In middle school, I discovered my deep and abiding love for the English language, and subsequently for writing as well as the intoxicating nature of foreign languages. I was mediocre at many things, and very few subjects held my attention. For nearly twenty five years, language and communication have made me tick despite an ongoing propensity (see: The Little Magpie) for chasing disparate shiny objects.
In high school, an incredible AP English teacher (thank you, Mrs. Northcutt) nurtured my love of the written word. I was riveted by A Gathering of Old Men (Ernest J. Gaines), Bless Me, Ultima (Rudolfo Anaya) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston). Heart of Darkness captured my heart in its wicked way, and I became enamored of John Steinbeck and, particularly, Ernest Hemingway.
And so, I entered a writing contest here and there, and I made exceptionally high marks on any written paper in college. Not thinking this could lead to much of anything other than a hobby I ought to shove aside, I finally pursued a far more practical French degree with a side of Spanish.
By the time I was 22, I had landed what felt like my first grown-up job as the director of tourism for a city. One day, a statewide publication called and the result was a guest article on our city’s explosive growth. It made the cover, and it was an extensive multi-page spread. There was no pay since I wrote it in my professional capacity, but it was priceless. I could hardly believe it. Someone published my words.
I cautiously ventured to the editor – barely able to believe the words were coming out of my mouth – that if an opportunity arose, I’d love to write again. She asked about my preferred topics, and without missing a beat I heard myself reply “Food, wine and travel.”
Suddenly, I had ongoing pieces with the publication, and they mailed me checks. I still couldn’t believe it. Out of concern that I still be perceived as the face of the community I represented despite writing an occasional glowing review of a restaurant outside our city limits (as well as some sort of fear that my antics might be discovered), I wrote under a pen name.
Other opportunities arose with other publications, and in 2009 I discovered blogging and began coasting down that slippery slope. Increasingly, I heard myself pitching to publications and contributing guest posts. I have churned out many, many words on many platforms since that first article was published in 2003, but I always considered it a hobby and not to be taken seriously.
Last year, I served as a panelist for the Arkansas Women Bloggers Conference with two of my favorite wordmongers: author Kyran Pittman of Planting Dandelions and Angie Albright of A Growing Season. We encouraged the women in the room to find and hone their voice, to act boldly and to toss their words out into the world. These muses of mine talked about identifying oneself as a writer, and of not hiding from the word. I was stunned.
I’m not sure I contributed anything meaningful throughout the entire session. I realized that I was standing at the podium and ignoring my own edicts. I had never once referred to myself as a writer over more than two decades of published work and bylines.
It didn’t happen immediately, but in the coming months I quietly added the word to a profile here, a social media account there.
I now regularly contribute to publications – ironically – on food, wine and travel-related topics, among others. Most amazing of all, I regularly receive checks for this thing that makes my heart sing. It’s not my day job, and it probably never will be – I have no plans for the Great American Novel (although there are a few other ideas simmering).
This month, I completed my favorite piece to date – an article on Chef Miles James of James at the Mill, the Inn at the Mill and 28 Springs Restaurant. Ironically, I had the opportunity to write about him and his work with Ella’s at Carnall Hall (no longer a property he is involved in) exactly ten years prior. In the November 2013 issue of Arkansas Life, my words take a complete back seat – rightfully – to the stunning photographs by Hatch & Maas Collective and the artful dishes concocted by Miles and his talented team. However, it was a delight to write and we rekindled our friendship – I now work with Miles and his team regularly.
It would seem that when you throw your heart into things you love, good things follow. Something along the lines of “Listen to your heart, and your soul will sing.”
And so I am doing just that. It’s sort of a moveable feast.