Into My Own: My Story as a Writer, Part I – How It Began (1985)

Into My Own – Robert Frost (1913)

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

Robert Frost began his fabled poetry career with this poem, the first in his collection, A Boy’s Will published in 1913 by Henry Holt and Company in New York City. When I look back on how my poetry career began with its reliance on cliché and painfully forced “abab” rhyming quatrains, I discover my invitation to steal away into my own vast woods, fearless of what I would find. Frost’s first poem articulates my journey perhaps better than I ever could. I should expect this, really, as growing up in New Hampshire, Frost serves as the first distant poetic forebear in my life like that unknowable and elusive relative who captures the imagination of a young child. Of course, Frost wasn’t a relative, but provides the first introduction to poetry for, I can imagine, any child of New Hampshire. We all read “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and deciphered the significance and metaphor of “And miles to go before I sleep” often with some degree of awe. As teenagers, we each vowed to find our road not taken that needed wear, knowing it would make all the difference. High school yearbook kind of stuff, right?

My story as a writer, though, begins with a letter I wrote to my friend, L, reflecting on an amazing summer experience with our group of friends. It had been the idyllic carefree summer of youth; we all had nicknames based on the Wizard of Oz, had spent seemingly endless hours together at the pool and beach, and generally existed in that plane of existence where nothing really mattered except being together, silly romantic trysts and heartbreaks, and laughing. We weren’t yet in line for the Captaincy of the swim team, we just needed to swim our events and play our part. There were older kids to look up to and younger kids to teach the cheers. We were learning who we were.

Amongst other things, my niece was born that summer and I became affectionately called Uncle S; I came into my own as a swimmer and won the state championship in 100m breaststroke; I visited my best friend and his family in Oxford from where we travelled to Paris, Rome, and Florence; and I was given a proper introduction to U2 and Simple Minds while watching Live Aid and later Tears for Fears, discovering the first musical voices that spoke to me on a deeper level than Rick Springfield, Foreigner, or Phil Collins.

And, I started writing. As that letter to L drew to a close, I became inspired and wrote a poem titled, “Always Remember” complete with those clichés and rudimentary rhyme schemes. Upon completion of writing the letter, I ran down to mom and dad with youthful enthusiasm to read them this poem and reveal my newly discovered talent. Now Frost I was not, but my parents listened with kindness and said their equivalent of “that’s nice, S.” I went back upstairs to my room oblivious of the patronization. I didn’t care, I had discovered something important in me, I had discovered the opening in the stone wall that would enable me to get past those dark trees that scarcely showed the breeze. I figured out how I was going to express the things that never successfully escaped my brain or my heart and was on a path to either open land or a highway.

Over the next months, I would come home from school, throw down my backpack and just write, typically while listening to music. Each poem was sacred and once complete, numbered, and put inside a three-ring binder to save for posterity. If I recall correctly, L, who was in 8th Grade and therefore up the hill at the middle school and I, in 10th Grade and at the high school, couldn’t see each other as often as we did during the summer. So we bought a spiral notebook, took turns writing our missives and would swap it out in the bus turnaround at her school at pick-up.

In this notebook and on these loose numbered pages, I began the writing repetitions that fanned the flames for creative expression in me. Everything around me became poetry and I could hardly contain the ideas. At some point, the binder became full of all the teenage angst ridden thoughts I needed to get out, like poison, from my system. None of them were any good, but what they lacked in quality they made up for in significance. When I tell my children how important it is to write the crap, I draw from this experience. Whatever the quality, these poems were IMPORTANT, so important I wouldn’t even touch pen to their paper again letting them live in their own sacred space as if inspired by some divine element… even if they were mostly crap.

Sadly, during one of my moves with the Navy, the movers lost those poems; an entire file cabinet of stuff that mattered to me, gone. I was heartbroken, in a way, and would search the same corner of the attic or basement or garage over and over hoping that I had just missed the file cabinet or had put them in some other storage box that I hadn’t remembered. They are gone. Fortunately, a move or two later, I discovered my old Macintosh SE floppy discs that contained everything from those folders and notebooks that I had typed into my first computer bought for college. A computer science professor converted them to a DVD for me to upload onto my home computer. My friendship with L sadly faded over the years although Facebook has notionally reconnected us, but we won’t be passing notebooks again any time soon. And most of those early poems never made the cut once I moved away from pen and paper and started using this new fangled device called a computer. What remains of that time are only a few poems, including this one:

Always Remember
September 10, 1985

Summertime is gone
With it the sunshine
There will be a new dawn
With it new sunshine

Life does not end
With one season
Look around the bend
You will see the reasons

Don’t forget your new found friends
Or your old renewed friendships
Never forget our summertime trends
Be ready to sail on new ships

Life is meant for living and loving
Keep on learning and discovering

You must carry on
Without written lines
Because there comes a new dawn
And with it new sunshine

Remember trust and love
And with them patience
You will see a white dove
True love will make sense

Remember, Summertime is gone
With it the warm sunshine
Soon comes the awaited dawn
With it warmer sunshine