My essay, “The Unspeakable Gift,” was published in the Washingtonian August issue. This essay has been in development a long time. I am not sure the publication process is ever truly easy, and this essay has been no exception. I think it might be useful and interesting to share the story.
This essay’s journey could have been considered to start on several occasions. As the story of my Turner syndrome awareness, it could have started with my diagnosis in 1987.
But really, it started in a Creative Nonfiction/Personal Essay writing class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland in 2007. We were given a writing prompt. One of our choices was about “being 15.” I was diagnosed with Turner syndrome at 15, so that was a big part of being 15 for me. We were asked to write 250 words. We only shared that exercise with our teacher. I turned it in and waited for the next week when I would see the feedback. That next week the exercise was returned with the encouraging message that he hoped I developed the exercise into an essay. My teacher thought the story needed to be shared. I never talked about Turner syndrome. I never read about Turner syndrome. I approached Turner syndrome with the fierce urgency of an ostrich with her head buried in the sand, so to write about it seemed too much.
In the process of preparing the writing exercise I found out about the NIH study. The NIH was 5 miles from my apartment. After a great deal of thought, I participated in the study.
I wrote the first version of the essay in the fall of 2008 during my second writing class at the Writer’s Center. Writing the essay was hard. The first draft was a very rough rant about a somewhat harsh experience. My teacher and my class were very supportive. I received substantive feedback that asked thoughtful questions. I had left a lot of the specifics of Turner syndrome out. There also was not enough of me in the essay. People felt it was too much about the tests. Also, I had not developed the end of the story very completely.
I kept working on the essay. I submitted it again in my next class at the Writer’s Center in 2009. This time, the feedback was even more supportive. I was overwhelmed with the kind and constructive guidance I received. My teacher, the same teacher who had assigned the original writing prompt, “reluctantly” used the word beautiful to describe the essay. A classmate whose daughter had endured open heart surgery thanked me for writing it. She said she understood her daughter a little better because of my story. That meant the world to me.
I decided to work on the essay a little more and include it in The Stage Is On Fire, the memoir I independently published in 2010. I sent a copy of my memoir to my writing teacher who had guided me through writing the essay. I wanted to thank him for his careful attention at the Writer’s Center, and let him know I had continued to work on the essay. Not long after I mailed the book, he emailed me. He is an editor at the Washingtonian, and he told me they were interested in publishing it. That was June of 2011.
We corresponded over the years. Changes happened at the Washingtonian. I stayed in touch. The Washingtonian remained interested. I feel so blessed that my teacher was the editor for this essay that is extremely close to my heart. He has seen it evolve over the years. He asked good questions as we tossed it back and forth throughout the final editorial process. I trusted his guidance.
My essay is now available for the world to see.