Writer's Identity

May 29, 2008
By Judith Ezike, Newark, NJ


My head jerked to the sound of the powerful voice, and I quickly removed my hands from sight.

The voice belonged to the strong tall figure approaching my way. To my young four-year old eyes, she had to be almost six feet tall. The blue nun’s cap on her head belied the angry and almost cruel fire blazing in her obsidian eyes. I could hear the swishing noise of the wooden beating stick brandishing through the air and clapping into her large hand.

“I didn’t do anything,” I quipped as I saw the nun come my way.

The nun said nothing but forced my hands in front of her and looked at my prettily painted nails. I knew I had it. Vanity was definitely not accepted at Mc Dona’s School in Nigeria.

Despite some of the grim and sticky recollections I carried from my school in Nigeria, I brought with me a strong and sturdy upbringing that allowed me to have a large personality; strong and sturdy enough that it was okay for me to be wild and free. When it came to writing I was everywhere just as my personality had been. For example, I would write on the newly painted walls when my parents specifically told me not to. I would paint my nails when it was heavily forbidden in my school in Nigeria. I would throw tantrums like a four-year old would until I received the object of my desire, like ice-cream or a doll. With all the guilty pleasures that came with these events, I would write grandiose stories that were so far-fetched and ridiculous that even Dr. Seuss would cry “nonsense!” But as ridiculous as these stories were, they matched my wild and crazed behavior. And with this example, one can safely conclude that one’s writing usually made up one’s identity. For me, it made up my entire person. As a young child, even as young as two years, I scribbled wide colorful loops on the walls to show my loud and vibrant personality. I wrote for the sake and joy of writing just as I lived for the sake and joy of living, damning the consequences along the way. I was so full of life. As a teen, my writing is more control and in order to show off a rather developed and slightly blunted personality. I would freak out when the writing did not seem “right”. I did not just write, but scrutinized my work.

As I matured I noticed my writing did too. Sometimes when I look back at my work, I saw a growth. It was a rigid growth in which could be marked by some of the experiences in my life. My lively being was dimming. Now it has become uptight and closed. I never listened when other people told me this but I did listen to the seemingly urgent cries of my writing. In other words, when my stories demanded attention and editing, I would come to it and attend to it. The words would seem to call to my attention and so would my friends, family (who constantly complained about my lack of desire to spend time with them) and sometimes schoolwork. In the end, I gave most of my time to writing. There just never seemed to be enough time to perfect words that needed perfection. I could not waste too much of what little time I had on silly social gathering and bothersome homework.

Before I hit seventh grade I wrote all the time because I could. In third grade it was the same way until something unexpected happened. There was a city-wide story contest being held at the local library and my teacher made each and every one of her students participate, including me. It was just another trip with my imagination for me. I wrote a simple picture book about a tiger and a spider, a most uncommonly couple, called Anansi and the Jealous Tiger. I had fun with it, played with words, and enjoyed drawing and coloring in the characters. It was pleasant; it was only a meager task for me to complete for my teacher. It was me being carefree and simple. That was how my life was then, nothing intricate and difficult. I was still that daring girl from Nigeria with a strong built background to fall back upon. I was proper, I was “smart,” I was a well-trained girl, and only good things happened to those kinds of people. They never submitted to the whims of evils or misfortunes, and as a child I believed that was my fated background. When I handed the story in, I did not know that the judges at the library would find it worth recognizing. It surprised me to find out that I won second place out of hundreds of elementary students who submitted their entries. Naturally, I was excited and elated. But winning that contest meant no more than a pleasant treat. I was too carefree and loose to understand what this meant about my writing. I had a gift, I had potential, but my philosophy as a nine-year old was just to continue living life and move on. I wrote about silly things and I saw life as a silly thing, but little did I know about what would carry on in the future that would dampen and destroy that image.

