This confession may go against the grain when it comes to writers, but, here it is: I never set out to be a writer. Sure, when I was younger, I wrote, and I enjoyed telling stories. Looking back on my childhood, there were signs I was meant to be a storyteller, but then...things happened. For example, in Grade Three, I wrote a story about a cat named Smartie, and read the story aloud during our class’s weekly story time. Smartie the Cat was a hit, and before long, everyone in the class was writing stories about Smartie. I was less than pleased about this first experience with plagiarism, but rather than asking the class to write stories about characters of their own creation, my teacher decided to ban Smartie the Cat from the classroom all together.
And that was my first experience in censorship.
It was also one of the first times I remember being silenced, and, because I was the kid I was, sensitive and insecure and odd, and who, most days, wanted to be a horse rather than a girl, I assumed I had done something wrong. That I deserved the silencing.
By the time I was in middle school, I pretty much felt like I was doing something wrong all the time. I didn’t act like the other kids, and I didn’t think like the other kids, and I liked books a lot more than most of them, and I still wanted to be a horse. I tried being like them, I really did, and only ended up getting bullied, or trying so hard to fit in that everyone thought I was really weird, or really arrogant, or a big know-it-all. I probably was, but I was also desperately trying to figure out how to fit into this great big puzzle called life.
And the figuring-out part wasn’t going very well.
I’m not sure where it happened, but somewhere along the line, between middle school and adulthood, I decided that whatever I had to say wasn’t really worth saying. So I stopped speaking. Oh, I said words (sometimes), but those weren’t true words. They were a mask, a front I presented because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. And so, I held everything inside of me, all my thoughts and feelings and wonderings about the world. By the time I went to university, I was completely lost. I felt like I was wearing a skin that was squeezing me, compressing my true self, and sooner or later, all that would be left was a little hard raisin that was once me.
What I didn’t know was that some part of me is a survivor. While I was doing my utmost to kill the parts of myself that scared me most, another part of myself was cradling them, holding them closer, and saying: Just wait. You’ll need this voice. You just have to find it again.
The finding of that voice took me years, and then, it took even longer to start writing. In fact, I only started to write because I was teaching singing and went through a series of events that confirmed what I suspected: I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do. So, what, exactly, was I supposed to do instead? I wasn’t sure, but writing was there, waiting. It was free, for one thing, and I didn’t need to go back to school to do it. So, one night, I started to write a story. Before long, it was a novel, and then, I started to write another story.
Now that I have a few novel under my belt, I see a theme running through them. My stories tend to be about characters who have been silenced in one way or another, and need to run the gauntlet to find their true selves again. All my characters are broken and scarred, and desperately need healing, and that healing process isn’t easy, or pretty, or nice. But they’re good souls, these characters, with good hearts, and when they learn to stop hurting themselves, when they begin to listen to their own truths and speak those truths with clear, honest voices, they begin to mend.
I think this is my way of healing that past self, that girl who always felt so odd and out-of-place, who was told she was too sensitive, too bossy, too quiet, too weird. It’s a work in progress, finding that voice, but writing is where I find truest self.
And that’s why I write.
PS: I still want to be a horse.
And, like Cassandra, the main character in SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, she's Métis, though she didn’t learn this until a few years ago, and she's still learning. For example, Tawnshi! (That means hello in Michif…)
These days, she lives in Nanaimo, B.C., home of the famous Nanaimo bar, and shares her home with her ultra-supportive husband, Mikel, and their two cats, who are frequently featured on hrt blog, much to their delight and/or chagrin. She's never quite sure, but figures at some point, they’ll let her know.
Her novel, SHADOWS CAST BY STARS will release June 5, 2012 from Atheneum (Simon & Schuster).
Find Catherine Knutsson online: Website / Goodreads / Twitter / Facebook
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