I’ve always been a storyteller. For as long as I can remember, I could spin a yarn off the top of my head. I even included some interpretive dance back when I visited my family in Yugoslavia. I was five, but it was amazing. Just ask my cousin Ivica.
Five-year-olds don’t have much to say, though, and most of my stories revolved around princesses and Barbies, but there was a sense of joy, and even empowerment, that I could hold someone’s attention, an adult’s attention (even if it was just my sweet cousin Ivica who was forced to pay attention to me since he was babysitting) just by making up a story about my doll. I mean, she did have a dream house.
Coming from my family, though, telling a good tale is imprinted on our DNA. My father and both of his brothers could talk your ear off, keeping you laughing all night, and it’s a trait that’s still going strong two generations later. Humor is a contact-sport in my family and if you can’t laugh at yourself, they will do it for you. And with relish.
More than that, having two parents who spoke English as their second, or in my mother’s case seventh, language made me appreciate the only one I had, English, in a way I don’t think my other friends grasped. Growing up with a family that doesn’t understand the shortcuts native speakers take to communicate with one another meant always finding several ways to express the same thing that would translate into the way a native Slavic or Spanish-speaker would understand.
I was keenly aware, from early on, that English is one of the most precise languages spoken and living with two parents who didn’t necessarily understand its complexity made me want to understand that complexity so much more. My sister swears I began reading when I was four, I don’t ever remember learning, and whenever I came upon a word I didn’t know, I immediately looked it up in my personal dictionary which is still my favorite book.
Dictionaries presented any world I wanted to live in. I could be a posh Brit and use words like louche while knowing that the proper term for the piece of furniture is sofa not couch. I could be sophisticated and continental just by saying “chaise longue” not “chaise lounge.” And never just chaise since that just means “chair.” And I could always impress my political science friend by properly using the word Manichaean.
But more than just being fascinated with language and storytelling, as I got older, and middle-school insecurities set in, I realized that writing was the purest form of expression for me. There was no body language or inflection to change the meaning of what I was trying to say. No misunderstanding my dry, ironic or self-deprecating humor to mask those insecurities. I might get stuttery and shy, or even teary, when I spoke, but I was always smart, articulate, funny, trenchant or thoughtful when I wrote. More than anything, I was confident. I could always present the best version of me in my writing.
I also learned fairly early on that writing was the one talent my teachers agreed I had. External validation shouldn't matter, but it does when you're 12. No matter how late I was to class, or how disruptive my note-passing might have been, even my most adversarial teacher-- Ms. Murphy -- acknowledged I had a talent. Hell, one even accused me of plagiarism because my report, written as a first-person account by the protagonist per her suggestion, was too good to have been written by a high school kid. I got such a sense of schadenfreudy pleasure when she had to read the book before she’d give me the A+ I earned.
Of course, those early fantasies of being the toast of Manhattan with my brilliant first novel, and comparisons to Dorothy Parker, eventually gave way to more “realistic” goals, but I never stopped writing. Now, thanks to the proliferation of social media, I’m able to express myself in as many ways as I want. Whether it’s professionally on LinkedIn, personally on Facebook or Twitter, or humorously in my recaps or blogs, I’m not limited in how I give voice to my thoughts and opinions.
Writing has never been “what I do.” Which is good because I haven’t been able to crack the code of how to make a living from writing in all these years. Writing is who I am. I don’t write because I like it or because I’m “good at it.” I write because I can’t imagine ever not writing any more than I can't imagine not breathing.