Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Cool" at last?

So, I was asked by one of my readers to discuss how I came up with the name for my blog.

I just read that statement again. Did I almost fool you into thinking I was a real official blogging person with readers and something to say and everything? Yeah, I thought so, too. I felt pretty official.

Anyway, there’s not much of a story, because it just kinda came to me. Just like that. And the rest, as they say, is a mystery. At least, I think that’s how the saying goes.

I guess the name really has two parts:

1.) Autodidact. I love the word autodidact. I think I first came across the word in my education class in undergrad and had this moment of “hey, I guess I’m an autodidact!” It’s one of those big words that makes me seem smarter than I am. Plus, the meaning of the word itself makes the whole thing better: I’m a self-taught person, and I can use big words to describe myself! Yeah, that definitely makes me cool.

2.) Poet. Poetry is a love of mine and always has been. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “poet,” but I like writing poetry, so maybe that puts me in the running to one day own that title. For me, poetry just seems to bypass all the unnecessary words and move into the core, such that it can move gently into the thought, touch it, and back away without all the fuss and commotion of a book or an essay. When you read a poem, you feel a change in you in the same way that you feel a change when music moves through you: it leaves a residue behind that lets you know something has changed you, even if you can’t say exactly how.

I started writing poems at age 4. My mom has it written down somewhere, I swear. It has something to do with spring and includes the words “hip hip hooray.” I have never been so bold as to include those words in a poem again. My writing debut, I guess you could say, occurred when I was published in Byline Magazine when I was still in public school in second grade. It was an issue on Martin Luther King, Jr, and my paragraph was…well…I guess, in a word…uh…profound. So profound, in fact, that I must have felt I was about level with Dr. King himself as my essay started, “I have a dream like Martin.” Yep, as a second grader, Martin and I were tight.

My first real, serious writing endeavors started when I was about 12 with my story entitled “Sam’s Chanukah.” Sam was a hippo who lived with his mother, father, and sister, Maxine, on Neighborly Lane (with a neighbor who wasn’t very neighborly). Sam had several adventures and became the protagonist of a series of stories, complete with illustrations. “Sam’s Chanukah” was the first, followed by “Sam Becomes Homeschooled,” “Sam’s Ballet Class,” “Sam Becomes Vegetarian,” and lastly “Sam Becomes Unitarian Universalist.” I kid you not. Sam went through a series of mishaps in each of these stories—some of which were true to my life and some of which I have no idea where they came from. I was a sarcastic little thing, and that really came through in my Sam stories. To be honest, they still make me laugh. I’m forever grateful to Sam, who taught me how to write dialogue, and taught me about character development. My mom still holds out hope that Sam will become a children’s book series someday. I’m not so sure; whatever muse channeled Sam to me at age 12 has long since moved on to other 12 year olds writing series of stories about Josh the orangutan who takes up meditation, or maybe Rosie the rhino’s visit to a mosque. Or maybe not, and I was just a really strange child, which is more likely the case.

In all of this writing that was going on, though, I never remember anyone ever “teaching” me to write (hence the claiming of the title “autodidact”). Being homeschooled, my education was pretty much me teaching myself a lot anyway. However, I started taking classes at the community college when I was 14, and took my first creative writing class when I was 15. This was a college level course, with a bunch of college age students, and one older woman (Joan). Joan was also in my art class and, seeing as we both stuck out and we had two classes together, she thought we could be friends, and we could have been. Except for the fact that we couldn’t because Joan was, in a word, annoying.

At 15, my goal in life was to blend in. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do that very well when my mom and sisters had to sit down the hall because I couldn’t drive yet, and the college insisted my mother stay on campus while I was in class. Then, in one class, we could get extra credit if we voted, and everybody looked at me funny because I was the only one who couldn’t get extra credit because I wasn’t old enough to vote. My teacher made a big deal of this, and stated repeatedly that I would just have to study harder than everyone else as he wouldn’t offer any other extra credit (which I didn’t need anyway…so there Dr. Kerr). I also looked very much 15, and very much not 18 or 19. I was shy, I turned beet red insanely easily (some things don’t change), I was still really pretty awkward, and I just wanted to go to class and get out as unobtrusively as possible. And then along came Joan. Joan sat behind me in creative writing, and her pencil seemed to be permanently lodged in my back.

“Does anyone want to share what they wrote?” Ms. Noel would ask. Jab. Joan’s pencil would stick into my back, right between my shoulder blades, causing me to jerk, which in turn, caused my face to turn red. I would, of course, say nothing. Sharing what I wrote was the last thing I ever wanted to do. “No one?” Ms. Noel would push. Jab would go Joan’s pencil until, finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and she would say, “Laura has something to share. I think she wants to share hers.” I swear everybody would roll their eyes as I read. If I wasn’t cool already, my writing made me totally cool, let me tell you. It fit right in. Everyone else wrote sex-crazed poetry and short stories about…well…one guy (yes, guy), wrote a short story about tampons (yes, tampons), while I wrote poems about the leaves changing colors and a story about a young woman who turns out to be an angel. I hated that creative writing class. I learned nothing from it other than how to provide writing feedback to 19 year olds who had worse spelling than my little sister, and how to lose older women who want to be your friend which, I guess, were skills I needed to learn.

How did I achieve this latter goal, you ask? Easy. Joan and I were standing outside of the classroom, and she asked me what church I went to. I told her I was Unitarian Universalist and was met with the typical blinking of eyes as people attempt to understand or interpret that.

“Ohhhh,” she said, blinking and pausing. “So you mean you’re not Christian?”

“No,” I said. Keep in mind that I really didn’t like Joan, and was getting the sense that I could turn her away pretty easily if I kept going in this vein. So I did. “No, my mom was Christian, but now she’s Buddhist, and my dad is Jewish, and we’ve been going to the UU fellowship in town for a couple years.” This is all true. I didn’t lie. I just provided more information than was probably necessary.

“Ohhh,” she said, blinking some more, and trying to sound like all of that actually made sense to her. “So you’re NOT a Christian. Huh. And you’re such a NICE girl!” Her voice evidenced true surprise.

As I said, I was a sarcastic little thing, so my response was something along the lines of, “yeah, funny how that works.” Joan’s pencil never touched my back again.

So, I finished my creative writing class a skeptical, ever popular 15-year-old, and vowed never to take another one. I did try again when I was actually in college for real, and it was a better experience due to the lack of Joan-type people, but I still didn’t enjoy it much. And now I just write. I rather like this whole blogging thing—there’s nobody sticking pencils in my back; I’m not required to provide feedback on anyone’s stories about tampons or otherwise; and I can write about the leaves changing colors, and anyone who may roll their eyes can do so in the privacy of their home. Plus, I have readers who do things like ask questions they want answered, and that makes me feel—in a word—"cool."


  1. That class sounds horrible. Although I am impressed you took college classes at 15 :)

    You didn't actually define autodidact - I had to look it up. I would have done so before, except it didn't occur to me that autodidact was a real word. Had I known, I would have guessed what the title meant. Guess you learn something new every day :) The word when broken down into its Latin roots seems easy to define, when you think of it - auto, self, didact, teach.