Throwback Thursday (Or how my Richard Leakey crush led me to writing)

Well, this is embarrassing but here it is, my Throwback Thursday reminder that a) I don’t look good in really long hair and b) my younger sister will always be the more poised, polished and sophisticated sibling.


Yet, looking through old photographs today also reminded me how far I’ve come writing-wise.

Back in college I majored in English, because it seemed easy and I liked to read. I was on a track and cross country scholarship at the time and ate, drank and slept running, though I still read a lot, I read all the time: Riding out to track meets, in the morning after an easy run, during most of my classes. I favored myself a poet back then (another embarrassment) and devoured Adrienne Rich and Gary Snyder. I used to fantasize about how I would meet Snyder and he would fall in love not only with my long and messily-groomed hair but with my lyrical and unique poetic style.

Source: Frank Beacham
A young Snyder (also with messy hair–see the connection?)

The first poem I wrote for my college workshop was titled “Come, Eyes of the Night” and it was as bad, though probably worse, than the title indicates. The instructor actually choked (on laugher?) as he read it out loud to the class.

I wasn’t deterred. I wrote another, and then another, and yet another, and then I got a bit tired of writing poems that no one wanted to read, and by the time I was a sophomore, I had ditched English and decided to become a great anthropologist. I had a crush on Richard Leakey (sorry, Gary Snyder) and spent my weekends holed up at the library at Western Michigan University reading anthropology journals (Go, Broncos!, though I never went to any games because I was too busy fantasizing about going on archeological digs with Richard Leakey).

a richard leakey
This is the same and exact photo that was in my college anthropology book! Oh, Richard, how handsome you were!

Sometimes, though, when I became tired of reading about bones and death I’d sneak over the literary magazine section and read short stories and poems, and soon I was writing again, though secretly; most of my anthropology friend scoffed at the idea of literary writing.

Then, in a blink of a wrong turn, my life changed.

It’s was early evening and I was on my way to an anthropology conference and got off the stairs on the wrong floor and ended up in a room filled with people sitting on the floor and staring up at a woman with frizzy hair. This woman was reading from a book, so I plodded down on the floor beside a girl dressed in a peasant skirt.

“Is this the anthro conference?” I whispered to a girl, would soon become my best writing buddy

“Shhh, it’s A Reading,” she whispered back.

I had no idea what A Reading was, but I stayed. And soon I was captivated. The woman, who was Jaimy Gordon and taught at the college and would later go on to win a National Book Award, was reading from her first novel She Drove Without Stopping.

a jaimy gordon
Hi, Jaimy, remember me? I used to come to class barefoot because I thought that’s what writers did

The very next day I went to Gordon’s office, my latest short story clutched in my sweaty hands, and told her I wanted to be a writer. I admitted this shamefully, almost fearfully. She lowered her glasses and looked at me. I was a skinny thing (from all of that running) and my hair was green from swimming in a chlorinated swimming pool.

She skimmed over my story (as I sweated and fidgeted), looked up at me and said, “Welcome to the writing world.”

Well, it was a lot more difficult than I had realized. Writing bad poems was easy; writing carefully constructed short stories with plot and character development and realistic dialogue was quite another (not to mention the gleeful criticism from fellow classmates). Still, I kept with it and my first finished story (by finished I mean I worked on that damned story for over seven months) won the school’s literary magazine award.

It was titled This man, this man who waits, this man who waits for me and was very Joyce Carol Oates-ish, with long and impossible-to-read-without-gulping sentences; the story was about a young woman obsessed with an anthropologist.

I secretly dedicated it to Richard Leakey.

8 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday (Or how my Richard Leakey crush led me to writing)

  1. I’m always interested in hearing how other writers “got the bug.” In some ways it’s like learning that you were born with a secret birthmark. Always in you, and you only have to discover it.

    The trick is, what do you do once you find out?!


    1. Ha, ha, Kevin, you live the doomed life of a writer and no one else except other writers understand why you persist (stubbornly persist!) in doing something that takes up so much time yet offers so little in the way of financial rewards. Cheers and keep up the good fight, okay?


  2. I love hearing about how you found your niche. Now look at you with a published novel! I wonder what that professor would say to you now!!

    I wrote a lot when I was a kid. It was mostly journals for myself, but then I stopped when I went to college. I’m not the best writer, but I found myself missing it. I began blogging during chemo treatments, mostly like an open diary, then it morphed into a running and hiking blog……

    It’s funny how things we loved when we were younger keep finding us again.


    1. Karen, from reading your blog for the last couple of years I have to say this: You are totally a writer. You have such a lovely writing voice–it’s why I read your blog, not for the running or the photos, though I do appreciate those. It’s for your writing voice, which is friendly and a little bit intimate and unselfconscious, and you also bravely allow yourself to become vulnerable which, in my opinion, is the greatest gift a writer can give to a reader. So thanks so much for that. Cheers and writerly hugs,


  3. Best Throw back story!

    I want to write more, but my brain is fried from the J.O.B. and so, I must sit on couch and watch new adventures of old christine and pine for college men that didn’t discover me during commercials.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s