Mary E. Latela, November 28, 2015
I began to write because I had a wonderful English teacher in the eighth grade, the late Elizabeth Connellan. Besides all the readings and memorizing vocabulary, our teacher emphasized good writing, including creative writing. In the fall New Haven, (CT) where I grew up, used to have a Harvest Festival, which centered on the big football game between the rival teams of Hillhouse and Wilbur L. Cross HS. Along with the game were poster contests, poetry contests, and the Thanksgiving Prayer contest, which was especially for junior high students. One day in class, we were given our assignment, to write a Thanksgiving Prayer, which would be sent in to the citywide contest. I WON! I WON! I WON!
I was flabbergasted! A reporter from the New Haven Register interviewed me, asked about my family and my interests. Dad accompanied me. I was featured in the newspaper and in the official program book for the weeklong celebration. Then we went on with life as usual. However, I started writing for contests, civics, speeches, debate club.
I started writing creatively after my cousin Andy died. I know that I idealized him after he was gone, and that it took a long, long time to accept that he was a very good kid, almost another brother, who was stricken with cancer before there were effective cures. I wrote a 12-15 page set of essays and some poems. I kept them with my diary, which was another type of writing altogether.
My voice was silent at home or silenced. I was not thought to have anything worth saying. In the religious community, reading novels or writing poetry was considered frivolous and worldly. After five more years, I was bursting from my shell. It wasn’t delicate like a chick hatching from its egg. It was like an oozing, dripping wound, which never closed.
As a young adult, I wrote a great deal. I wrote the facts because I did not dare explore my feelings. After the marriage, after the children came, I decided to take up my writing again and see where it led me. I wrote poem after poem, about serious subjects. My interior life, which had been full to overflowing thrived on the writing.
S (Spouse) hated and resented this. He thought reading was a waste, forbade it (but we all know how to secretly read what we want to read.) He thought writing wouldn’t bring in any money. Then I shifted into longer manuscripts, the “inspirational booklets.” S would not let me buy typing paper (even though, who do you think typed his thesis on an organic set of chemicals?) He wouldn’t let me buy stamps. My friends gave me paper which they bought for me; I “stole” stamps from the big tolls we kept. I sent out manuscripts with SASE (self-addressed stamped envelopes), mailed them at the mailbox down our driveway, and hoped against hope that the returns/rejections would arrive on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, so that he wouldn’t see them. By some good alignment of the stars, S was on a business trip when I received the letter of acceptance about publication of my first book. The kids, Mom, Dad, and I went out to lunch.
He was abusive, mean, and violent. Despite this atmosphere, while I was home taking care of our children, I was able to resurrect my passion for writing. Working in secret, and very hard, I was published regularly for my self-help, “inspirational books.” Then, one day feeling discouraged about the writing game, I decided that everything I write would be with the intention of help others. In addition, life changed… not overnight, but within two years, my first book was published and thirteen more have followed.
After the divorce I was really isolated as my ex-husband kept the children away from me, the children whom I had cared for night and day since their birth, whom I had taught, had listened to, whom I still cherish. I tried for the third time to do graduate school, working on my counseling skills, and I wrote. During that period, I wrote a little booklet in a month and it was grabbed up quickly – one of my best.
These days I have quite a number of projects in mind, and feel a need to prioritize. It is hard work; I love it; sometimes it makes me VERY happy; other times it exercises my critical thinking; other times, it is like a “feather on the breath of God.” I write what I write, because I just do. And I have to write. It is my gift. I do not compare with others, or judge others, and I try to be patient with myself.
I was finally able to address the stuff of my childhood with a terrific therapist…. I worked hard! He worked hard! My friends stood by me. My parents and I were not speaking. The children were not speaking to me.
This is not what I planned. This is a messier version of the well-ordered life I wanted. This is a crazier (I use this word not as a mental health term but as slang for “confusing”) place than I ever expected to be, geographically, mentally, and emotionally. It would be really nice if my dear ones cared more about my writing, but I can’t help that …. I do not do magic.