On My Being A Writer

What qualifies me? I am not at all comfortable thinking of myself in this way. It’s my father’s fault. I’ve perhaps shared that here before. Like so many parents, he had my best interests in mind. His heart was in the right place but the execution of his parenting ended up distorting how I view myself and perhaps even my world view.

Some background is in order. My father (also Robert Leroy) never finished high school. That was not terribly unusual for a kid growing up in the 1930’s. Education was sometimes a luxury and work was a necessity. There were trades that could be learned. You could join the navy.

He worked painting houses for a few years. Why not enjoy being young and single and without any real responsibilities? Then the war came and he did join the navy, met my mother, got married, and had a son (me). The war ended and the next thing he knew, he found himself working in a menial dead end job he hated, with a family to support. And increasingly there was a hunger in him to learn, to understand things about the world. And he believed his frustrating situation was all the result of quitting school.

So I became his project. School and education was his mantra. He would not allow me to make the same mistake he made. I would live his dream. I would excel at my elementary and secondary education and upon graduation, attend collage where I would succeed academically at all cost, and finally, graduate. I would then have an education witch would qualify me to finally be able to call myself a…


Well he was well meaning. He wanted my life to be better than his. But what he did not understand was that I was not able to learn in a conventional way. Public education in the 1960’s did not have much to offer exceptional children or those with learning disabilities. The conventional classroom setting seemed like punishment. It was bizarre and hurtful and absurd. I was a target for every bully. I was reading and writing before I entered the first grade where I was being asked by my teacher to color circles with crayons. I was hungry to know about the world like my father. He knew I was bright and believed I simply wasn’t applying myself when I constantly came home beat up, or with poor reports. I would withdraw into my own imagination.

So he had me tested. And tested. And the numbers said I was in the 99’th percentile and I had an alarmingly high IQ, but I also seemed to have some abnormalities. The abnormalities have names today but back then they did not. So my father decided he was right, I simply needed to apply myself. And he made his wishes known to me in every way he could devise. Relentlessly.

Eventually I found ways to teach myself the things others could learn in a conventional way. I learned how to design my own education. And I did survive high school. And graduated. And just when I thought I might successfully live up to my father’s standards, I learned collage was out of the question. We were poor. Broke.

The short story is that I was set up to fail. I never went to collage. I found a job in a small local start up company and went to work instead. I taught myself microwave engineering. It was easy. I just saw the concepts in my head. I imagined them all. They were obvious.

Are they real?

What does real mean?

They are real to me.

The company grew and I grew with it for the next 49 years and 10 days.

I designed hundreds of products. I have patents. I wrote papers. I taught classes.

But I have never felt qualified to call myself an inventor or an author, or a teacher.

Or even an engineer.

I have no diploma.

I have no education.


So how can I be a writer?


I’m sorry dad.

It’s not a fair question.

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March 4, 2018

I attended a Q&A with author Peter S. Beagle, who is best known for writing The Last Unicorn. During that Q&A with Beagle, someone asked him if he had any advice for aspiring writers. He then told everyone present is that he didn’t like the term aspiring. He asked the young man “Do you write?” and the young man said yes, and then Beagle said, “Then you’re a writer.”

So to Beagle, that’s all it takes: if you write something, you’re a writer. Don’t make things too complicated for yourself. Just sit down and do it. Write as much volume as you can and eventually something will jump out and take command of your attention.

Good luck and happy writing!

March 4, 2018

The beauty of ‘writing’ is that it requires no qualifications, only that you have something to express – and that you write about it! You qualify on both counts. Your writing is then worthwhile if it elicits a response in a reader – so, from this reader, consider yourself a success on that basis too. So write, please – because on the basis of this entry I am intrigued by your story.

March 4, 2018

You know my thoughts here.

March 4, 2018

I, too, am a bit odd when it comes to some types of school learning…and other talents that have to be learned. In school about the same time you were perhaps…learned reading as if it were born in me to read…but spelling, math, physics, sounds of foreign languages or singing in key, dancing, swimming, etc.? Not so easy and sometimes not possible. My son learned differently, too. I was told he’d never learn to read or write but heck! He did..mastered everyting in his own time, because schools in the 1970s trusted me enough to allow him to learn in odd ways–he even went to college and did well… so many people’s lives are better because he became a deputy. And, a few students did in my working life too because I became a teacher. I believe that many learned from you too, most likely too.

March 5, 2018

You can be a writer because the dream belongs to you. If you can imagine it, you can make it real.

March 5, 2018

I’m truly moved by all the support here. Thank you. I guess it’s about exorcising some attitudes that were dumped on me at an early age. As it turns out it’s really just as simple as “I write therefore I am”.

March 10, 2018

Totally agree with earlier notes-if you write, you’re a writer. You definitely don’t have to have any higher education to write. My dad also quit school very young-fifth grade- and joined the navy during WW2, when he was just 15. And my mom was brilliant but didn’t go beyond a few business classes after high school. She taught me to read and when I was in first grade I had to go read with the third graders because I was so far ahead. It made me a complete oddball but now I am far away from it, I also think it made me resilient. I have realized in later years that my dad and brother are both dyslexic and didn’t get the help they needed in school. But both have done very well- and I am sure both would tell you they are failures in many ways.

March 29, 2018

This resonated with me.  My father couldn’t go to university because of lack of money.  His own father died at age 50 and my Dad found himself as the family breadwinner at a young age.  In addition Dad had 2 daughters and no sons, which was important back in those days.  So being the oldest girl he put the pressure on me to go to university and get a degree in chemical engineering.  I don’t really know why he chose that particular subject for me – perhaps that’s what he secretly wanted to do.  However I did not like the all male faculty of engineering in 1965 so I rebelled (just a little) and went into the faculty of science where there were two other girls.  Physics, chemistry, math, and biology – that has been my life since then.   Dad was happy – not sure what I would have done if left to my own devices though.