Tuesday, 18 June 2013
My Writing History
By Lyn Burnstine
When I was seven, I wrote a poem called My Calf. It was eight lines and two stanzas and was published in a church newspaper. I still have the yellowed copy.
As a schoolgirl, I always said that I wasn’t always great at multiple-choice questions but give me an essay question and I would ace it every time.
In high school, I edited the newsletter and the yearbook, the latter being more of a graphic arts project than a journalistic one. (That was in the days of cut-and-paste for photos and text–how much easier and better it would be now.) It helped prepare me for my next writing project.
I applied to the local newspaper for a part-time job they were offering to a student. It was just a few week-day hours after school. My job was proofreading some copy and writing a column about the goings-on at the high school.
Over the Christmas season I was sent out to ask local merchants and people on the street about their ideas for Christmas shopping. I was shy and the population was only about 4,000 anyway, so I doubt that I found anyone much except store clerks to quiz.
When I entered college, I felt I had to make a choice between music and writing as my major. Music had been a passion since early childhood when my parents agreed not to keep me waiting any later than seven years old to start piano lessons.
By college age, music had become my identity, as it has remained all of my life. I did, however, make it into the advanced writing class as my freshman English requirement. I failed miserably; I had just discovered boys at 17.
For a while, most of my writing was in the form of love letters to my future husband, in stateside service as an airman in the Korean War. For nearly 20 years afterwards, the only writing I did was of letters, especially the yearly tome I sent by snail mail every Christmas.
The saved copies provide a good record of the activities of my family during that time – only the good times, not the bad.
Near the end of those 22 years, I had begun a freelance music career for myself – quite by accident. Then and for a long time, I wrote all my own publicity and promotional material as well as for coffeehouses that I ran simultaneously.
Gradually the written word became more and more an important part of the musical worship services that I continued to present until I was in my sixties.
Most of that writing pre-dated the computer age for me. A big white electric typewriter sat on my desk until finally it was replaced by a gift - an early Apple word processor.
As I gradually wound down my musical career, I was able to spend increased time and effort on writing. I had begun a book that sprang from several dramatic presentations and papers I had written on the life of a woman minister of the early 1900's, Anita Truman Pickett, an amazing trailblazer who had been ignored by Unitarian-Universalist historians.
I received a grant which gave me a deadline to finish the book that I had been writing in fits and starts even as I was saying, “I can’t write a whole book!” I could and I did and it was published by Skinner House press in 2000.
Meanwhile I had begun writing personal essays and I published two books of memoir in 2002 and 2004. I had, by then, joined writing groups and begun to give readings and workshops.
I wrote for a senior newspaper for a while, was the editor of a folk guild newsletter and got sucked back into the world of promotion and publicity for folk concerts after a long hiatus.
Now, having retired from that and from making music myself, I am happy with two writing groups and a literary café to keep me producing something all the time. I am regularly featured on this elder blog and I am grateful for it.
My writing group of the longest duration is made up of both women and men, but my weekly workshop that I lead consists entirely of women my age - 80, give or take a few years.
We lost our dear, eldest member, Shirley, recently. She was 92.
And yes, I have written my obituary, although it keeps changing, so I have to keep writing.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]