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Excerpt, Essay 9, Adult Beginner

(An essay about learning to swim… and learning to write.)

My decision to pursue my “craft” was not always obvious to those close to me, and when I am sitting before a monitor beaming back at me the computer equivalent of scribbles, I can see and hear my friends as clearly as if I were holding to my ear a shell that echoed their words.

“So exactly, what crafts do you do?” asked one friend.

“Craft. Writing,” I responded.

“Writing?” she asked. Her eyebrows leapt up and knit together; her mouth pursed. “You do that?”

“Never mind,” I replied, feeling cross and small. Screw you, I thought. Screw you.

I do everything I can think of to screw them, to send the skeptics and their leaping eyebrows far, far down into the watery drink. I tape a list of “the aspects of craft” to my computer monitor, I read and re-read essays about structuring nonfiction works, I write down every comment shared in my writing group and rewrite my notes when I get home. I study In Cold Blood so many times I memorize the hanging scene. When others in the group write better than I do, I let jealousy the color of seaweed wind through my brain, and when I read an awkward sentence or paragraph I know I could have swum circles around, I let myself feel a small hard knot of pleasure, no bigger than a cockle shell, something I can rub my fingers over when I need succor.

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