My childhood library – Henderson Library in Torrance
I learned to process cultural differences through words. I swallowed whole shelves of books in the public library so I could taste my new surroundings and absorb its nuances and expectations. I copied text directly from books into my notebook, hoping that the mere act of copying English words would transform me into an American. It was futile, though, since my family didn’t look and function like the homes depicted in my favorite Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books. But I read books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and other coming of age books, and I dared to dream.
I created my own world through my journals. By writing down my thoughts and feelings, I was able to make sense of my experiences growing up as an Asian minority. Looking back at some of those journals now, I realize they were filled with the doodles of a typical teenager: my first crush, best friends and enemies, my weird family. They were also filled with self-doubt, hope, and hunger to belong. How do I fit in? What will I need to do to be successful here? Why are we here in America? What made my parents decide to come here? Writing in my journal was a journey of trying to understand myself better.
When I went to college, I took my first writing class. I had fulfilled all of the requirements for my major in government and was planning to go to law school. Being an attorney seemed like a fitting career for someone who was good at writing, and I didn’t know what else to do with my life that would be marketable. I took this college writing class for fun, but it was one of my favorite classes because I could express myself.
One piece I clearly remember writing about was called “The Den Mother.” I was the Head Resident, or resident advisor, of my college dormitory. I wrote about counseling young women who had left home for the first time and were coping with a new environment. One freshman was so depressed that she swallowed a handful of pills and I had to call the infirmary to treat her. By writing about that incident, I was able to understand better what that young woman must have been going through, and recognized that we all have insecurities in new settings. Writing was therapeutic, but I didn’t have time to pursue it further when I went to law school. After entering the legal world, writing became purely analytical writing, and I had to put creative writing aside.
Tasting Life Twice
It wasn’t until I had my own children, and started talking to my grandmothers and learning about their incredible stories, that I wanted to write again. I remembered the power of books I read as a child to transform me and allow me to dream. I wanted my grandmothers’ journeys to be written down so my children and others could learn from them. What I didn’t realize as I started writing their stories, was that I actually enjoyed writing, and that the process was healing. I had forgotten about my earlier attempts at writing in my journal and my college writing class.
I don’t want to write what someone else tells me to write about anymore. I want to write creatively for myself and for others who might be experiencing similar things. There will be days when I may want to give up, or doubt my abilities, but I will make writing a priority. Actually, I read recently that the writing process makes you happier. I want to write because it makes me feel joyful to be alive. As Anais Nin said, “I write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
What is your passion?
Has it brought you joy? Please feel free to share your passion here, as I did with my writing class.
SETH GODIN is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. You might be familiar with his books Linchpin, Tribes, The Dip and Purple Cow.