Those of you who know me in person already know the story. You have probably heard it enough to even know the way I tell the story: the specific words and phrases that have become as much a part of story as the ideas they denote.
Sign, Signifier, Signified.
I was a writer once.
I won a college award or two. I got a poem published in The Iowa Review; it was my shining joy. I took classes, ran the literary journal on campus, planned for graduate school. I fell asleep with words in my head and some nights I woke up at midnight, one, two, five in the morning, frantic, full of hope and desperation and too many adjectives.
You have to understand, I was a writer once. This university was a celebrity to me: sexy, funny, smart, and way out of my league. It was the best writing program in the country. I wrote agonized love poems and memorized its schedule. I dreamed. So when I say, I got a poem published in The Iowa Review, that's what it means. It means it looked at me once, and smiled.
I was a writer once, ten--almost eleven--years ago. I was 19. I was taking beginning photo. I was taking intermediate photo. Then I was 20 and I was taking advanced photo and studio lighting. I bought a 4x5 camera, and I always smelled like fixer. I had stained everything I owned. And I slept through the night.
It felt like I had lost my words.
I stopped writing. I exchanged English classes for ceramics, design, sculpture. I got a job at a photo store after graduation. I began to tell the story to myself, of how I had been a writer once.
Now I am turning 30, and in my last year of graduate school. I am in the photography program. I make pretty pictures. I'm good at it; people like them. I tell the story, to myself, to others, about how I had been a writer once, but not anymore. I gave up words for pretty pictures. It goes along with the story about living in an apartment in Berkeley with a girl who worked in a sex dungeon, or the story about my teenage rebellions. These things are part of where I come from, they explain my blue hair, the leather corset in my closet, my lack of art history credits in undergrad.
So when I tell you that I am in a graduate writing class at this university, it doesn't mean just that. It means this semester, and last semester, and everything I have believed about myself for the last ten, almost eleven years, for nearly all of my adult life.
And when I tell you that my first workshop went well, it means everything.