By Ginger Moran
Ginger Moran is a teacher, published writer and single mom of two boys. Her areas of expertise are in fiction and creative nonfiction writing, editing, and creative survival. She holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston and Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English from the University of Virginia. She has published in Salon, Oxford American, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Feminist Studies among other journals and magazines. Her recent first novel, The Algebra of Snow, was nominated for a Pushcart Editor’s Choice Award. She edits the University of Virginia Women’s Center magazine, Iris, and serves as the associate director.
I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. Or I forgot that I did. My great-aunt Sarepta was the stand-in for my grandmother, who lacked all qualifications as a grandmother—softness, patience, willingness to cook things small children liked, a sense of humor, motherliness, for God’s sake. My great-aunt, though she had no children of her own, was an elementary school principal. That didn’t equip her for her role in loco grandparentis because she was a very, very strict principal, I heard all my life. As a great-aunt, though, she was very smart and observant and willing to sit with a small girl and, if not cook things for her—that didn’t seem to run in the women in my family, at least not that generation—then encourage her to look at birds, imagine that she was somewhere that she wasn’t, and tell stories about squirrels. I know about the squirrels part because the silly little story I wrote about Sammy the squirrel is in my box of precious memorabilia, written downward on the page so that it comes perilously close to running completely off the construction paper, two holes punched neatly along the left side, and bound with the hem tape old women had on hand in those days.
The reason I say she was smart was because she was—she had several degrees, had travelled to Europe, was the first woman principal in my hometown. Also, she was smart because she, unlike anyone else in the large, polite but secretly Gothic family I grew up in, noticed that I had a talent for telling stories. Well, maybe not a talent—“Sammy the Squirrel” is no contender for a Pulitzer. But a love for it, a desire, a longing to tell someone’s story for them, to put the word to the thought, to that particular piece of imagination.
My great-aunt died soon after I wrote “Sammy.” One night she got up to help her sister, a spinster too who shared her room and who’d had a stroke in the night, and my favorite great-aunt had a heart attack right after calling the doctor, dead before he got there. There was a run on the elderly family members those couple of years—both the great-aunts died, then both my grandparents. My mother had been ill too and pretty much everything went grey after that until the sudden intense flame of adolescence heated things up again.
Still, it wasn’t until my late 20s that I remembered that I liked to write. I was coming apart at the seams. In a fine, balanced relationship with a sane, loving, generous man and getting barmier by the minute, I was revisiting the fact that I was just contrary.
A second child, a natural rebel, unable to follow the rules although also deeply attached to pleasing everyone—I was all over the place. I’d smoked and drunk my way through my teens and done what I could to further the cause of free love throughout my early 20s. I’d also graduated magna cum laude from the University of Virginia, lived in Switzerland and become fluent in French, and taught two years of high school English. My father had disowned me for living with my first real boyfriend, then reclaimed me, calling my live-in boyfriend at the time his “un-in-law.”
You’d think that was the happy ending of the story, but, I’m telling you, I was going NUTS. I couldn’t drive, I was afraid of snow, of all things, which we didn’t get a lot of in the upper South, but enough to make my life hell, dreading its coming, drinking my way through the time of being unable to escape my cozy, lovely home. It had been years since I could fly on a plane and bridges and tunnels were virtually unnavigable for me. I had dream after dream of being locked in, in a coffin, in a nut bin or jail.
My therapist at the time astutely observed that something was wrong with me. He may have channeled my by then long-dead great- aunt because at some point he suggested that I start writing.
I had two degrees in English by then, was an accomplished critic, wrote journals of course, and read thirstily, hungrily, for identification, for redemption—and never thought about writing fiction.
I wrote. I took classes. I wrote very very badly. I wrote some more. Teachers were terrible to me. I wrote some more. One teacher said I was a good reviser. I wrote some more. The teacher said I should think about a PhD in creative writing. I had long since broken up with the boyfriend and he’d gone on to a lovely, loving marriage and kids. I flew to Houston with my grumpy dog. I wrote and wrote. Some teachers liked what I wrote, some didn’t. I wrote some more.
My first published novel, ironically enough, features snow.
Writing is one of the only things in the world where I will actually challenge my inner critic, who says with droning predictability, “What makes YOU think you can write.” And stare down my inner rebel—the one who says, with some regularity, “I’m not the boss of me!” The one who doesn’t want me to write, or do anything else that could be considered productive or pleasing to someone else—even to myself. The one who has her heels dug in, resisting, saying, as I try to move forward with one project or another, “I can’t tell ME what to do!”
Of course, I have to get up at ungodly hours, trick these bad girls before they’re actually awake and in full rebellious mode, and sneak attack a couple of pages of this year’s “Sammy the Squirrel.”
Hey, no one said this would be easy. I wanted to be a writer too. And, against my will, on a good day, I am one.
How do you combat those inevitable inner writing demons?