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By Juna Guetter
When I was a young girl, I loved words. In first grade I thought the word “girl” was so cool because you could spell it “g-i-r-l” OR “g-r-i-l” and it could mean a “young lady” or a “barbeque” and grownups had to figure out what you meant. You could just move letters around. Writing was so playful for me.
In those carefree days, as soon as I’d come home from school, I’d run to my big sheets of paper, sprawl myself on the living room floor with the box of 64 Crayola crayons I shared with my sister and draw flowers. Well, it was the ‘60s, after all. My vast imagination supplied me with images of flowers I never saw before until I drew them. Clouds could be white and they also could be blue. Did you know that?
Believing in six impossible things before breakfast, I’d grab some more paper to write poems. I’d look out my bedroom window or wonder about the day and poems would rush out of me. It was magic! And my poems rhymed. See?
“I can touch the trees, I can touch the sky, I can touch everything that is so high.”
~ Age 7
And then, on to the next poem. And of course, I’d draw pictures to go with it.
By age fourteen, poetry saved my life. Tiny inky squiggles drying over vast white beaches of paper became my private sanctuary where I could go to try to make sense of the mad world within and around me. A space of peace that transmuted my innocence lost into something more beautiful. Poetry danced my overwhelming sadness, my broken heart, my ebullient joy, my restless spirit and swirled it until the pain and insanity of my inner drama would subside…at least for a while.
Looking back, I cringe at the sweetness and the pain of that time. Such a heavy burden, this coming of age. To be sure, my heart smiles for that budding young woman who read other’s poetry and theorized, much like the spelling of “g-i-r-l,” that great poetry was just a crazy patchwork quilt of words that didn’t have to make sense. It was up to the reader to decipher the meaning. And now, just because it was a poem, didn’t mean it had to rhyme.
I can taste piano keys
The music’s so good
Because the sound
Of black and white smoothness
Makes love a melody
Just as love makes me
~ Age 14
Four years later, I was a new mother at age eighteen and enrolled in a Michigan liberal arts college. At the second mid-term, I was to write a paper for Philosophy 101. It was then that I reached back into my teenaged cache of words to keep me from the dread of writing a boring term paper. I didn’t overtly ask my professor to tell me more, but implicit in the agreement of enrolling in a course is the permission for him to do so. What he scribbled on the back page of my finely crafted paper went something like this: “Too sing-songy — I have no idea what you are saying here.” Suffice it to say, those words cut like a knife. It took me years to get over it. You mean you can’t just string a bunch of philosophic-sounding words together in varied and interesting ways and not get an “A?”
Fast forward ten full years of child-raising, moving three times and going back to university in Canada to finish my honors BA. Near the end of fourth year, I wrote one paper I was particularly proud of — one that my professor slapped a big letter “A” on.
That was all I needed to muster the courage to show it to my father, a retired English teacher. Smiling inside, I was brimming with pride and the proof that I finally wrote a paper that said something of substance! Funnily enough, I can’t remember that substance now, but hoped it would be the catalyst to spark a much-desired conversation with my dad.
Would he tell me more? Would he tell me what an amazing writer and thinker I am? Could we have an adult conversation about something that mattered to me?
After reading it through, my dad handed the paper back without a word, as if he were my teacher back in high school. I couldn’t help but gasp aloud, irked that he corrected all the grammatical errors with a pen! No matter how I tried to engage him in a conversation about the content, he just groaned. All he could offer upon further pressing was a rant about a paper this poorly-written should never have gotten an “A” in a fourth-year University course. Forget about discussing what I thought were my great ideas. I’ve finally been able to write a strong argument that actually makes a point, and now it’s about the grammar?
Which takes me to the present moment. Well, not quite yet. A few years ago, I got hired by a company to write copy for their course content. My employer said I didn’t have to know how to write copy, I just had to write well. I wrote for them for about six months and then realized I needed more help, and actually quit before fearing they might fire me.
All of this led me to take an online course on copywriting: The Copy Cure, by Marie Forleo. That course exemplified the importance of writing business copy that “connects and converts.” When I first put these tools of copywriting into action, I sent out an email that brought in $9,000 worth of business in one shot! Note to self: knowing grammar and writing well is worth pursuing after all!
As Søren Kierkegaard once said, “Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards.” As I seek to understand my evolution as a girl writer, I choose to embrace my inner seven-year-old who had no shortage of the joy of writing before she knew the rules. I choose to lean into the comfort of expressing my thoughts and feelings in the oceanic depths of the safe space of a first draft. And finally, I immerse myself in the satisfaction when my tiny black squiggles on a page connect and influence a person to action, inspiration, or a new way of thinking. In other words, if I have anything to say to myself and you about what I learned on the evolutionary path of being a girl writer, it is to get, from deep in your bones, the power of a well-crafted written work that inspires, moves, connects, and changes things. The whole world is like a blank page begging you to say more, sing more, be more! To be the gift you are in your unique way. My art just happens to be writing, for the moment. What’s yours?
Juna Guetter is a Michigander at heart, born in Grand Rapids and living there until her early twenties. Raising her family and living and working in Canada for the last 35 years, she’s the proud owner of Synergy In Motion, a coaching business that helps people bring their sparkle back. Right about now, she’s eager to get on the road and travel North America in her 25’ Airstream with her partner, two dogs, and gypsy cat, Nikita. What does she want more than diamonds? For you to know that you are a gift and an untapped resource for the changes you’ve been seeking.
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