by Janis Patterson
What makes a writer? Is it genetic? Or the way we are raised? Or something we choose that we feel we must follow? Or all of the above?
To begin with let me say I am the third generation of a wordsmith family. One grandfather was a small-town newspaper publisher in a time and place where that was a position of power. Both grandmothers were at one time teachers. My father was editor and/or publisher of several Texas newspapers, taught journalism at Texas A&M (he also separated the journalism department from the English department and made it a separate discipline) and, with my mother started and owned one of the top 300 advertising agencies in the US. My mother was an English teacher, a play producer and a magazine columnist. I started working in the family agency when I was nine – as a stripper, no less. (And no, it’s not what you’re thinking, but it is a great line to use at a cocktail party!) I graduated to writing copy when I was twelve.
Obviously I didn’t have a snowball’s chance of becoming anything else but some variety of wordsmith!
But was it nature or nurture? Yes, our house was full of books. It still is. The Husband and I live in a house with two dedicated libraries and a hobby room with five enormous bookshelves. For that matter, little drifts of books stacked on the floor and almost every flat surface seem to breed in our house. But not all readers become writers, so I ask again, is it nature or nurture?
I don’t know, but the question did strike me a couple of days ago. I was going through some papers of my late father’s and there, between two of the radio scripts he had written long ago, was a copy of my birth announcement.
It’s a simple thing, a plain white piece of paper with black print with a left-hand fold so it opens like a book. On the cover is the image of a book with the title “Janis Susan – Announcing a New Edition – Best Book of the Year.” There is also a picture of a rather startlingly disgruntled looking stork in a top hat and glasses. I always wondered why he had such a peculiar look on his face.
Open the ‘book’ and it says “The Author and Publisher proudly announce the issuance of their 19XX (no, I’m not going to tell you the year!) edition entitled Janis Susan May.”
Below that, it says “Author – Donald W. May – Publisher – Aletha B. May.”
Below that it says “Publication Date – (the date of my birth) – DeLuxe Edition, with pink and white binding weighs X pounds X ounces (I’m not going to tell you that either, then or now!). Cover jacket – white, removable. Reprints and Second Editions not available this year.”
See? I was doomed from the beginning. Nature or nurture makes no difference, for when one’s beginning of life is announced as a book, one really has no choice but to become a writer.
In the for what it’s worth department, my father did the announcement himself. He had a telling wit and I personally think the concept hilarious. My sentimentalist mother loathed it and, once recovered from her ordeal, sent out very proper handwritten announcements herself, probably confusing a lot of people as to whether the Mays had had one child or two.
Sometimes, knowing the many dichotomies of my nature, I wonder that myself. But then, I am a writer.