I've been spouting a lot of nonsense about what a woman in her thirties does and does not do, but but I think the golden rule of thirties-ness is this: A woman in her thirties takes risks. Not just ones that involve food or new classes at the gym. A woman in her thirties puts herself out there in ways that the woman in her twenties she once was would never do. I think it is safe to say that I have recently done just that.
There hasn't been a time that I haven't wanted to be a writer. I remember sitting at my parents' typewriter when I was about four years old, banging away letter after letter on white paper, not realizing that the gibberish I was typing made sense only to me. I still have my junior high journals, my long angst-ridden rants of the unrequited love I had for S. English class was the only class in my school career it took very little effort for me to do well in, and the times I felt most successful as a student were the times when an essay was involved. When I lived in China, I often would have an experience and think to myself, 'I have to write about this!' Something in me makes me feel that I haven't experienced anything at all until I've written it down.
So, with thirty one years of writing and compiling, I came up with a... manuscript. It's a collection of stories of my time in China. In the three years it took me to complete, I have alternated between 'Hey, this is pretty good' and 'Yikes, this is really bad' in equal measure. I think part of me thought that, with my newfound woman-in-her-thirties confidence, I would wake up one morning and not feel dread at the idea of showing it to someone.
That time hasn't come.
I found out about a local place that offers classes for writers, and one afternoon while nosing around the internet I discovered they were offering a class for creative non-fiction. It took every ounce of courage I had to send a story to the author/teacher of the class, but I did it. And, lo and behold, I am now in the class. Where I have to let three other people read my work. And critique it. God help me.
Last Sunday I went to Kinkos to make copies of my manuscript to give to the other people in the class. Unless you too have gone to Kinkos and asked them to make copies of some of the most intimate stories of your life, you cannot understand how much I shook when I was waiting for my copies to be done. 'Don't read it!' I said to the cashier, who looked at me a little strangely.
When my copies were done, he called out, 'Ma'am! Your book is ready!'
My book? I was still wrapping my head around the word manuscript.
My first class was Tuesday night. I walked in there fairly confidently, but my confidence drained away with every multi-syllabic word used by the teacher. When it was time to hand my 'book' over at the end of the class, I was visibly distraught. With each pass to each person it felt like I was removing a piece of clothing, until I was completely (metaphorically) exposed.
They have four weeks to critique my work, and I'm trying not to spend every moment obsessing over what I expect will be their facial expressions while reading. It's hard. 'Be kind!' I had wanted to say as we walked out of the class, but I stopped myself. This woman in her thirties knows all too well that the truth is often unkind. I don't want kind-- I want honesty. I guess I have no choice to sit back, try to relax, and spend the next month basking in my nakedness.