Second grade was important for me in a way I didn’t recognize until now. Until I went back and surveyed all of the available artifacts. What did I find? The usual—pictures, school journals, classroom projects.
But while going through all of these things, I noticed something that was so present that I suddenly recognized second grade was the year it would become so important to me that I’d never let that something go:
I remember that second grade was the year that chapter books became a thing for me. It started with my teacher reading The Boxcar Children aloud to my class, reading a chapter every day or so until we had finished the book. I loved it. I loved the characters and I loved the adventure. I loved that they were out on their own and had to come up with creative solutions to just get by and care for each other. And when it was over THERE WERE MORE BOOKS AFTER IT! More stories following these characters that I had already become attached to.
Not only that, but I took their stories into my own hands. My friends and I spent a good span of time that year playing Boxcar Children at recess under the shade of a giant tree near our elementary school. We would plan how to survive on our own, making salads out of grass and dandelions and heeding warnings from whichever one of us was playing Watch, the children’s dog. We got to engage in the Boxcar Children’s story and take it to new places.
I soon latched on to a different way of taking stories to new places: writing.
I really enjoyed writing in my school journal. I wrote about vacations and what I was going to be for Halloween. (I know this will come as a surprise, but that year I was a cat.)
I gushed about movies I had seen (Nightmare Before Christmas and Toy Story, to name a couple) and books I had read (Stinky Cheese Man FOREVER). I also started to tell stories like this gem written in my school journal in December 1996:
“I have a story to tell you. Rudolf Gets Lost. Christmas Eve. Rudolf got lost. He started to cry. I can’t find my way home. I’m lost. Then he heard something. Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas. Hi Rudolph said Comet. Welcome home Rudolph. HO HO HO. I was so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so scared. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
In the second half of second grade, my storytelling became more and more refined. My journal entries got longer and more articulate. Most importantly, we started writing stories as projects for class. But they weren’t just stories—they were BOOKS. We would write a story on notebook paper and then it would go to the class’s para-pro who would take it to the library, type it up, print it out, punch holes in it, and bind it with those plastic circular spines. We would then get our book back so we could draw illustrations on each page. At the very end of the process, we would share our books with the class.
So, not only could I read books but now I could make my own?! This was earth-shattering to me and I immediately fell in love. I was a fanfic prodigy. I wrote stories about Garfield, about characters from Tiny Toons, about characters from my favorite books. My books were almost always about animals, and I would often make an appearance too, usually has a hero providing a safe haven to the animals in my story. According to the autobiographical blurb in the last book I “published” in second grade, I was the author of the following titles:
- See Kitty, which was a play off of the See Spot Run and involved charming sequences such as this one.
- All About Me, an autobiography, of course
- Garfield’s Christmas, I’ll let you check that one out for yourself
- The Cool Cats, which was about a group of cats who decided they could bully other animals into giving them food if they dressed like they were “cool” (i.e., in leather jackets, sunglasses, etc.), but they eventually get kidnapped by Elmira.
- Cats, a book where I wrote down all of the “facts” I knew about cats.
- Tux and the Skunk, a story about a penguin who runs away from home and has a bad run-in with a weird, mutant skunk (but is eventually saved by me, naturally).
As you can see, almost every one of those books was about a cat of some kind, and even the one’s that weren’t about cats featured cameos from my cat Snickers because I LIKE CATS, OKAY.
But my point is this: I took this writing thing and I RAN with it.
By the end of the school year, my stories were longer and more intricate than most others in my class. They included dialogue, exposition, character development. Looking back, even I’m impressed.
This was the start of something. I hadn’t started calling myself a writer, but I was right on the cusp. After second grade, I started saying I wanted to be an author when I grew up. And I haven’t stopped making stories my mission ever since.
But truth be told, I have gone off track.
Take this blog post. I was supposed to write it in February. I sat down on at least four different occasions before now and nothing happened. No words appeared on the blank page in front of me. I didn’t know what story to tell.
When did writing get to be so scary? When did I start caring so desperately about whether what I was writing was good? What even is “good?” What is the trick to overcoming this bizarre paralysis that has turned me from a lover of stories into someone who spends more time worrying about things I haven’t even written yet than actually writing them?
Growing up is weird and hard.
As a kid, I didn’t think before I wrote. I just WROTE. I didn’t fret over whether I had a plan for the plot or the ending. I didn’t worry about showing it to other people. The idea of my work being “good” never really crossed my mind. I wrote because I liked to tell stories. I would get a funny idea and I would just let it guide me. No questions, no anxiety, no pressure.
No one tells you that growing up makes all of that a million times more challenging. No one tells you that growing up can mean losing track of that quirky creativity you didn’t realize eventually takes effort to maintain. No one tells you that growing up causes the word “good” to morph into a strange monster scarier than any that used to hide in your closet or under your bed, and one that will relentlessly lurk in the shadows and never leave you alone. Is this idea good? Is this piece of writing good?
Am I even good?
It’s crippling. And I still don’t understand it. Or how to fight it. But I’m trying.
Which is part of why this blog and this writing project exist. I am trying to figure out how to keep room in my life for creativity amongst my real-life adult endeavors and responsibilities. I am trying to create space to let my imagination stretch its legs and build up its strength again. I am trying to make this happen without also inviting in pressure and self-judgment.
And I am letting eight-year-old me be my guide. She created so many stories. No worries. No anxiety. No judgment. She did that. Me. I did that. And I can find that again. No matter how much I have ignored, suppressed, or forgotten it, that drive to write and create and tell stories is still part of me. I am not here to give up.