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I Was Told I Was Wasting My "God-Given" Talent

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

"What I don't understand Stevie," She said, "Is why you'd write junk like this in the first place. You're talented. Why do you want to waste your abilities... I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent." When Stephen King recounted this story in his book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft, I related with it all too well. I was instantly transported to 2004, where a sixteen year old me, stood before the mahogany desk in my fathers office; with an angry parent waving the manuscript of a story I had passed out to the students in my class, complaining that I was writing filth.

An Angsty Newsletter

Let me set the scene for you. In 1997 my mother pulled my sister and I out of public school in favor of independent study, she wasn't thrilled with the quality of education our small town was offering and wanted to take a hands on approach to our schooling. By the time 2004 rolled around, my sister had already graduated high school and was in her first year of college. I, on the other hand, was enrolled in every academic course offered in town for homeschooled and independent study students.

So, to clarify, I attended school, but unlike the full-time students, I attended classes in different locations per class. For example, my biology class was on the campus of Calvary Chapel Christian Academy, while my math class was apart of the Biola Academy Honors program. This allowed me not only to get specialized education— I think my mother was trying to raise a super-genius. It didn't work— but also gave me a wide range of friends, from campus to campus.

From 2004-2006, the year I graduated high-school, the Torrey Academy Program, was holding classes in the church my father was a pastor of. One of my favorite courses now—though I don't think I was much fond of it then— was the Inklings critical reading course. In that class we were forced to read several books a week, and write reflection papers about what we read. It was in that class that I complained to my teacher— who was probably, now that I think of it, only a few years older than me, though at the time seemed ancient— that I didn't care much for reading, I was going to be a writer. "I want to write my own stories, not read someone else's." Mr. Anderson, must have laughed later with the other teachers about my naivety, but he didn't show it on his face then. With a straight face, Mr. Anderson said—and I don't remember if Mr. Anderson wore glasses but for some reason I imagine him saying this, as he is peering down at me over the brim of his reading glasses— "you will never be a successful writer, if you are not first a successful reader." A bit of advice that has stuck with me over the years.

But of course, at sixteen, I knew everything. And Mr. Anderson couldn't have been more wrong. I was already beginning my successful career as an author. Earlier that year, a friend and I had written and almost released a newsletter which we had written under the pen name Anon E. Mus. We even created a secret email address so that our parents wouldn't catch wind of our secret project. Our first issue was titled The Homeschoolers Bill of Rights: Break Free from your over protective parents. It was no secret that the homeschool community can be riddled with helicopter parents, afraid to let their teenagers live a little, and I wanted to do something about it. In college my mother would nickname me her little activist.

My friend and I wrote and formatted the newsletter, and offered $5 to get a random student to drop off the stack of newsletters outside of the door during our monthly Homeschool meeting, where our parents sat and talked about curriculum, while we did activities in one of the classrooms that no one wanted to do, the free pizza was nice though. It wasn't a very good plan but it was a plan nonetheless. We made it to the day of the meeting, when my friends dad found all the emails and letter drafts on his computer. We were thwarted! The Homeschoolers Bill of Rights would never see the light of day.

If I remember correctly my friends parents called my parents and told them about the newsletter but I don't think I got in trouble for it. If I did I don't remember it. My parents were all about expressing creativity—just maybe don't involve the other students in pursuit of expression. They did however admit that they didn't understand why I felt the need to fight for freedom. The truth was, while I did lead a very sheltered life, it was really nothing compared to some of the other homeschoolers. And while many of my friends today wouldn't believe this, compared to the freedoms they had in high school, my parents did give me a lot more freedom and a lot more leeway than most of the other students in the homeschool community. To them, I was out of control. But as far as my parents were concerned, if writing an angsty newsletter was the worst of their problems, they were doing okay.

A Teens World

Word of the newsletter never really got around. It wasn't until later that I was labeled the bad seed in the pot—is that term, I think I just made that up— In 2004, I was determined that I was going to write the next great television show. It wasn't that great. I wrote a melodramatic teen soap, using people that I already knew and adjusting their names slightly. My childhood best friend Ryan, became Brian, our buddy Justin was Dustin, and so on and so forth. Anyway, by the time my senior year of high school came around I had written an epic tv series, and had begun passing them around my schools. Students loved the stories, (mind you most of the homeschool kids weren't even allowed to watch tv—far be it for my parents and their progressive parenting skills to allow me to watch tv, let alone write TV scripts.) But it wasn't just the homeschool students that liked my story. Even the kids that went to the public schools were asking about it. Soon I had built a mailing list, and every week I would leave the reader in suspense. Would Alex end up with Krista? Would Jeremy finally grow some balls and talk to Monique? Find out next week on A Teens World.

This mailing list would continue through my freshman year of college. But before, I was able to get that far, there were a few parents in the Homeschool community that were not happy about the way I was using my talents. First I received an email. Up until recently I had this email saved, I have kept almost every one of my emails for the purpose of saving documents and conversations that I may want to recall later. But it appears that a few months ago—for god knows what reason— yahoo wiped emails from every inactive email address. So I lost that correspondence but I will do my best to recall the email from memory. The email said something along the lines of this.

"Dear John,
please, remove my child from your mailing list. This is not the kind of content I want my children exposed too. John, you are a very talented writer, why are you using the gifts that God has given you in this manner? Promoting premarital sex, (I wasn't) and underaged drinking (I wasn't—in that episode at least), and other kinds of secular behavior. Please do something better with the your gifts. And use them for God instead of the world.
-A concerned parent"

I don't remember if she told me in that email that she was going to talk to my father, or if it was a surprise, but the next day at school (The Torrey Academy classes which took place in my fathers church) I found myself in my fathers office with this woman—I don't even remember who's parent she was— pretty much repeating her email word for word to my father. The thing that I hated about christian parents when I was in school, and still despise today, is that they—and I'll say some not all, my mom will argue with me for making a sweeping generalization, so I have to make sure I say that— some of them will say the most hurtful things, and follow it up by, "I just don't believe this is what God would have for you." Or "As a sister in christ It is my responsibility to hold you accountable to Gods plan for your life." Which has always been frustrating to me, because who are they to tell me Gods plan for my life. So I was annoyed beyond belief when this woman said, I was wasting my God-given talents. And much like Stephen King—not that I am any kind of comparison to Stephen King— I also felt ashamed. What if I was wasting my talents. What if I was not using my talents to the best of my ability.

When the mother left My father demanded that he read the script. There was a goodbye kiss but no sex. There was a party but no alcohol mentioned in the script. I had written as wholesome a script as I could write. And to be honest, probably the most wholesome script I would ever write after. My father, the pastor, looked up from the script and asked me, "What's wrong with this?" I shrugged my shoulders, and he and I both laughed. I don't think he has ever questioned my writing since that day, probably for the better because if he had seen some of the things I wrote in college it would have been a different story.

Doing God's Work

There are a lot of things about my childhood that I could complain about. But I am fortunate that I had parents who— although they may not have always read my work, or understood what I was ranting about, or even why I liked doing what I liked doing— they always supported my need for creativity. I never felt stifled as an artist in my family of origin,I mean there was that one time my mom took away my journals as a punishment, but that's a different story. They always knew that I was a species of my own, of the artists variety. And they never stopped me from doing what I loved.

It wouldn't be until almost a decade later that my mom would finally tell me. "You know what, I think your true talent is writing. I think that's your God-given talent" And I would smile and say...well mom, I could have told you that!

J. Wayman is a novelist, playwright, and author of the upcoming series The Kalib Andrews Chronicles. You can find more of his work at

www.thekalibandrewschronicles.com

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