Please welcome the next guest blogger to Writing Through the Body™, Ali McCart.
I Write Because…
by Ali McCart
I noticed my narrator when I was six years old.
She skips through the pasture in the pink dress her mother made her wear, it said. Now the ruffles are smeared with mud and her shiny black shoes are scuffed, something she’ll be yelled at for later, but she doesn’t care. She’s too focused on her prize—a squirming garter snake. At least, she thinks it’s a garter snake. She grips its neck even tighter, just in case, until she sees its tongue flicker nervously and then hang limp. Oh no, don’t kill it, she tells herself.
I spent my days reading, imagining what I might write someday, and exploring the wonders of our pasture, neighborhood, nearby gravel pit, and the area’s deep ravines, much as the characters in my favorite books did.
When I was eight, my mother was well aware of my love of the written word, so she gave me a journal.
“It has a lock on it,” she pointed out.
I eyed the pink cover with cartoon unicorns—so girly, much like that ruffled dress she used to make me wear.
“I was always too afraid someone would find my diary when I was a little girl,” she said, eyes downcast. “So I never wrote. But yours has a lock, so whatever you write will be safe.” She smiled and smoothed my hair, clearly proud she was taking steps to raise a daughter with a voice.
I tested the lock to see how safe it really was. Although my mother had a strong respect for privacy, my father and brother did not. Could I really transcribe my narrator’s monologue? Could I honestly write about the guilt I felt in letting my frog die, how I seemed to see the world differently than my classmates did, and the books I read that were meant for older kids? What about the willpower it took not to flinch around my dad when he was drunk? The lock survived my Reeboks, but my church shoe heel popped it with ease. My narrator ran a commentary as I shoved the pink book, metal lock flopping uselessly, into my underwear drawer and ran outside.
In high school, I dabbled in writing fiction, imagining no one would see through the thin curtain of Kali’s resentment at her father’s controlling demeanor. By the end of the first draft, though, I knew better. I walked the pages to the trailer park dumpster.
But my narrator never quieted.
She jerks at the rose stem, desperate to pocket the bloom before campus safety sees her damaging the rose bush. She’d be fined for sure. Later, in her dorm room, she’ll press the petals in her psychology book as she writes to her brother. She’ll address the envelope to the Idaho State Correctional Facility and then drop in the dried petals—the only Christmas gift she can afford that the guards wouldn’t take away.
I spent my twenties listening to my narrator but channeling my writing urges into my editing career. The year I turned thirty, though, my mother paused from making Thanksgiving dinner to ask me, “Why don’t you ever write? You’ve always had a knack for it.”
I didn’t know anymore. I no longer felt that I might not be safe, and my narrator was stronger than ever. In fact, in that moment, it documented my embarrassed shrug and my mental vow to spend my thirties and beyond putting my own words onto the page.
I write because I will no longer censor my narrator.
Ali McCart is the executive editor at Indigo Editing & Publications (www.indigoediting.com), where she edits nonfiction and runs the Sledgehammer 36-Hour Writing Contest (www.sledgehammercontest.com). Her writing has been published in Hippocampus Magazine and featured at DimeStories Orange County. A slightly modified version of this essay earned her a spot as a finalist for the 2015 Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writer Prize. Ali writes from sunny Southern California while daydreaming of rainy Portland, Oregon.