Writing Challenge Day 2
My best friend says that she can remember being a baby in her crib. I didn’t believe her for years, but knowing her better and seeing the woman she’s become (gifted with the gift of sight) I believe her now.
I don’t have memories that go that far back. I can remember as far back as my 5th birthday. But, that is not the memory that I would like to write about here. My earliest memory as writer is the one that I am going to write about.
I was about 7 years old. My mother and I had just watched a movie about kids being in a haunted house. The kids, who were high-schoolers, had been dared to stay in the house overnight, and I’m sure some really creepy shit happened to them. It’s a movie that I probably shouldn’t have been watching especially since I was a really sensitive kid who was prone to nightmares.
To counter the effect of the movie, I in my 4th grade brilliance (a kid who had been double promoted because of my reading ability) sat down at our coffee table with paper and a pencil and wrote about a girl named Maria who wanted to be in a club called “The Fireflies.” Maria wanted to be in the club because all the girls were super popular. They had silk jackets with their name and logo on the back, and in order to get into the club, they dared Maria to spend the night in a haunted house.
Maria did it, but she didn’t have a scary experience. Instead, she learned wisdom from the spirits who came to speak to her and teach her. She realized that The Fireflies were a bunch of bitches and she didn’t need them or their trash ass club. All she needed was to keep doing her, to keep working hard, and being smart in school.
I wrote the story, illustrated it with my crude drawings (because I suck at drawing). I punched holes in it, tied it together with yarn, and gave it to my mother who has always been my first reader and biggest fan. She said, “This is great.” She kissed me and put the story in our family photo album, and it is still there. She then rewarded me with my favorite meal, a cheesesteak sandwich and fries.
That was the first time I wrote an “original” story, and got paid for it. But, it would take me 15 more years before I would realize that my mother wasn’t the only one who would pay me for my stories, and even more years before I would make enough money to buy more than a cheesesteak.
As parents, it is our job to encourage our children’s dreams, but it is not our job alone. If we, and our children, are lucky there will also be a larger community supporting and cheering. For me, I had great English teachers. They supported me by giving me books that were beyond my grade level. They graded me harder than other kids because they knew that my writing was better than that of most kids. They entered me in contests for poetry, reading, and essays and I often won.
As I have transitioned into a career as a full-time writer and am working on my first book, a collection of essays, these memories and these moments mean even more to me. I realize now how much they shaped the woman I am and I am grateful for them. I am still in awe and honored when someone tells me how much they admire my work, especially other writers. It puts the battery in my back to keep going, even on days like today, when I feel like I am never gonna make it. On days when I battle the nagging insecurity that all writers face every single day.
I won’t even mention the irony that I named my only kid, Maria. That is a tale for another day. Today, I am just grateful that the spirit of that 7-year-old wordsmith still lives inside me and I am doing all I can to honor her and her dreams.