That image I carried as a youth darkened when I hit my preteen years. My silly doodles became more serious. The seriousness of my writing was only an experiment, but when I saw that I consistently received A’s in my writing papers, I too became more serious. My growing conceitedness led me to read more adult novels, something I thought forbidden for my young person. I usually brought them home from school and read them alone in my room. My parents never bothered me with these books. I read through so many kinds of novels that they did not even bother to keep up. The adult novels that I did bring home had a great impact on me. It was their length and twisted plots that grabbed me the most and showed me the cruelty and complications of life. Still a bit hardheaded and optimistic (I refused to write about sickly and pessimistic themes as my behavior suggested and so decided on a more optimistic approach), I picked up a pen and began to write a light mystery novel hoping to accomplish a story as intricate and interesting as the V.C. Andrew books that I sometimes read. The story I attempted was called The Missing Math Teacher. At first I began with a composition notebook and pen, finding a computer a bit too arduous and a chore. I was almost through the whole story when my father brought in a typewriter from his work into the living room. Later on that evening I saw it and automatically claimed it as my own. I was already transferring my story into it.

As my story became more detailed and mysterious, I developed some odd behaviors. I would always type alone and in no time became a hermit in my own home. I would hardly go out to hang out with my friends. I found my writing to be too good and much more deserving of my time. While others were out there partying and doing sleepovers, I was sleep deprived and writing-obsessed. Sometimes too much of a good thing was a hazardous thing.

As strenuous as my own writing became, I did not stop. Even today I realize the danger. With it demanding so much of my time, it was slowly becoming troublesome. I did not need all that weight on my back. I was a growing adolescent and as any growing adolescent, I required a healthy dose of fresh air and some form of freedom. Thus my greatest talent became a prison. I could not do anything but write. I could not escape that world. But something happened along my years and into high school that added even more weight onto my back. I became to observe people, not because I was some weird stalker, but because my writing demanded it—especially if my new project I was working on was to be any good. Reading books just did not seem enough anymore. I needed more resources and I found real people to be the best kind. Their difficulties, their expression, and even their clothes told a story that I could possibly use for my project. I listened in to their conversation, watched how they moved, and the exact way they spoke. With so much of my attention just observing and writing I quickly became tired and developed a desperate need to rest, but I could not think of abandoning my work.

While studying people for the sake of my writing, I became a bit depressed. My friends and peers still lived in their fun and carefree world while I struggled just because something seemingly trivial as words forced me to. I grew into an awkward child, and I believe I still am. I hated to be around too many people. If I found myself in a large crowd, I would worry and my mind would spin as though I were claustrophobic. However, I was not afraid of tight spaces but afraid of becoming part of something my writing was trying to capture. My presence would only ruin the picture. My words knew that I was awkward and very different, as if undeserving of the attention from the very stories that I was attempting to write. Being around the specimens that I was trying to cover would somehow taint the scene. All my confidence and arrogance I carried as a preteen deflated. It is a very deep and humiliating thing to admit but it was true. I was obsessed with my writing, and it could never be good enough for my ever growing brain. I just had to write more, read more, and observe more. I was no longer a human being but a tool and my writing the person. That good thing was suddenly consuming me. Because I did not practice control over my beautiful talent, it controlled me.

I grew up with an insatiable appetite for the Language Arts, hoping to merge with it and become one with it. It did not end up that way. Instead, the Arts became my puppeteer and my master. Writing made me gaunt and almost unexciting to be with. My identity was my writing. I never thought my writing good enough anymore since the beginning of my mild depression, thus I never felt good enough either. There was always someone else better than me. As much as I do not want to admit it, this is a common experience for many people. Certain things define certain people. They want to perfect that thing which makes up their identity. When obsession comes in, everything turns ugly. I was once that girl that wrote loosely because she was so reckless and free. Now my work, for the most part, has gone serious and gray, like my very careful and near solemn personality, but I love my talent. Descartes believed in mind-body dualism. He preached the famous quote ‘I think, therefore, I am.’ I now know that I believe in it. Writing was all I ever thought. It was what proved that I existed. Even now, I am not sure of whom I would be without it.

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