On Writing, Education, and Comic Books
I feel very strongly about three things: Writing, education, and comic books. There’s a reason for all of this, but it’s a very long story. I never set foot in a real classroom until I was nineteen, and not a real English classroom until I was twenty-seven. As a child I received my education through homeschooling. This was for a combination of reasons, none of which are particularly interesting. When I reached school age we were living in a low income area with a notoriously poor school system; I also suffered from crippling anxiety, which made enrolling in school nearly impossible. My parents put me through art, dance and swim classes at the local recreation center, just to round out my education, but otherwise I learned at home.
From a young age, reading and writing was extremely important to me. I learned to read at the age of three. By five I was reading middle grade children’s books by myself, and at bedtime my parents read me J.R.R. Tolkien and Arthur Conan Doyle. At six I started reading comic books. At seven I began writing short stories about monsters and dragon slayers. I started sending them as contest entries to children’s magazines, but never won anything. At nine or ten, my parents bought me my first children’s word processing program, with clipart and formatting options for print. I wrote a series of fantasy stories and fairy tale parodies, around 10k words in all. Some of them are still in a box in my parents’ attic.
By the age of twelve, I was educating myself. My mother taught me prior to this, but once my younger brothers were of schooling age I had to teach myself while she tended to them. I woke up every morning, dressed, fed myself, and started my eight hour school day. My mother purchased used school text books every year, and I used them to teach and test myself. I read dictionaries and encyclopedias in my spare time. Once I exhausted them, I turned to Renaissance literature and Greek poetry. My mother said I was too young to understand it, so I took it as a challenge. Soon I was working through high school and later college text books. History, religion, art, science, even some medical texts when I could find them. This is what happens when you’re an anxious child, living in a very small town, left to your own devices.
During this time, I taught myself to write fiction. I mean, really write fiction. I didn’t have an English teacher, so I studied what I read to figure out how people were supposed to write. To figure out imagery and motif, symbol and metaphor. I studied comic books and film even closer, trying to understand visual narrative to the best of my limited abilities. That’s where I really began to understand writing, in trying to write what I see in prose, like translating a film to the page. I started writing short stories and fanfiction, longhand novellas that I mailed to friends and family. In high school my parents ended up with an old laptop, and I wrote around 500k in stories and books. When I was thirteen, I told my parents I would write comic books one day. My father scoffed at me. He hasn’t really stopped since then.
A lot of things happened to me during this time. A series of health problems cost me my teeth and my ability to work until my early twenties. Nearing college age, my parents enrolled me in a distance high school program to get my diploma. The school started sending me censures because I was completing the work too quickly. I never got a diploma from them, and instead paid for my GED myself. My scores put me in the 98th percentile. In college I had an English professor scoff at me when I told him I had a GED. He was a hack who taught from his own trashy adaptations of plays. He said GEDs were for losers and drop-outs. Still that anxious little girl from a small town, alone with a room full of books, I believed it.
My parents paid for the first two semesters of community college before they hit financial troubles, then I had to drop out and get a job. A year later I reenrolled and paid for school myself, but dropped out again before I could get my associates degree to help my struggling parents stay afloat. People made sure to chastise me for dropping out twice, for having a GED, every chance they got. I worked a series of dead-end jobs for years, published around fifteen short stories, and wrote and published a novel. I even wrote a comic or two. Along the way I suffered a fall that left me with permanent nerve damage and pain that I deal with every single day. It limited what I could do as work, and kept me working in abusive conditions because I had nowhere else to go. I was trapped. I was still a drop-out. I was still worthless, no matter how hard I worked and how badly I wanted a real, honest education.
When I was twenty-seven, I stayed up all night on the phone crying to my girlfriend because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get an education. I had bad teeth and nerve damage, and I would never amount to anything. With nothing else going for me, I applied for admission to the state college, just to see what would happen. I got in. I made the dean’s list and the honor roll during my first semester, and received small grants and scholarships for academic performance. I walked into real English classrooms for the first time in my entire life and felt at home. I was met by professors who were thrilled by my writing ability, and classmates who were jealous for it. Somewhere along the way, I started three more novels, finished one, and started reviewing comic books.
I still have a few semesters to go before I finish. I don’t know what I’ll do with my degree yet. Now instead of calling me a drop-out and a loser, some people tell me I’m stupid for going back to school. Others tell me I’m making an investment in my future. But I’m not doing this for them. I don’t write for them, either. I’ve worked, studied, and struggled my whole life – to educate myself when no one else could, to teach myself how to write when I had no other guidance. This is why I write. This is why I care about literature, be it a book or a comic. This is why I care about education. And this is why, no matter how hard you try, you will not stop me.