Editor’s note: This blog is part of a series of first person essays about identity written by UTEP Liberal Arts Honors students during the spring 2013 semester.
EL PASO – When I told my Mom I was going to be a published writer, she said to make sure my stories were on audio-tape so she wouldn’t have to do any actual reading. Dad then joked that she’d have to learn how to read first.
Whether or no they knew how serious I was, my parents always told me to do what I loved, even if it meant not studying a “safe” major like business or nursing. Neither of my parents, or anyone else in my family, has ever shown an interest in writing, creatively or otherwise.
I’ve been surround by Math brains my entire life. My sister received her degree in Mathematics, and my brother wanted to be a math teacher when he grew up. My best friend is currently working toward her Bachelor’s in Finance while both my parents work in the technology departments in their careers. My parents were dumbfounded when I took a liking to books, so they were even more surprised when I decided I would be a writer.
Although they couldn’t understand why I wanted to write, they joked that as long as I reached J.K. Rowling’s financial status, it was okay to pursue writing. I’m currently finishing up my junior year of college, working toward my Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing, and my parents have supported me every step of the way, but they didn’t always believe in my commitment to storytelling.
I convinced my mother how passionate I am about writing during my junior year of high school. The 2010 Texas Poet Laureate, Karla K. Morton, visited my hometown of Arlington to host a poetry contest at my school, Lamar High School, to get us interested in the genre. Before then, I had never even heard of a poet laureate. Every English teacher, including my teacher Mrs. Bufkin, wanted their students to submit a piece tied into the theme “Arlington, Texas” for a grade and contest consideration.
How difficult could it be to write about my hometown? I thought, and I sat down to write a poem about the weather, because any true Texan knows that on any autumn day you can experience summer, spring, and winter. When Mrs. Bufkin chose me and four other students for the contest, my excitement lasted just a few days, because I considered myself a prose writer, not a poet.
Weeks later, as I walked the school hall with a boy I had a crush on, a smiling Mrs. Bufkin pulled me aside and whispered that I had placed third in the poetry contest. I began to grin so hard my teeth hurt until she said I would have to read my poem at a small celebration in the auditorium.
Mrs. Bufkin must have noticed the fear in my eyes because she suddenly reassured me that I would be great and to feel proud of my accomplishment. She said I couldn’t tell my classmates I’d won until the celebration. My stage fright diminished when I realized I had been recognized by an important writer. Later that day when I told my mom the news, she squealed with delight and boasted to her co-workers, her friends, and the cashier at Wal-Mart that her daughter was a big-shot writer now.
She wrote the celebration date on her calendar, and I reminded her daily.
On the big night, I wore a black blouse, a jean skirt, and a pair of sneaker-heels I’d bought and hadn’t had the chance to show off yet. I hyperventilated during the car ride from the house to the high school until we found seats in the auditorium. That’s when my English teacher instructed me to sit in the front row. Poet Laureate Morton took the stage and spoke about her contest, her book, and her experiences as a poet and a cancer survivor. Suddenly, I heard my name echo through the room and the entire auditorium applauded as I stood up and marched to the stage.
Remember the cute sneaker-heels I was wearing? Well, they weren’t exactly my size. They were half a size too big, so as I walked from my seat to the stage, I had to readjust my feet every time I lifted them so the shoes wouldn’t slip off. As soon as I reached the stage, I lunged for the railing and hurried to the podium, shaking hands with Morton as she whispered congratulations in my ear. I used the podium for balance and cleared my throat.
I said my name and the title of the piece, simply titled “Seasons.” My voice shook as I read the first line, and I remembered the wisdom of my speech teacher from junior high: whenever you’re nervous, just talk louder. So I raised my volume and slowed down as much as I could and finally reached the last stanza. When I finished I took in a deep breath and stared into the applauding audience looking for Mom, but I couldn’t see past the faces in the first row. I left my poem on the podium, hugged my friend Karla, and walked off stage.
My legs shook for the remainder of the ceremony as I clapped for each of the other contest winners. Once we were let out for a break, I ran, rather hobbled, to find Mom. She took me in her arms and nearly suffocated me as I breathed in her Pantene-conditioned hair. She had tears in her eyes, but she didn’t cry.
“I’m so proud of you,” she whispered.