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It's 6:42 on a Sunday morning in Gainesville, Florida, the sun barely tinting the sky with a faint band of pink and orange from its spot just below the eastern horizon. I'll be boarding a plane in eighteen minutes, returning home to New Hampshire. Around me, fellow travelers stare or doze, some sprawled supine across the molded plastic seats. As for me, I have my laptop out. I'm writing.

pov.writing.jpg
Gilbert Ford

I'm a writer. Always have been, ever since I grasped that fat red pencil in Mrs. Gardner's first grade class and carefully copied the alphabet onto yellow paper. I loved the precision of staying right atop the line as I wrote capital A, B, C; the way the small g's tail would reach down and touch the line below, the way the capital S's center curve would slice its space exactly in half. Then I learned that letters marched in order to make words, and words made sentences, which formed paragraphs, and pages, and stories. I was hooked.

I've always heard a voice speaking to me, a narrator deep inside. On an icy winter night when I was six, my mother called me in to dinner. I suddenly dropped down in the snowy field and stared at the star-scattered black sky. A voice said to me, "River of mystery, flowing along ..." Listening, I recognized a poem—three stanzas. I had only to write it down when I got home. That was the beginning.

Through junior high "editorship" of an underground newspaper, through angst-filled high school diary entries, and on to Brown, where I added Brown Daily Herald sports coverage to an already full plate of English papers—I wrote. Easily. Joyfully. Pounding a manual Smith Corona, Wite-Out at hand, I never tired of writing—even when I'd dragged myself back to the dorm after hockey practice followed by a stint flipping burgers until 2 a.m.

As I read for my English major, I learned the craft of writing. The right-brain art, the left-brain structure. The architecture of a story. The beauty of words, alone and in sentences, the way they fit with one another and create a rhythm that can build to a crescendo, or fade to a tuning-fork whisper. I came to value style over story; John Updike could write anything and I'd weep over his perfect prose. Reading my assignments, I felt as if I were gripping raw earth in my hands, joining a group that loved words and knew how to use them. I was becoming a writer.

After Brown, I did the only thing I knew, the only thing I wanted to do: write. For small weekly newspapers where most headlines involved either the zoning board or the high school basketball team. And where the Smith Corona gave way to an Apple. I turned to commercial writing, and for eighteen years have been writing catalogue copy, newsletters, sales pieces: any words my company, King Arthur Flour, needs put in print.

I've turned my hands to blogging now, my fingers rapping out six blogs a week for two different corporations. I blog about baking: about brownies and bread and biscuits, about how to make the ultimate birthday cake. I blog about breast cancer, encouraging my fellow survivors to take hold of their lives. To keep moving forward, past that desperate diagnosis and on to better things, to a good life after cancer. And even now, tapping on my iBook, I feel that same rush I did nearly fifty years ago, when I lay down in a dark winter field and heard a quiet voice tell me a poem. I'm a writer; it's what I am, as much a part of me as my Irish smile and graying hair. I'll never stop—never.

And I guess that's the definition of passion.

P.J. (McKearney) Hamel lives in Lebanon, New Hampshire.





Comments (1)
09/30/08
 
While I did not attend Brown, I am enthralled by P.J. Hamel's articulate words about how one writer became, or always was, this mysterious, powerful thing so many wish to be. How encouraging to hear her tell her story of how following what came naturally to her as love, even passion, in the form of a poem, has ended up directing her life and her career. Writers must write; they can't simply want to write. Whether baking bread or surviving chemo, Hamel expresses what is important--sometimes lovely, sometimes horrifying--about being human. In this, she helps all of us, writers or not. Brava!
 
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