Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Musing: Why I Write

It is early on Christmas morning, and I am awake, but it isn't like it was when I was a kid. I'm not up because I want to find out what is under the tree. I have no tree in my apartment.

Actually, I am up because I have had a touch of some sort of virus lately that has me congested, unable to breathe. So I am awake before sunrise on Christmas morning, like when I was a boy — although, clearly, not for the same reason.

It is cold and clear this morning. The forecasters have said it will be warmer today (but very windy), which would make it one of the milder Christmases I have experienced in Dallas. I didn't grow up here, but I spent most of my Christmases here visiting my grandparents and my parents' old friends, and I have spent most of the Christmases of my adult years here, too.

That doesn't make me an authority on Christmas in Dallas, but it's close! And, more often than not, Christmas in Dallas is cool — even cold at times. I remember a few warm ones when I was growing up, Christmases when my brother and I could go outside and play in shorts and T–shirts. We could climb the pecan trees in my grandmother's yard unencumbered by winter coats.

A couple of times when I was growing up, my family drove to South Padre Island near the U.S.–Mexico border to spend Christmas there, and it was always nice and warm (today, for example, the temperature is supposed to be 71° in Brownsville, close to 80° tomorrow and Saturday).

Anyway, this morning I have been listening to Mannheim Steamroller. I don't know how long they've been putting out Christmas albums — decades, I suppose — but I have one that came out nearly 20 years ago. It is the only purely Christmas album in my collection. I have Christmas songs that various artists have recorded, but they are always part of more general albums.

I remember when I got this album. It was about six months after my mother was killed in a flash flood. I was teaching journalism in Oklahoma and commuting to Dallas on weekends to see about my father. On one of my weekend trips, I heard "Pat a Pan" on the car radio and decided I had to have it. It has been in my collection ever since.

Listening to it really can be an exercise in free association. When I hear it, I think of those days after my mother died, and then I think about her (although I am sure that she never heard this album) — and that leads me to thoughts of my childhood. Mom was my biggest booster, and I am sure she must have encouraged me to take the path I took in life — writing. I have worked at other kinds of jobs, but writing has always been at the core of who I am.

It is a path that has led me to the job I have today as editorial manager for a stock–trading oriented website. I am very happy to have that job on Christmas 2014. Of course, I guess an argument can be made that, after slogging my way through the last six years following the economic implosion, I would be very happy to have any job. And I suppose there is an element of that. But the truth is that I like the people with whom and for whom I work.

Not everyone can say that, and I really am thankful for my job. It allows me to write for a living. I know some professional writers who fret about a lot of things, including writer's block, and writing becomes work for them.

Not me. Writing has always been fun for me. When I have some spare time, I would just about always prefer to write about something. I write three blogs (one of which is this one) so I always have an outlet for any inspiration I may have.

That's what it is. Inspiration. That must have been what my mother encouraged in me when I was little. Mom was about creativity, which has a symbiotic relationship with inspiration. She taught first grade, and I think most of the people who came through her classroom and their parents would tell you she was the most creative teacher they ever knew.

After she died, my family received hundreds of letters from old friends scattered across the country, a few even halfway around the world. One friend who knew her when she was a teenager sent us a letter with some photos of Mom participating in a play in junior high or high school. In the photos, she was clearly hamming it up in her usual way, and the friend remarked in his letter, "I always thought that, if Mary had not gone into teaching, she would have gravitated to the stage."

A career on the stage might have satisfied her yearning for creative outlets. She found other outlets, one of which was encouraging me to write. I had other influences along the way, but I am quite sure she was my earliest. When I was in elementary school, she arranged for me to take piano lessons, which I did for many years. I haven't kept up with it, but all that practice made my fingers quite nimble, and I am sure it contributed to my typing ability, which has been valuable to me all these years. I have certainly found it to be an advantage since personal computers took over the workplace. Many of my colleagues still hunt and peck, but I took typing in junior high and I already had the advantage of several years of piano lessons under my belt.

Of course, typing alone is not the same as writing. Simply stringing words together in grammatically correct sentences is not the same as writing unless you explore related ideas and themes. That is something I have worked on for years, and I really think it has paid off. I have people who read my blogs all over the world. Some sign up as followers who are notified whenever I post something new; others just pop in from time to time to catch up on what I've written.

Occasionally, they write to me. One wrote, "I can't wait to see what you will write about next."

I suppose that sums up how I feel about writing. I often know what I want to write about; I just don't know what I will say about it until I sit down and write.

That is the pleasure I get from writing — discovering what I think or how I feel as a result of writing about it. Sometimes I honestly do not know how I feel about something until I start writing about it. Sometimes, I am as surprised as my readers at what I think.

And it is appropriate to think about that on Christmas — because that is a gift my mother gave me.

Thanks, Mom.

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