Paradigm Shifts In Writing

I learned to read and write from a very early age. I grew up as an only child, and before I started kindergarten my mom and I used to spend a lot of time reading together. She loves to read, and I think, when I demanded her undivided attention and she didn’t have time to read her own books on her own leisure, I became a sort of reading vessel for her. I can’t really outline the paradigm shift between illiteracy and ability in my mind, but I’ve been told that I knew how to read before she registered me in school. My mom would write simple words and then compile them into small sentences on my Magna Doodle, and I would read them aloud (sometimes to my family members when they would come to visit, as if I was some freakish trophy display). By the time I was in senior kindergarten, my school enrolled me in a curriculum that was separate from the other students. I don’t know if they do that now, but I guess in the 90s they did.

I still remember it very well: the small, pink, floppy little notebook that my kindergarten teacher gave me and told me I was to write a story in every day. Each page bore dotted, blue lines on the bottom half and a blank space for a Crayola-crayon masterpiece on the top half. I still remember it being my favourite part of school. My young brain was a vat of thoughts that were always alive and there for me to draw from. I don’t ever remember there not being a great idea to write about (even if, at the time, they were all childlike adaptations of my favourite TV shows or whatever it was that a six-year-old found entertaining).

My love for writing was carried heavily into elementary school. I wrote comparatively lengthy stories about my cat, and by grade three they had evolved into full-out novellas about how I was going to become a Pokemon master. It was the first thing any of the teachers addressed on “Parent-Teacher Interview Day” every year. “She’s going to be a writer someday!” they would say to my mom, and she would never really object. But when I was an eight or ten-year-old, I don’t think she was paying mind to my future career just yet.

By middle school, writing became the best friend I didn’t find in the classroom. It was like my ticket into utopia. I used to think of it as my way to make things happen that couldn’t happen, even in the context of alternate universes. What would happen in Harry Potter if I had some input? Would Cedric Diggory have been subjected to the Killing Curse? What would happen to the characters on Digimon after their friends were annexed back to the Digital World? Sure, I liked swimming and bike riding and all of that too, but some days after class I was itching to go home and get the ideas out before they took over my prepubescent form in Cordyceps-like fashion. (Note: Many of those stories are still up on Fanfiction.net somewhere. I challenge you to figure out which ones were mine.) Then came high school, and I published an entire novel-length story online which garnered me some friends and fans from places such as towns in the United States or Australia that I’d never heard of. I also started neglecting my homework in favour of creative writing, and when my mom threatened to disable the Internet at home because of it I responded in a flurry of rage. Since when was my writing a negative outlet? Maybe this is when I began to wake from my escapist’s dream. And maybe this was the paradigm shift where I started discovering reason.

After that, I wrote, but less. And the writing lessened and lessened each year. There were things like work, and alcohol, and social circles, and paying rent, and other avenues of self-discovery that didn’t happen through written word. When I started going to the University of Toronto, my initial vow was to use the opportunity to wean myself back into creative writing. But then, for some strange reason, I started reading the news a little bit more, and stories of the real world beckoned me to take notice for once. And the notion that I could make an impact in the real world became clearer than ever before. Coming to understand political theory and the world in a sociopolitical context was akin to what some others compare to first reading their favourite novel. These fantastic narratives were all about things that really happened? Maybe this was a narrative I could really, and purposefully impact, I thought. I know this might sound cynical to some other creative thinkers, but this epiphany was probably one of the best things I’d ever felt thus far in my life.

This school year (my last year of undergraduate studies) I applied to a novel-writing class at Victoria College (David Gilmour’s “Master Class”). It was my futile chance at trying to make my “comeback” as a creative writer. I churned and churned out a short story and submitted it to the college one night last summer. Much to my astonishment, I and only fourteen other students were accepted. On the first day of his class, this past fall, my instinct told me that it was here where I was to create yet another paradigm shift: to be a writer, or to perhaps maybe not be one for now? Or ever? I chose the latter point, and opted not to take his class after all. When I visited his office to explain my decision, Professor Gilmour told me he thought I was intelligent for making such a difficult choice. “For a writer to face the real world”, he said, “is an admirable feat.”

But there have been moments where this decision has not felt so admirable. As I gloss over graduate programs for Political Science and happily read over reports on tax administration that I have completed for a position I have undertaken at the Munk School of Global Affairs, I feel incredibly proud of myself and most feels right. But the cynicism I have developed for my creative side still provokes a twinge of guilt sometimes. When I tell people I would love to pursue academic research in politics now and have aspirations of maybe one day working in a think-tank or for a non-profit organization, I now don’t receive the typical eyeroll or withheld chuckle or inevitable question of “how I am going to pay the bills one day”. But, while silenced for the time being, there is still a voice inside of me that one day still wants to write the modern-day adaptation of 1984 or Brave New World, or about a universe where vampires are sexy and cool again and don’t sparkle and marry cookie-cutter Mary Sues.

The vat of creativity in my head feels arid, like a desert, these days. I still have creative ideas to write about, but they are hard to articulate. I think writing about the fact that this is the way it is, is helpful for now. I compare my idea bank now to a sponge clinging to tiny dregs of water, but sometimes I remember how happy writing once made me and I squeeze that sponge for dear life.

Maybe embracing the memoir narrative is the first step.

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