There are many ways of identifying ourselves: where we grew up, those we love, education, work experience, affiliations–all stories. I’m not sure where my story begins.
I am a writer of fiction and poetry. I enjoy blending the supernatural with science and a touch of the macabre. We can thank an early fascination with Saki, Heinlein, and taxidermy for that.
I wrote poetry initially, inspired by the works of Thomas, Elliot, and Rimbaud. I only began writing short stories later, in my twenties. Some I liked. I flirted with the idea of developing a writing career then, between adventures to France, Belgium, and California, and a dalliance with parapsychology. Professors at the University of South Carolina in Columbia encouraged me to keep at it. When I finally graduated in the mid-nineties after finishing my creative writing thesis, “Laslo: Part I of A Relativist Work,” I’d spent more than a year obsessing over it.
Nevertheless, I reached the end of my twenties craving financial security and veered towards software development. It was the logical thing to do at the time–and it felt daring–but when I was at last ready to start my new career, Columbia’s largest tech employer had laid off over three hundred experienced programmers. In 2000, I packed my cat and moved to Atlanta, hoping my IT prospects would improve. When this wasn’t so, I grew impatient with the whole idea and sought some other reasonable profession.
I became a lawyer. Like many lawyers drawn in by the promise of earning a good living through writing, I neglected to ask: “Writing what?” I moved to North Carolina with my husband and lived on the side of a mountain and even practiced law for a couple of years before concluding it was the wrong path for me.
I would always find myself in this spot, leaving wrong careers, with more and more time having slipped away. Why? Apparently, my mind would have me tell stories. And isn’t it true that only the most momentous dreams wake us from slumber, gasping for air in a sweat?
I still don’t know how to introduce myself.
I’ll say this:
We can probably agree that much of what makes up a person passes us by unseen. Yet somehow we do come to know the people in our lives. Mountain peaks loom over the horizon; icebergs bob above the water line; eyes peer through parted leaves in a dense wood.
A child can tell when there is more to a person than is obvious. I concluded when young that if I knew what I’d do, then maybe I’d stand a chance of knowing what they’d do, those others. Of course, this gave rise to convolutions. What would I do “if this” and then “if that”? What if I wasn’t who I thought I was?
Growing up on the coast of South Carolina, we roamed barefoot on the hot slick sand, a gutty troupe: me, my sister, and our friends. By the tracks and an abandoned depot, in a tree fort hanging over the marsh, we explored an inner terrain as much as an outer one. Both realms thrilled me with perils. Daydreams and adventures consumed my waking hours, and sleep came with more horrors than I care to remember. Poor Dad spent many nights with his flashlight checking the bushes outside the window.
When I was ten, I learned to sail a Sunfish. The few times I was allowed to sail was with a girl my age named Sani, and we always spoiled the fun bickering over who got the sail and who got the rudder, and once we settled that, we wrangled over how we intended to operate them. We had to agree, you see, or we’d tip.
The day of my first and only race, the winds were strong, and we spent most of the race sailing backwards, until we ran aground at a tiny island in the middle of the inlet. But I’d spent a great deal of time on the docks, on my belly, ears filled with the wind’s roar and the creak of floats, wondering what it would be like to stand on that isle. Was there any treasure hidden there, forgotten and lost? Could a person live there, in the searing sunshine, watching the bustle on the mainland, with only brush and lopsided trees to keep her company, day in, day out?
We didn’t set foot on that island. We knew better than to go wading. Oyster beds, rusted metal, degraded plastic, lying under the pluff mud, any of it could slice you or trap you. Not to mention rip tides, deadly monsters that lurked just below a shiny surface. Our instructors had taught us well.
We stayed in our little sailboat, not racing, and waited an hour for rescue. The island was small, the size of a back yard. Green marsh grass jutting from the shallows had trapped thousands of dried reeds that rustled in the salty waves sucking at our hull. Seagulls cawed in a sky so blue it hurt, while Sani, arms folded, sulked at the stern–that is, after a few choice words.
But I’d accomplished something. I’d made it to the island and saw what I wanted to see.