Writing from the Heart: Now is the time

Dreams that you never fully realized can still come true.


Many folks who take my Writing from the Heart workshop say they have been technical or medical writers, and just want to try being creative with their words. Others have said they want to share some of their life stories with their kids, or their grandkids.

Still others have said they want to reclaim their voices, that as little people they had wanted to grow up and be writers. But someone, a teacher, a father, an aunt, somehow took that dream away.

Just like in Langston Hughes’ poem:

What happens to a dream deferred 
does it dry up like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore 
And then run …

Without realizing it, I think I have been saying the same thing to my students, except instead of fester, I say marinate.

But the message is the same. What happened to your dreams?

The other night at dinner with friends, someone asked for our earliest memory of something that might have foretold what our future professions would end up being.

My friend Rich said, in fourth grade, he fell in love with those landmark history books like “Gettysburg” and “Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan,” and then, at 10 years old, he wrote passionate, detailed book reports. He remembers the teacher singling him out, asking him to share the stories with his classmates. He took it so seriously that he spent hours preparing elaborate notes and delivering his “lectures” in front of the whole class. He said, I remember I felt like a teacher. He is now (not a surprise) a professor.

My friend Lorie remembers being in her crib, scratching designs into the wood of the frame. And now she is an artist.

My husband had a train set as a kid, and things always broke. So very early on, he learned how to fix everything mechanical. He loved tinkering and redesigning and rebuilding, and had a deep understanding of how things work. Today he’s an inventor.

My fourth grade math teacher did something highly unusual. On the first day of school, she gave us each a blank piece of paper and asked us to write something about ourselves. The next day she read mine out loud. I had written:

I am very very tall
all my friends are very small 
whenever you look, I always show 
gee I wish my friends would grow

So, yup, I became a writer. But it was a bit of a circuitous route.

In seventh grade, I won a Gold Key for journalism. I proudly wrote to my Uncle George, who was a real writer for the Herald Tribune in New York. I told him I wanted to be a writer, and he promptly wrote back, “Girls don’t write.” Instead of being furious or even rebellious, I swiftly looked at what my realistic options were. In 1956, girls could be secretaries or nurses or teachers. So I got my degree in teaching.

And I didn’t start writing until I was 40something.

How many of us had a dream deferred? I was lucky that mine didn’t dry up like a raisin in the sun. But I think there are thousands upon thousands who never got to go back to their original childhood fantasy.

So maybe you’re calling it one of the items on your bucket list, or you think you let go of it eons ago. Or you’ve rationalized and said, I’ve made peace with not … dot dot dot.

But give it a little thought. Is there some unfinished business that niggles now and again?

Did you sign up for a watercolor class and never go? Did you buy five pounds of clay and put it in the garage, and you couldn’t put your hands on it if your life depended on it?

Did you get the app Final Cut, and never begin the screenplay?

So how about now? Are you doing something you can trace back to those early years when your nature (not your mother, not society, not your peers) was in charge? When you and you alone could explore who you really were?

Or when you track back to your childhood, do you see how you took a huge detour and ended up far from that original tug?

I say, dear ones, go back. Go in. Go wild. Who in you wants what?

This is the time to be generous with yourself. And follow the breadcrumbs that might have gotten soggy along the way.