. Warren Beck, that I would be teaching 7th grade English in Anchorage, I received another astonishing send off. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “I had hoped you would pursue a writing career.”
I couldn’t believe it! Although I’d received several awards for my creative writing efforts, I never once considered myself a writer, much less a professional writer.
However, through the years, I could not ignore my need to write, and write I did. In the precious early mornings before I went to work, I would record my inmost thoughts in black and white Mead Composition notebooks. In the midst of demands of job and home, Jesse’s story kept popping up in my subconscious and making its way onto the page. In addition, I joined writing groups, where I felt challenged to dig deeper and experiment more. All the while I read, and read, and read. But still, despite encouragement from writers I respected, I never felt confident enough to call myself a writer.
Looking back, I ask myself why I allowed my father’s words to lodge like stones in my heart for nearly 60 years, weighing me down, holding me back. I never mustered the courage to finish my master’s degree, although I loved the classes and felt fully capable to meet the challenge. Even when I watched other women pursue advanced degrees in the midst of raising families and holding jobs, I could not bring myself to do the same. In some perverse way, I felt a higher degree was out of reach for me, so I stopped reaching. However, I did not stop writing. That stubborn desire would not die.
So when my character, Jesse, began her struggle to pursue her PhD, I carried the weight of her struggle as though it were my own. It was very hard. Some days it took all my strength to bring her to life on the page. I desperately wanted Jesse to prevail against the formidable barriers I created for her in Bear Woman Rising. I wanted her to find the strength that I couldn’t muster. I may not have known that when I started her story, but I’m quite sure that as Jesse’s character emerged from my subconscious, she forced me to revisit my own journey.
But wait! All is not lost! While an advance degree alluded me, I did after all create a compelling journey of two amazing women, and I am finally able to call myself a writer. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. Dr. Beck, I think you would be proud.