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Beginning Under the Hot Kansas Sun

I’ve been asked many times about my writer’s story. In fact it came up as a class assignment so I decided to share it here.

My writer’s bio, not only for my personal blog but for any published writing, tells a quick version of how I came to consider myself as a writer. Growing up under the hot Kansas sun, Deanna Keller spent many hours sitting under the apricot tree with her nose either in a book or writing in her scruffy notebooks, carefully composing stereotypically bad teenage poetry with a number two pencil. Exploring writing as an adult, she found her voice blogging about her observations and musings surrounding life under the pen name, Avie Layne, which she has done for the past seven years. Additionally, she has been blogging for The Journey Seeker and has been a guest blogger for OMighty Crisis. Creative Writing classes at college opened her eyes to the idea of short stories for young adults and ignited new writing passion--many based on the stories of her parent’s poor childhood growing up in the Ozarks of Arkansas in the late 40s early 50s, while others have been based on her own crazy life. While these facts are true, when I think of earlier memories of writing, I think back to first grade and Mrs. Newsome, in connection to the physical act of writing due to her comments on my poor penmanship. To a little girl who was the size of a 4-year old, this woman towered over me, not only physically (I’m still certain to this day, that she was 6-feet tall), but in her cursive writing, which was as beautiful as calligraphy. Try as I might, I could just not get my little hands to make that pencil flow as fluidly as hers. I still remember that teacher's remarks and how they made me feel at the age of six. Over the years, I worked extra hard to not only improve my penmanship, but to match that calligraphy style feel—a feat I did master. Perhaps that drive for the physical perfection of writing is what led me to burning that first red spiral notebook filled with dreadfully written rhymes. Though the poetry was horrible, it did helped me process events of my childhood and early teens.

I was the only girl in a family of six, with a neglectful, alcoholic father. He wasn’t abusive; he simply chose to forget or care that he had four children. Neither of my parents went to college, let alone completed high school. I still am not only a first generation college graduate, but also a first generation high school graduate. The saving grace of my childhood was the summers spent at my grandparent’s farm, deep in the Ozarks of Arkansas. Picture mountains, dense forests, wild animals, poisonous snakes and spiders, chickens, cows, pigs, horses, gardens, and NO outhouse. Cold spring water right out of the mountain and water melon seed spitting contests with my three brothers. Yes, I carried a notebook and pencil with me—many times simply writing what I saw around me, details about the day, or the irritation I felt at being picked on by my brothers. While I don’t recall seeing my parents write, I do remember seeing my grandmother sit at her kitchen table many nights, after supper was cleared away with a naked solitary light bulb hanging over her head while she wrote letters. On lined notebook paper, her writing was nothing like my first grade teacher—more spidery in appearance. But her telling of the week’s events to whoever she was writing to, awakened vivid images in my mind. She didn’t use big words, for she didn’t know anything except what she read in her bible. But she made the drudgery of a farmer’s wife come alive in those letters. I was the recipient of some of those letters during the school year. I would read those letters and be immediately transported back to their farm—its smells, sights, and all of the feelings that made those summers special. Simply in how she described her days and what she saw through written words. Additionally, it was also the stories read to me by my aunt during those summers that opened my eyes to how effective writing could be, especially when read out loud—a lesson I carry to this day as I frequently read my own writing out loud as part of my revision process. During the times not spent at my grandparents, my nose was always buried in a book or frantically scribbling in one of my notebooks (more awful poetry), as a way to block out everything around me. I wrote secrets and buried thoughts—not sharing what I wrote with anyone. I later burned those notebooks as well, but the idea of writing as therapy stuck with me. In burning those notebooks, I felt that I burned not only the idea of writing poetry, but also some of the events as well.

