The Making of a Modern Essayist
My name is Robin Bull. I’m a professional writer. I wrote my first short story at the age of eight years. I spent my middle school years selling poetry to boys who pissed off their girlfriends. That was back in the late 80s and early 90s. During my high school days, I dropped the poetry for money bit. I began writing some for myself. (I recently found an entire stash of poetry from my high school days. I considered burning it. Instead, I hid it. I was not and am not a very good poet.)
My junior year of high school I read some of the work of Joan Didion. Even now, her writing style resonates somewhere deep within me. What I continue to enjoy about Didion’s work is more than her word choice. It was her choice in subjects. She wrote essays on anything and everything. She also wrote fiction (novels and screenplays). She didn’t hold back regardless of what others thought. (And one can imagine the criticism she received as a woman in the 60s and 70s, at the very least).
Didion was also extremely particular. Recently, I watched the Joan Didion documentary on Netflix (The Center Will Not Hold). Dark sunglasses, first-thing-in-the-morning soda that must be in a bottle and ice cold, and she took time for herself before society realized that self-care is a necessity. She outlived her husband and her one daughter.
Anyway, during my 11th grade year, I took AP Literature and Language. Each day we had 45 minutes to write (by hand – there were no tablets; if you wanted to type, you took typing or Intro to Computers…and those classes were electives and always full) an essay. We learned persuasive essay writing, expository essays, and descriptive essays. I’m sure we learned narrative essays. There was very little in my life at that age that I wanted to write about. I learned I was pretty good at writing. At the end of that school year, I took the college credit exam for English. They scored the test one through nine, nine being the best. It was a three hour exam at Oklahoma City University. My aunt paid for me to take the test. She even drove me and picked me up. And it was no short jaunt from her home, either. Later that summer, the test results arrived. My aunt was the first person I called. I scored a nine. The credit was good for five years.
I didn’t go to college right away despite having scholarships lined up. Life was hard, almost too hard.
Instead, I worked. I worked in a photo development lab. I learned to retouch photos by hand (again, computers were around, but they weren’t common) using special paint. I worked as a billing clerk in a trucking business. I took a course on medical transcription. I got pregnant in 1997, and started work as a data entry clerk for a large life insurance company. I worked my way up to junior underwriter in less than a year. I studied for the property and casualty exam received a LOMA certification. I had another child in 2000.
I started college in my late-20s. By then, I worked for a law school in the career services department. I received my Bachelor’s in Paralegal Studies. I worked for a law firm. I worked for a bankruptcy firm (not a law firm, a company that filed bankruptcy claims on behalf of creditors). I went through a very nasty and abusive marriage that ended in divorce. I had (and still have) a VPO. I took classes toward a Master’s degree. I was accepted to law school (and didn’t go).
I taught college. And one day…I wondered what it would take to write for a living. To make a six year story from that point very short, it took a lot of work. I taught and worked in a law firm while building my writing and editing business. It took a lot of stress, frustration, anger, high blood pressure, migraines, and tears. I did it, though. I work from home as a writer and editor. Full time. (And by full time, I mean I have no other job. This is my job and it supports my family.) I remarried and have my adult sons plus a delightful nine year old bonus son with autism.
Primarily, I write web content. Blogs, newsletters, ebooks, web site content…I have textbook credits, too. I have bylines. I’ve written news articles. I’ve written my own books. I’ve ghostwritten around 450 books. People say I “live the dream.”
Yet, this particular site isn’t about living the dream. I have a site for that. It chronicles the good, the bad, and the ugly of working from home. Instead, this is me revisiting and honoring the idea of essays.
The Confusion Between Journalists and Essayists
I’m not a journalist or reporter. Nor do I want to be considered as such. We live in an era where what was once a noble and truthful profession has become an opinionated and biased outlet. They don’t report. They create essays. They take fact (or pieces of fact) and contort them to fit the puzzle of their own personal and organizational agenda. How do I know that? I’ve turned down “news” organizations who asked me to do that for them.
Essays are personal journeys. They are woven thoughts, feelings, and experiences of an individual. They may rely on current affairs, but they also show the subjectiveness of reality. And, without a doubt, reality is subjective. We don’t all experience life and feelings and things that happen in the same way. That doesn’t make any one interpretation invalid. The problem becomes when people try to pass off their interpretation as undeniable fact.
I am Robin. I am not a reporter. I am not a journalist. I am a writer. Writing is my life blood. I am a modern essayist.