Letter From The Editor
Never Too Late!
-January 3rd, 2014-
2014 has begun.
For this “Literary Rat” the first days of the new year are particularly poignant for me more so than years past.
As some in my inner circle may already know, I made the difficult decision not to retake the GED, a test for students (In the U.S.) who weren’t able to graduate high school to attain certification which allows the student to be eligible for accredited college admission, and despite exceptions, it’s getting increasingly harder to begin a meaningful and reasonably profitable career without going to college, and as of January 1st, 2014, the test resets and becomes harder and more expensive to take, I took the test in 2012 but didn’t pass a few areas.
If I take the test again, I’ll be paying more to take it and I’ll have to begin again, and it will be harder, and desptie what some people told me, it wasn’t “Easy” before the change, and at this time, I can’t stomach taking it again.
I’ve never been a great tester.
But the weight and importance of this test weighed heavily on me.
It sickens me at times that this country, America, my country, is putting more stock in testing in general more than the actual living, breathing, people who take them. That teachers across the board are being constrained and chastised for not bringing up test scores more than giving the joy and tools to learn effectively.
It’s downright insulting that we on the one hand put prospective teachers through a decade or more of schooling and training only to get them into a classroom of kids or teens, and then tell them how and what to teach like they spent the last 10 or 20 years of their lives and no NOTHING about teaching.
Why should all teachers be marginalized because a few aren’t effective?
It takes a lot of courage to admit this. Because I’m a novelist at my core, and a lot of what I write is for children, this absent feather in my proverbial cap is especially hard to bear. But in 2014, I’ve made a necessary decision that will get my head and heart in better unison,
As many authors, educators. and avid readers already know, author Kate DiCaMillo (Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Desperaux) is the newest “Ambassador for Young People’s Literature” and as past ambassadors have done, each author has particularly focus or theme they champion during the time this period.
if I ever hold that title, I know I have three competing ideas for what my focus as embassador. Until I have to make that decision, I’ll use T.A.A. to champion a specific focus for the year. That focus is in the text under the image in this letter I type-
NEVER TOO LATE!
Too often we put deadlines on ourselves to motivtate ourselves to take things seriously. Or we have to live with deadlines set by outside pressures, be it school, work, parenting, etc. But speaking solely for myself, more often than not deadlines only add pressure, pain, and guilt that I don’t need. It doesn’t make me a better writer. It doesn’t make me a better person. It only produces stress that keeps me from making any effort at all. Or I second guess myself so much it’s really not funny.
I may very well have Charlie Brown beat in terms of how wishy-washy I can be at times…
But from this year onward, I will make my personal AND Professional motto be: Never Too Late
Our newest Ambassador for Young People’s Literature knows a thing or two about the words “Never Too Late.” It’s no secret many great writers today and in the past knew from an early age they’d be writers somehow, someway, but many like Kate came to her journey as a writer later in life.
As impatient as I am, and as much as the writing process demands patience, something authors who’ve been through the slogs of querying and drafting book after book for YEARS with no sales or reaching other key milestones too easily forget is that some of that impatience is positive!
While I could count off countless authors who didn’t publish until they were 50+, that’s really not the point I wish to make, the point I make in saying all this is that it’s not bratty impatience that spurs our desire to be authors, it’s that we know we don’t have forever to achieve our goals as writers.
Despite what some “Old Pros” in the business say, I’m full aware of my mortality, and while I can’t speak for all twenty-somethings, I’m speaking solely for me, and just because I may have more “Time” than many of my author friends who are as old or older than my sixty-something grandmother (my stand-in parent) that doesn’t mean my impatience comes from wanting things “Handed” to me without working for them.
I worked 10 YEARS for my first sale. As much as the phrase “One book doesn’t make you writer” is true, you still have to start somewhere, and I wish older writers would understand that some of the impatience is not because we don’t want to work hard. But it’s really hard to START. We can’t be authors without readers, and we can’t reach readers without our work being tight, and despite the advances in self-publishing, not everyone can afford that option, and for those of us who can’t write nonfiction, that only limits where we can submit our work.
Just like there’s ageism for experienced seniors, there’s ageism for us “Rookies” too!
But to all my honorable elders, please hear this, YOUTH ISN’T EVERYTHING!
You also need to understand that while some things may be easier than when you went to school and started working, a lot has changed, and if you don’t fit a certain mold, sometimes you get left behind, please don’t lump us in with the people who did give up without trying. I understand the need for accountability among teachers and students, but when people start DYING over stress from test scores, to quote Miss Clevel from the first animated Madeline special-
“Something is NOT right. Something is Quite Wrong. Something is NOT right! And so…I sing this song…”
What we have in youth we lack in experience, and it’s getting harder to get experience if you don’t meet certain criteria.
In closing, please understand I’m not against education, but my experience is no less valid than those who got the kind of education that others like myself would envy.
I’m grateful I learned to read and do some basic math (Which I’m still sketchy with at times) but didn’t have many warm and empowering moments as many of my author friends did, and many of them are retired teachers or are still teaching, and I hope nothing I’ve said comes off as dishonoring your profession. Teachers the world over are doing or have done a job I could never do.
As hard and sobering the road of a writer is, I at least have more of the freedom and self-direction many teachers today do not, and those who can spark engagement and joy in learning to kids and teens, in spite of the “Testing Absolute” environment many of us live in are nothing short of heroes.
So while I do my best to put the pain of my school experience behind me, I press on to forge my own path, and hope I won’t have to rely on family or government aide indefinitely, I will do my best to let go of the guilt and pain I had from my education experience, and not let it stop me from doing something with my life.
While self-education can’t solve all my problems, it will serve me, even if it can’t pay my bills and taxes: It still matters.
Self-education HAS VALUE.
I HAVE VALUE. Whether I have degrees or not.
While I wish I were more self-reliant financially, I’m doing okay, and one day I will do better than okay, that’s in my reach, and some days it takes extra special effort on my part to remember and believe that.
Take Care, and remember, it’s NEVER TOO LATE for you, whatever you want to do to better your own life.
Your Literary Rat,
Taurean J. Watkins
Talking Animal Addicts