Putting my Stake in the Sand
My name is Christine Beck and I’m a writer
The stake is small, posed against the enormity of sand and endless ocean. It has a jaunty red life preserver, a spot of color, a circularity that reminds me I’m connected to writers from Homer to Shakespeare, from Emily Bronte to Cheryl Strayed. Hubris? You bet.
Who said I could call myself a writer? The Committee Of Bar Examiners of the state of New York, California and Connecticut said I could call myself a lawyer. The state of California, where I was married, said I could call myself a wife. Three birth certificates issued by the state of Connecticut said I could call myself a mother. The University of Hartford said I could call myself an Associate Professor, although today I have been reduced to Adjunct Instructor. Southern Connecticut State University told me I could call myself a Master of Creative Arts in Poetry. The town of West Hartford called me Poet Laureate.
But not “writer,” not plain-old unadorned “writer.” That takes gumption. Or as my Aunt Louise said when I told her I was pregnant with my third at age 41, “you’ve got more guts than good sense.”
Taking the title “Writer” means discarding all the other titles.
It’s not as if I haven’t written and published before today. I have. I’ve set some crooked fenceposts in the sand, markers as I put my foot in the metaphoric waters. In 2008, I published “Forensic Evidence in Court: A Case Study Approach” with Carolina Academic Press under my “lawyer name,” Christine Beck Lissitzyn. The book evolved from a course I taught on forensics at the University of Hartford paralegal program. I’ve sold some copies. I’ve gotten a few royalty checks.
After I completed my MFA degree, I published “Blinding Light,” a poetry collection that braided poems about my becoming a Jehovah’s Witness and musings about Jesus’ mother and my motherhood. Two shorter books of poetry have followed. But I’ve always had my other titles to fall back on: I’ve never stood at water’s edge, a 70-year old wind-blown woman, ready to take the plunge, to claim Writer as who I am.
Today, my “writing” takes the form of personal essay, an expansive form that allows for personal reflection and vulnerability in a way law or poetry does not. I hope my legal training will keep my work organized and on point, while my poetry training will let my work breath and escape the confines of pure narrative.
Unlike Lawyer, Mother, Wife, or Professor, I don’t know how I’ll define success. I suspect it won’t be in royalties or a book tour. But I join the company of women I admire: Penelope Lively, still picking up the pen each morning at age 85, or Amy Clampitt, a poet who published her first book at age 63. Or the countless writers who we revere today who died without knowing people would love their work years after they were dead.
Consider the workers who created the tapestries that hang today at the Cloisters in New York. They worked from the underside, creating inch by inch scenes of a hunt for the unicorn, the maiden, the foxes, the motion and drama that would eventually emerge on the front. They worked by hand, plunging in a needle, working one piece at a time. Trusting in the process. Connecting threads of different colors. That’s what I aspire to.
How do I know this is the right decision, right here, right now? Who told me so? I think back to a childhood experience. When I was 10 my mother converted to be a Jehovah’s Witness. During a next seven years until I left the Witnesses, I learned a lot about feeling different and not fitting in. Part of the Jehovah’s Witness theology involves a war of Armageddon when everyone who isn’t a witness will die and the earth will be transformed into a paradise. A select group of 144,000 people (the number comes from the book of Revelations) will be transported to heaven to rule with Christ over everybody living in paradise on earth. How do we know who they are? Better yet how do THEY know who they are? The answer is God told them. These “anointed” signify they’ve been called by standing up at an annual event called the Memorial.
When I saw Lucy Finkbeiner stand up I wondered, “how does Lucy know she is of the 144,000?’ I wondered whether anyone had stood up at the Memorial who was been so obviously unqualified to be a ruler with Jesus that some elder had had to pull him or her a side and ask: “what did Jehovah’s voice sound like? What did he actually say? When did you first hear this voice? Is he speaking to you now?”
I am not saying that God told me I am a writer, but somehow I know this to be true in the depths of my soul — perhaps the same way that Lucy Finkbeiner knew she was of the anointed. I believe that writing is a form of soul work that connects with a power of creativity that is a mystery to me.
Here is my writer’s contract with you, the reader:
• I will write and publish regularly thoughts that strike me as important that will hopefully connect in some larger mosaic which, like those tapestry workers, I cannot yet imagine. I will strive to strike a chord of resonance in you.
• I will be curious, not critical. If I have a choice between sounding vulnerable or smart, I’ll choose vulnerable.
• My essays will be short.
• I will not write about politics.
• I will not write solely to promote my own ego.
• I will not to write about anyone else’s story unless I conclude that the good that would come from telling their story far outweighs the invasion of their privacy.
Today I’m putting my stake in the sand: My name is Christine Beck and I am a writer.