Writing on a Dare.
The man ascended a steep mountain, his long white beard flying in the wind. As he arrived at the top, he paused, took a flute from his sash, and started playing. The melody bounced off the surrounding hills, filled the valley below and made the tree branches dance.
As I sat with my eyes closed, I knew this old Chinese man embodied me, and the notes from his flute symbolized the writing I was meant to put out into the world.
I came out of my trance—a friend had led me through a hypnosis exercise—and felt hope stirring. My vision, unprompted, had materialized so vividly it must mean I’d fulfill my destiny. I wouldn’t throw it away as I had done so many times before.
I’d been smothering my talent for fifteen years. I had discovered it, like many others, when a language class teacher asked us to write a story every week when I was 12. The teacher always read mine aloud, graded it A, and told my mother I would go far. When I graduated middle school, the nuns offered each girl a Charlie Brown board book with a dedication. Mine said, “To a future Nobel Prize in Literature.” Talk about expectations. Then came high school and boys took the place of words.
Oh, I dabbled in writing. I kept a black and red notebook where I scribbled poems and lyrical fragments, re-reading them so often I knew them by heart. I even wrote daily for a few months in my early twenties, when a severance package allowed me to stop working and my live-in boyfriend—a committed writer—modeled the habit. But my discipline went out the window as my boyfriend went out the door. Gin tonics, salsa dancing, and boys—again—replaced words.
After the hypnosis session, I walked back home, the dreamy landscape and lyrical flute still echoing inside me. When my latest fling arrived, I told him about my vision.
“That’s horseshit,” he scoffed. “I don’t think you’ll ever write.”
“What do you mean?”
“You keep saying it’s your dream, but I never see you writing. You’re deluding yourself. You want to be famous, that’s all. You must not even like to write.”
“That’s stupid. Of course I like to write!” My voice shook with anger.
“Then perhaps the issue is that you don’t know how to write.” He sneered.
“I know how to write, and I want to be a writer!”
“Prove it to me. I dare you to go into that room and write a story right now.”
I got up without a word, stormed into my studio, and slammed the door. After pounding the typewriter for two hours, I picked up the four pages I’d produced, and went back into the living room.
“There.” I threw the pages on his lap. I had written a 900-words short story I didn’t even know I had in me. He read it in silence. When he finished, he whistled.
“You ARE a writer,” he conceded. “And a good one at that.” A mischievous smile crossed his lips. “You just needed a little push.”
That short story would be published seven years later as part of a collection, but twenty more years dragged on before I took to heart the first piece of advice every aspiring writer gets: If you’re serious about your craft, you’ll need to sacrifice other things.
Having left gin tonics and boys behind a while back, when the gap between my dream and my reality threatened to engulf me, I sacrificed a plush corporate job, money, and prestige. Wrinkled like the old Chinese man, I took out my flute and I started playing.
Originally from Spain, MEA alum Isidra Mencos took on writing in earnest and in English in 2016. Since then, her essays have been widely published and one of her pieces was listed as Notable in The Best American Essays Anthology. Her memoir Promenade of Desire: A Barcelona Memoir will be published October 2022 (She Writes Press) and is currently available for pre-order.
P.S. If you’re looking for a “push” to explore your curiosity or craft of writing, we hope you’ll join us October 30 - November 6 for “Write for Your Life: Discover Yourself and Your Purpose” in Baja. 75% of the workshop program is our core MEA curriculum while 25% if the theme of the week, writing. You don’t need to be an established writer to join us.