Numerous Decades in the Making

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Ever since the age of thirteen, I knew I wanted to become a writer. Ironically, that awareness evolved after I received the quite justifiable punishment of losing my television privileges. While in the eighth grade, a totally depressing year of middle school boredom and teenaged resentment, I decided not to do my schoolwork any longer. Secretly, never once giving my family any hint of this illogical determination, I refused to apply myself. So day after day, I sat quietly in my classes, unnoticed as usual, and didn’t submit the slightest bit of homework for the rest of the quarter.

Not one teacher ever approached me to question this unspoken decision. I never heard from a single instructor who expressed any concern. So I just floated through that eerily undemanding period in anonymous fashion.

But when the parent-teacher conferences arrived, I knew those carefree days were over. That evening, I sat frozen on the couch, which overlooked our front porch, and waited with dread for my parents to come up the steps. The grim expressions on their faces said it all.

Immediately, they took television away from me, the easiest escape from all of the misery that I felt at the time. Until I could bring my grades back to a decent level again, every show imaginable would be off limits.

With that much-needed universe removed from me for the near future, if not longer, I did the next best thing to keep my imagination alive. I learned how to write.

Before this fiasco of my own making had unfolded, my father decided to bring his clunky IBM computer downstairs to the dining room. Tucked in the corner, this mammoth, black machine collected dust without any use. So while my parents and brother watched their shows, eating and interacting together each evening, I pulled the typewriter out in the next room and began concocting stories for some company of my own.

Admittedly, these tales weren’t the best, by any means. Choppy and undeveloped, to say the least, they involved characters whom I named after the Maine towns that surrounded our Portland home. The plots were nothing extraordinary either, often based on romantic storylines from “General Hospital,” my favorite show at the time. But writing proved to be therapeutic, enabling me to create my own world as a release from an unhappiness I didn’t know how to define. And when I showed the finished stories, which were sometimes many pages long, to my dad, his response completely changed the way that I envisioned my future.

I remember sitting in the dining room with him as he read. At one point, he looked up, his eyes widened, and said to me, “You could be a great writer some day.”

Those profound words have been imprinted on my mind, deeply woven into my thoughts, for almost forty years now. To this day, I don’t know exactly what he saw in those rudimentary pieces. But his encouragement shaped the identity that I wanted for myself.

As with everything that’s worth striving to achieve, though, this path has not been easy. And while I’ll always remember my father’s response to my stories and his loving inspiration that spanned numerous decades of my life, I have plenty yet to learn. That’s the one aspect of writing that I love the most. Through practice, I can always keep growing. It’s a resolution I take very seriously, too.

With my very first novel, a murder-mystery titled Detached, coming out in September, when I’ll be three months into fifty-two years of life, I think of my father often and with immense love. He didn’t live to see me reach this moment, but he’s been with me all along. And I hope one day, at some point in my writing journey, I can live up to those crucial, wonderfully hopeful words that he said to me so long ago.

Alisa Burris

Alisa Burris is a literary fiction author whose work depicts alienated lives with glimpses of mystery blended into the narrative layers. Her novel Detached explores how three vastly different women cope with the trauma of a violent murder in their townhome community as they face private secrets of their own. In addition to writing stories that reflect today’s complex world, Alisa holds a PhD in English. Her dissertation specifically examines the fiction of Jewish-American women authors in the context of the cultural estrangement that they personally experienced during the twentieth century.

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