Back when I was in high school, I was given a writing assignment that was required to get a diploma. The project was called "The Grandfather Theme." We were told about this when we were freshmen, so I had four years to write a story about how my Greek grandfather fled his bombed out village during the war and made his way to America with five children and a wife in tow. In those days I was more interested in American Bandstand and wearing some guy's class ring than giving the teacher my full attention, so when the time came to turn in our writing project, I was woefully unprepared. After watching my friends three-hole punch and bind their masterpieces, I pulled an all nighter and concocted a story that my mother said would make my grandfather proud, even though some of it was made up.
In college I joined the staff of the school newspaper, and learned what a deadline meant, but I took it more seriously this time around. One of my first stories was about a deliberately-set fire in my college dorm room, and how all the beautiful clothes my mother bought me for school were pretty much destroyed. After that sensation, most of the stories I wrote were about trivial things. As Stephen King implies in his famous memoir, a newspaper writer I'd never be.
After moving to California, I enjoyed documenting my new life out West in typed letters I wrote to my family when things were slow at work. Off and on over the years I filled up several spiral-bound notebooks, now called journals, and documented my tears over two painful divorces and my bitterness over nasty comments from egregious bosses. And yet, I never wrote about the joys in my life, falling in love or being recognized for a job well done.
In one of my first positions out of college I struggled to learn how to take weighty minutes of controversial meetings in the university hospital where I worked. After a nice promotion, I was challenged even more with assignments to write complicated position papers, lofty letters of recommendation, and extensive documentation justifying faculty tenure decisions. When I became a university development officer, I blew way past my comfort zone and wrote marketing plans, solicitation proposals, strategy memos, and talking points for the university president to use when he asked a potential donor for a multi-million dollar gift. One of the best things I ever wrote was my speech in celebration of my retirement after 35 years of writing, talking, writing, and talking.
So there I was a retiree who really missed the challenges and enjoyment of writing, so I engaged in an extensive daily email exchange with a high school girlfriend that continues to this day. I also wrote unsolicited restaurant reviews on foodie websites and a Christmas letter which probably no one ever got around to reading. After traveling to a few exotic places, I thought maybe travel writing was in my future, but that notion was quashed when I attended a travel writers' conference and learned that you weren't accepted for writing a compelling story but were evaluated for submitting a clever pitch. This process seemed too business like for me, after all I'd been making pitches for years when I was a fundraiser, and now that I was retired, I didn't want any pressure. So, I enrolled in a creative writing class that seemed less daunting and more fun. The teacher suggested writing a story on a subject we knew very well. For weeks I spent polishing a 2500 word essay about how I fell apart when my second marriage ended. Writing about love and all its complicated endings was what I knew best and had years and years of journal entries to prove it. I thought my essay was pretty good, but was stabbed in the heart by my classmate critics who told me it needed a lot of work. After taking their severe criticisms to heart and implementing some of their suggestions, I boldly and foolishly submitted it to the New York Times not knowing that they only accept published authors.
A few years after that I began reading a blog -- one written by a Hindu friend of mine in collaboration with a Christian and a Jew. That was the name of their blog "Hindu, Christian and Jew." They drilled down on heady topics like American politics, and less heady topics like Things Oprah said in her show that day.
This year someone suggested I create a blog to document a 2000 mile bike ride I was planning to take with Womantours from New Orleans up the Mississippi River to the Canadian border. I played around with Google's Blogspot website and created a design, found some wild photos and came up with a catchy name. BIKER CHICK GONE CRAZY went live with my first post in March, 2012.
A medical emergency had me off the bike after five days going up river, so I had to think of other stuff to write about, but I was so consumed by my painful condition that this was all I could think to say. My topics were pitiful ones, like how sad I was not to be riding my bike. Then I remembered something my friend Helen Page at Daily Writing Coach said in one of her instructive posts: "Stay away from feeling sorry for yourself. Don't be self-absorbed." She was talking to me! I knew I had stories to tell. I just had to learn how to tell them in my own voice. In the old days writing minutes of meetings eventually became easy and fundraising proposals and marketing plans were formulaic, but writing a story with a beginning, a middle and an end and a piece that someone might actually enjoy reading has truly been a creative outlet for me. I even feel my heart skipping a beat when I click the orange publish box on my Blogspot draft page, knowing that in a few minutes my story might be read by a stranger in Malaysia, Thailand, Germany or the Middle East.
A good friend of mine read one of my early blog entries and said, "Your comfort zone post is the best thing I've read in a long time. Keep writing honestly like that and word of your blog will spread." I had no idea what he meant by "Your blog will spread," but as of today Biker Chick Gone Crazy has exceeded 5000 hits in five months. The way I look at it, 5000 hits is like making the best seller list -- an unusual form of notoriety that quite frankly bowls me over, and I suspect my posts are mostly read by people I don't know. Now that I am back on my bike and no longer feeling sorry for myself, I want to write about topics that lift my heart and not drown my sorrow. I guess I can now call myself a published writer, but I'm not planning to submit any more stories to the New York Times.