There was a writing gap between my teenage years and late thirties because I don’t specifically remember writing much aside from the occasional letter as I was busy raising my sons. Yet as the marriage began to crumble, writing resurfaced as a way to help process being tied to an emotionally abusive and controlling man. Needing to escape and retain my sanity, I began to write prose in order to explore feelings. Thinking back, having to couch the words in order to conceal what I was truly thinking and feeling, honestly made me a better writer. I went back to notebooks and a number two pencil as there was something comforting about the physical act of writing—dealing with the turmoil by means of carefully written words. A strange, though probably natural, progression occurred and for several years I found myself writing songs—both lyrics and music as a way to cope. Though I stopped writing music after my divorce, I am certain at some point I will return to that form of writing.

After the divorce, I was finally able to attend college—something I was not allowed to do. No longer would I be able to write what I felt, but would have to write for a different audience—a teacher, whom I felt would be judge and jury to my writing. Initially there were papers and essays that felt like having teeth pulled. Though the grades were good, they were dry, uninteresting (to me), and painful to write. However, the turning point was in my college composition class. The assignment was to research and write about something in society that had changed over the last 10-years. I selected zombies, as I found the rise of zombies in literature, films, and television fascinating. My fiancé and I spent many hours watching, dissecting, and discussing zombie movies. The assignment made an impact on me as the writer, for I had fun writing, “Zombies: Down with the Sickness—What’s Behind the Zombie Craze?” I discovered how to take the written  snarky "voice" from my personal writing and combine it with my professional/academic writing. I suppose that Jocelyn was my favorite instructor helped in this process. Later I spent three years mentoring students in her literature and writing classes and served as her intern over one summer. We remain close friends to this day. Though it was not an A paper, she still uses it as a demo for her classes to show you can have fun with writing. For the writer in me, Jocelyn has been my most significant supporter as she has become one of my favorite writers and continues to push me to improve my writing through her constructive feedback.

In my current happy life, from time to time my writing may dip into therapeutic, but more so because I am happy, it is driven but I am inspired by what I see, hear, and feel going on around me. Though I’m not writing through events of childhood or an abusive marriage any longer, life itself is full of wonder that drives me to write. Lately, my electronic journal is filled with notes and observations of restoring a farm and building a chicken coop affectionally known as Cluck Tower. You would be surprised at just how comical it is to take a woman who never did construction and give her a teacher of a woman in her late 60s who has spent her life around it. Toss 22-chickens into the mix and some of my writings have been comical: "Things I have learned from the chicken coop. Today’s progress and lessons learned. Sometimes it takes three people to rehang a door and four to install a U-shaped piece of siding when it’s the very last piece to go in (a crowbar is a necessity). Pounding metal fence posts is best left to a strong man. Watch where you walk when chickens are running around—not only for their droppings, which is ALL OVER THE YARD, but for their nosiness and constantly under foot. Finally, I can build a frame for nesting boxes nearly by myself…with a little holding help."

In addition to the craziness of restoring a farm, I took a gap year between my undergrad in English and grad school—a year in which I had planned to work on a book book/memoir called, “For the Love of a Boy.” My gap year passed and due to issues with a grandchild, the book saw very little work other than the sketches in an electronic notebook. As I laid out sketches and ideas for this book, I came to the realization that the males in my life have driven many of my life’s decisions and directions—father, sons, lovers, husband, and a new grandson. It was in dealing with the neglect, abuse, and other issues that set me on the path of writing. In this gap year, I have often asked myself if I would have started writing otherwise. I honestly can’t say with any certainty that I would have.

Though I have blogged for years (out of necessity under the pen name Avie Layne), I remember the feeling the first time one of my pieces was legitimately published. After years of writing, I was encouraged to start submitting essays I had written for publication. I was surprised (I remember squealing) when my first piece was picked up by Feminine Collective. Being published showed me that, though I had been writing to process my life, others were not only going through similar things, but reading what I had written somehow helped them to cope. I was always under the impression that being published was a confirmation of success and proof that a person was a writer. But for me, I never needed publication to authenticate who I am— a writer.

Incidentally, I still love to physically write in a paper journal with a number two pencil.

© Avie Layne 2012